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political notions of the Eurovision

October 2, 2017 Comments (1) Views: 396 Nostalgia

The subtle and even overt political notions of the Eurovision song contest

How entertainment, pop culture, and politics boost influence of cities and nations 

It is not a far-fetched idea that there is some lingering political notion on Eurovision night, at least not until the moment those who tune in to watch the show every year become baffled by the way voting points get distributed among each country.

The political notion goes beyond voting points anyway. Otherwise, there won’t be a highly political song winning the contest such as the recent case with Ukraine’s Jamala’s 1944. The very act of proclaiming a winner who comes with a strong political message politicizes the contest, allowing the host city next year to generate attractive enough cultural influence. In this context, Kyiv certainly enjoyed a moment, pushing itself outside the big shadow cast by Moscow in the years before. In 2017, that also meant banning Yulia Samoylova, the Russian representative selected for the contest, amid allegations she has performed in Crimea.

Kyiv, the Eurovision city in 2017, caption of the venue of the competition, the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, photo credit

Many more instances there have been in the past when things have gotten subtly and even overtly political. The case of Yugoslavia in the 1980s may seem particularly amusing. For those who lived in Yugoslavia, and remember watching the Yugoslavian entries live on the contest, they would know the single winning entry of the country, Riva with Rock Me Baby was not the best show at all. Probably, a better favorite for the vast majority was Daniel or Novi Fosili for ones. But as one of our aunts had well noted on the surprising 1989 voting in favor of Yugoslavia, “suddenly everyone started giving us 12 points. We were not sure why. Perhaps sometimes you need luck and not too many favorites for the first place.”

The decisive victory of Riva was not purely out of luck, and the Eurovision then moved to Zagreb in 1990, likely by intention. The winner that year was Italian Toto Cutugno who performed a somewhat pro-European song, one calling for unity in Europe if that was the political message here. But it was only wishful thinking. By the time Baby Doll took off to Rome in 1991 to perform Brazil, she also needed to face questions by journalists of what does she think about the situation in Yugoslavia and whether she would be the last representative of the country. Infamously, indeed as the final Yugoslavian entry, Baby Doll finished second to last, Brazil being the last Eurovision echo of the once great nation that united so many ethnicities over the Balkans.

From the Eurovision archives: Lenny Kuhr and Dana at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam, photo credit

Over time Eurovision has generated a publicity of ‘love it or hate it’ show, perhaps due to the too many performers that make just your ears bleed from pain. Amid the tasteless songs that lack any soul on stage, there are few shining star each year, however, as well as more than just one scandal.

And where things went political in 2017, beyond the Ukraine-Russia tension? Perhaps with the Belgian entry, though nowhere explicitly clarified, of course. The young girl, Blanche, dressed in a black dress, looked as if she indeed was in the “danger zone” like the lyrics of her song went on. Still, at no instance, she failed to bring about a formidable energy of breaking the Eurovision cliche matrix with her cold-wave City Lights.

Or as Brandy Alexander, a commentator under the YouTube uploaded live performance from the Semi-Finals wrote: “My friend who absolutely doesn’t care about Eurovision said this about her performance: ‘In a sea of screaming female vocalists this girl, shines with her simplicity, fragileness, and a beautiful tone in her voice.’ And I couldn’t agree more.”

Blanche during Eurovision rehearsals, photo credit

Blanche appeared more confident with her performance during the Eurovision finals. However, she did not succeed in winning the competition. Was there anything “political” in the entire piece?

Bearing in mind the profound lyrics and the crying melody, possibly maybe the song was a subtle “message from Brussels” to other countries, perhaps a call to stand together in difficult times. When Brexit was still an information hard to digest among most of the people, and also there was the slight danger of the outcome of the French presidential elections (where a subsequent victory in favor of La Pen might have been fatal for the Union).

For a moment, the girl on the stage was a possible ‘personification’ of Europe, the old lady, now appearing as her younger counterpart, but then there were also the lights on stage that went on to subtly form abstract figures that reminded of the EU flag at least for a second.

Which is fine, even if no political notion was intended, that’s for the better. Blanche in any way was a refreshment on the stage, unfortunately, coming only fourth at the end of the day. Around the time which, Israel, one friend of Europe already said goodbye, officially announcing that they withdraw from the competitions during the country’s voting time.

Salvador Sobral and Luísa Sobral at the first semi-final winners’ press conference, photo by Daniel Koch

For the first time in the festival history, the victory went to Portugal and Salvador Sobral with his mind-melting performance of Amar Pelos Dois. His melody, composed by his sister, who surprisingly joined him on the traditional winner performance at the show’s closure, outran the Bulgarian entry which came second and was widely backed by the Russian voting community.

Amar Pelos Dois was sort of reviving the old French chansons that would dominate the contest in its early years, and it was for sure a beautiful entry, at the same time also nostalgic and depressive.

Such may have been the mood in Europe for most of the year though. As beautiful and nostalgic as the song, as if the composition followed the rhythm of a setting sun that slowly sinks below the horizon at the open sea in front. So for a moment, we can forget everything about politics and just enjoy the music.

We also thought to remind you of Kyiv during the early 1960s


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One Response to The subtle and even overt political notions of the Eurovision song contest

  1. Robert says:

    That time Verka sung “Russia goodbye” only for Russia to really be out ten years later. Besides the music ( sometimes okay and sometimes not) there is some sort of war of cultures going on at Eurovision, and who will get to spread the most influence. Always fun to observe those moments

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