Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest was put together with good intentions, as a way to unite the countries of Europe in the post-war period. The competition was a way to showcase the talent and culture from individual countries, and give them a major platform. This contest is truly a show of the power of music: due to the fact that there are virtually no material prizes, simply just the declaration of being the winner. It is amazing that this competition been able to prosper on for this long with high participation and the attention that it gets.

Although, originally this contest was a way to unite countries all across Europe in the post-war period, more specifically to create common ground between the East and West, it is apparent that this competition has a bias towards Western European Countries. The countries with the most winners goes as follows: Ireland (7 times), and France, the UK, Luxembourg, The Netherlands (5 times). (Eurovison.tv) This is not to say that there have not been non-western European Winners, but it is still valid to point out this fact. There is also an apparent western bias with the “Big Five”. Germany, Italy, France, The UK and Spain are automatically granted qualifications for the finals due to their major financial contributions to the EBU. (Vuletic 12) It seems unfair to include something like this in a contest, especially due to the fact that many countries do not have the same financial security that would allow them to make major financial contributions to the cause. What are some scenarios that could have stopped the creation of a western bias? Or was it unavoidable?

The ESC has also become a platform for political messages to be conveyed especially when there is conflict between participating countries. A recent example is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine with the Crimean Peninsula. The 2016 winner, Jamala, representing Ukraine, sings about the deportation of Crimean Tartars in 1944 which directly impacted her family. Since there was an active issue about the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the Eurovision council banned flags that do not come from the official country participants in the arena. This included a ban for flags like the Crimean Tatars to be in audience, and only the Ukrainian flag was allowed by her Crimean Tatar supporters. What does an act like this say about music and politics? Was it ever possible for a contest like this to avoid the inclusion of politics and simply be a music contest?

10 Replies to “Eurovision Song Contest”

  1. I feel as though a Western bias was inevitable, especially considering the fact that the EBU was created solely by Western European countries. During the Cold War, the Eastern Bloc had made their own unsuccessful song contest, so when the Iron Curtain fell and Eastern Europe wanted to be incorporated into the EBU and ESC, there was already an established system of countries competing in the ESC. Of course I am not saying that the Western bias is a good thing. The “Big Five” rule definitely hurt the ESC’s chance of ever being considered impartial and unbiased. Throughout the history of the ESC, it has been presumed there has been partiality in the voting system, and the “Big Five” rule confirmed it.

    1. I agree that the Western bias was inevitable, and that this bias definitely affects the legitimacy of the contest. I think that it is extremely irresponsible for the ESC to allow how much money a country donates to be a considerable factor for the council when choosing who gets to enter the finals of the competition. As the reading states, this makes it seem like Eurovision is purely about commercialism rather than finding a common cultural ground. Also, the high cost of entry into the contest after the 2009 economic crisis in Europe limits the diversity of the competition making “the Big Five” bias worse.

      1. I like how you brought up the part of commercialism. Eurovision slowly transformed from representations of each country’s traditional culture to emphasis on how a country could get more people to come visit their country. As the secondary article mentioned, tourism became a focus in the transitions between performances with highlights of iconic symbols that may or may not represent the entire country, i.e., the Eiffel Tower for Paris or Big Ben for the United Kingdom.

        1. It seems like Eurovision is just getting further and further away from its original goal as it is full of the commercialism that you mentioned as well as becoming a stage for political propaganda. While politics are inherently a part of music and some performers are choosing to make a statement in this way, it seems like Eurovision is condemning the political statements of performers while simultaneously making their own. The commercialism and masked political messages employed by Eurovision are definitely not representative of the entirety of Europe, let alone the individual countries who also utilize these tactics.

  2. I feel as though it was unavoidable for a contest like this to not be political because of its structure. If countries are having political issues domestically and internationally, it is logical that those issues would be reflected in an event where those same countries are interacting with each other in a competitive setting. Also, I feel like a platform like Eurovision is perfect for political and ideological propaganda because of its international publicity. I think that attempts to depoliticize Eurovision are also political in and of themselves. For instance, in the case, you mentioned where they did not allow the Crimean Tatars flag to be flown in the arena was clearly a way to limit politics from being a part of the event. But the outcome is that there is now more upset surrounding the situation.

  3. I definitely agree that Eurovision has become a platform for political messages! I remember in 2019 that Eurovision was held in Israel so I began to look into it more. Just as you said only the Ukrainian flag was permitted, only the Israeli flag was permitted with the Palestinian flag banned. In response, an Icelandic band showed their support for Palestine by holding up Palestinian flags and banners reading “Palestine.” The Palestinian flag was also featured on the one of Madonna’s dancers, with the Israeli flag on another. They exited the stage with arms around one another, seemingly promoting unity and a peaceful resolution. While Eurovision seemed to want to be apolitical, it is frankly impossible. In the case of Israel, Eurovision utilized a logo that appeared to represent all of Historic Palestine as Israel. Regardless of your opinion on this conflict, Eurovision made a political statement with this decision despite condemning the actions of political statements made by performers. I think this, as well as the issue of Ukraine and Russia, only further prove that music and politics can never be separated in such a contest.

    1. As controversial as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, Eurovision clearly illustrated a political message by prohibiting the use of the Palestinian flag. The Israeli-Palestinian is a complex, multi-faceted problem that stretches far beyond the borders of the two areas. Eurovision is supposed to represent all of Europe, and by making a political stance on such a conflict, Eurovision does not wholly represent Europe as some countries are on one side of the conflict and others like Switzerland are completely neutral to the situation. How can Eurovision expect to represent Europe when it makes political stances like this?

  4. Eurovision is sort of wild because it is this huge, annual competition where nations that have literally gone to war with each other over nationalistic pride are encouraged to have national pride and one up each other. Obviously, it is for fun and bragging rights, but there is a huge financial component to it! For example, the winning country of the year before is required to host it the next. In 2019, Israel hosted it for a cool 28.5 million euros, which will take 15 years to pay back (https://eurovisionworld.com/tag/cost). The broadcasters had to take a loan out from the government to bank roll it. And, I argue that due to this huge tie to money, that Eurovision has to be political. Vuletic tells us that Germany, Italy, France, The UK and Spain are automatically granted qualifications for the finals due to their major financial contributions to the EBU, and that seems to fundamentally wrong if Eurovision is truly trying to be apolitical. If they are trying to be fair, then they should have a meritocracy, not a buy in system.

    However, I am not saying that I am against Eurovision being political because I think song and dance is way better than guns and forts to express concerns for the continent. Also, the platform is too large not to share some sort of message.

  5. In my opinion this Contest will always be a political platform to show other European countries what struggle or gains they have. The reason for this being that higher power countries in Europe attend this contest, its a perfect opportunity to show others an important issue. Also, it seems like the perfect opportunity to show other countries how better they are or culturally diverse they have become. This can easily be almost like a bragging contest.

  6. I am curious if the Italian Sanremo song festival has anything to do with the Western European bias. It was the festival which inspired Eurovision. Another possible explanation, according to Heller, is Russia’s failure to translate their creativity onto an internet medium successfully. It’s a source of resentment between Western nations and Russia. Page 204of the t.A.T.u reading:

    “Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the one-sided cultural dialogue with Western Europe and the United States has become not only a
    source of resistance but also resentment, arising largely out of the conviction that while Russians possess tremendous creativity they have not yet mastered the skill of translating those energies into commercially viable global commodities.”

    What do we make of this? It seems like while the Eurovision contest fundamentally is supposed to bring nations together, it also creating negative feelings towards each other. I wonder if this contest is achieving what is was created to do. Before performances, nations would give a “slideshow” of their country to promote tourism. However, the imagery used reflected the cultural identity of that nation. Page 75 of the Vuletic article reads:

    “So it was that there were the usual touristic images of Paris represent France, Rome for Italy, London for the UK, classical music for Austria, tulips for the Netherlands and mountains for Switzerland.”

    How successful was Eurovision in creating identities after all, if they’re going to use stereotypes?

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