The Politics of Eurovision

Eurovision is a bit like marmite, you either hate it or love it. When I was a child, I loved it. I would always sleepover at my grandparents house and would be treated to two commentaries: Graham Norton’s and my grandmum’s. 

As I’ve gotten older (as with everything in life) I’ve become more conscious of the political side of Eurovision. It’s no longer the simple song contest that taught me a bit of geography and fed me with the picturesque snapshots of each country’s scenery. I, like everyone else, reached ‘that’ age where you become more aware of how international relations seeps into almost every aspect of a country’s operation, and with this recognition you begin to see the politics in everything. It’s no secret or coincidence that France is always one of the top countries who vote for Israel, or that Greece and Albania are always the top countries who vote for Italy. We’re all aware of the politics surrounding the voting and it’s definitely no surprise that if Britain can drop bombs in the name of  a ‘special relationship’ with the US, that countries will no doubt be eager to prove their allegiance in a less costly manner. 

This year however was political for other reasons. After almost two sticky years of Brexit, the UK seems to have left behind the more playful, upbeat songs and instead have taken the weighty direction of songs propagating strength and unity. Britain’s song entry for 2017 was a reminder to the British that ‘you’re not defeated, you’re in repair’ and that somehow ‘together we’ll dance through this storm’. One year later and it seems like the storm is still going on. 

This year the theme of storms made a comeback and took the centre-stage, reminding us that ‘storms don’t last forever, forever, remember’, just in case we didn’t catch it last year. The whole reason I actually decided to write this post was because I found the lyrics of the UK’s song entry quite ironic given the current internal and external expulsion of such heartfelt ‘brotherhood’. If the irony wasn’t enough on its own, an ‘invader’ took to the stage during SuRie’s performance and grabbing her microphone, announced (according to the BBC): ‘Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom.’

Since Britain has ‘officially’ left the European Union, there has been an ongoing discussion about the use of the English language as the common language within Europe and this no doubt provides another opportunity for commentary on it. Chris West has noted that this year nine songs were not performed in English, compared to last year’s figure of three songs. A valid question in his own words: ‘Eurovision is about “being European”. Is this now starting to mean ditching the continent’s current common language, English, and being part of a polyglot community.’

What I found interesting, however, was France and Italy’s choice of songs, both of which dealt with the immigration crisis and the recent European terrorism (including the Cairo attack). France’s song entry Mercy is based on a true story of a ‘miracle’ baby on a rescue ship on its way to Europe. Italy’s Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente (‘You Haven’t Done Anything to Me’) makes explicit references to the London, Paris, Nice, Cairo and Barcelona attacks. It’s hard to forget that Eurovision is one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, with recent figures quoting an international audience size of between 100-600 million people, and the implications of this. No doubt each country aims to use their platform to present a carefully crafted representation of themselves to the world.

Maybe the Eurovision should just be a song contest, but how do you lay aside the political momentum each country brings to the stage with it? With Israel’s performance quite easily culpable of culturally appropriating Japanese culture, not to mention the searing tensions of he Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we can only expect the international politics of the next year’s contest to increase. 


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