Eurovision: Pop and politics

Which international music contest launched ABBA’s career?

It might not be well known in the United States, but it is one of the biggest music contests on the other side of the Atlantic: the Eurovision Song Contest. First inaugurated in 1956, the contest is not only limited to Europe, as all members under the European Broadcasting Area are eligible, including northern Africa, the Caucasus, and parts of the Middle East.

Basically, the participant countries submit songs, which are performed live on TV and broadcast to all countries. The winning country gets to host the event for the following year. Russia was the host this year, and next year it will be in Norway.

This Time magazine article writes,

No one takes the contest more seriously than the Russians.

When Dima Bilan won the contest for Russia in 2008, he was congratulated by both Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev.

What we find fascinating about this competition is the nationalism and political rivalries between the countries in a similar fashion to the Olympics. Anastasia Prikhodko, Russia’s representative this year, said on this blog about Eurovision:

…for viewers it is excitement, passion and a possibility to get together and root for their country. And for those who are interested in politics it’s a chance to say afterwards, “we surmised as much.”

However, since voters are not allowed to vote for their home countries, this has led to bloc-voting to prevent certain countries from winning. Russian pop star Alexander Panaiotov said in the Time article,

Russia doesn’t care if, say, Bosnia wins, but if Ukraine wins, it’s a scandal.

According to this post, Sir Terry Wogan, Eurovision commentator since the ‘70s, is considering leaving the show because he thinks that it’s “no longer a music contest.” He lamented after the 2008 contest,

Russia [was] going to be the political winners from the beginning.

Russia has also been the target of what we find as very creative political attacks in songs submitted by rival countries.

Georgia’s entry this year was banned by the judges for being overtly political, as the song “We Don’t Wanna Put In” contains a thinly-veiled reference to Putin in its title and lyrics.

In 2007 there was Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, whose song “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” sounded strikingly like “Russia Goodbye.” Serduchka insisted that the phrase means “whipped cream” in Mongolian, which has been proven to be untrue. Perhaps to appeal to the multicultural audience, he sings in German, English, Russian, Ukrainian, and… Lasha Tumbai, whatever language that is. 

Serduchka, whose real name is Andriy Danylko, is an interesting case. He may be a ridiculous cross dressing singer and comedian, but his albums do sell and his popularity is huge. This is something Americans and Europeans may have in common: ridiculous and out of the ordinary things tend to gain popularity rapidly. For example, singer Lady Gaga from the United States wears bizarre outfits and is proud of being “different.” What she wore to the VMA Awards can be compared with what Serduchka wore to Eurovision.

If you scroll through the photos on this Huffington Post blog you will see what we are talking about when it comes to Lady Gaga. What’s crazy is that Ukraine actually sent Verka Serduchka to represent Ukraine in the annual Eurovision contest in 2007, and what is even more shocking is that he won 2nd place! Who would have thought!

According to this article even the Ukrainian Parliament was disappointed that Serduchka was sent. They did not want some one so flamboyant and over the top to represent a country that has been through so much since their independence in 1991.

Despite the parliament’s disapproval, it seems that some people do like Serduchka and are happy about his success in 2007. This blogger writes,

The victorious Verka Serduchka – Andriy Danylko leaves nobody indifferent to her perfomance and her (his) persona among the Ukrainians. Hat tipped to this unique modern cultural phenomenon!!

All this exciting action may be brought to the United States in the near future. According to a few articles from 2006, NBC bought the rights to start an Amerivision. This Slate article gives a good description of the original contest, and how the American version would change it to states competing against each other instead of countries.

We are doubtful that the 50 states would have as intriguing of a rivalry. So is blogger Ian! Cruz, who writes,

Americans aren’t as loyal to their state as Europeans are to their country… For example, I was born in Florida and I’ve lived in four other states but I wouldn’t vote for Florida solely because I was born there. I don’t really identify with Florida.

However, this New York Times article thinks otherwise.

… in a patchwork quilt of a country, with red versus blue states, North versus South, East Coast versus West Coast, the Midwest versus everyone — and who-knows-what going on in Texas — it may tell us a lot about what we really think of one another.

Since it’s already 2009 and there has yet to be an Amerivision, it makes me wonder if the deal fell through. Even if the interstate rivalry worked, we’re not sure if it will be as popular, especially since Americans seem to already be tired of American Idol. Is it just because they are sick of reality singing competitions, or the format of American Idol itself? Will Amerivision inject new life into American singing contests?

3 thoughts on “Eurovision: Pop and politics

  1. Thanks for really great article!
    It IS true, that eurovision had become very
    politicized and corrupt… and it’s “no longer a music contest”.
    Despite all this – there is an alternative contest – EuroVoice. They say that this contest will be completely transparent and honest, and have introduced a fair voting system at eurovoice.tv

    I hope it will have success, because it’s an excellent opportunity for young talented people. So, I really wish them good luck.

  2. Thanks for really great article!
    It IS true, that eurovision had become very
    politicized and corrupt… and it’s “no longer a music contest”.
    Despite all this – there is an alternative contest – EuroVoice.
    They say that this contest will be completely transparent and honest, and have introduced a fair voting system at eurovoice.tv

    I hope it will have success, because it’s an excellent opportunity for young talented people. So, I really wish them good luck.

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