Much Singing About Nothing?

Ignoring political context won’t change the facts: the Eurovision Song Contest is a political event. Almost all countries use the music stage for political performances – and they are getting increasingly good at it.

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is absolutely unpolitical? Right. Never mind that the competition is being held in Azerbaijan, where human rights are spurned and the Aliyev-Clan governs with almost dictatorial omnipotence. But please block that out for the sake of the happy spirit of this singing contest. The only host country that has been ruled out by the German representatives is Belarus: A contest under the authority of an obvious dictatorship? Well, that would surely spoil the party.

The tenacity of country representatives and organisators to deny the political dimension of the event is astonishing. Sure, the rules of the ESC
stipulate that “the lyrics and/or performance of the songs shall not bring the shows, the ESC as such or the EBU into disrepute. No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC.”

But this is where the logic ends. According to the event’s organizers, the ESC is a competition among the members states of the European Broadcasting Union. Even when blinding out the fact that this year’s host country doesn’t differ much from an “obvious dictatorship,” believing that the competition could take place without political relevance is naïve. The artists from the different countries don’t even need T-Shirts with political slogans printed on them to communicate their message. They themselves are the message.

Germany took weeks to choose its ESC participant in 2010. In the end, the young performer Lena Meyer-Landrut emerged as the nomiee: young, pretty, not too stupid and with a song that had been written by an international team of composers. Lena was how Germany would like to be (but how it is never seen by other countries): easygoing, cool and not taking itself too seriously. “Satellite,” the German song that eventually won the ESC competition, was about heartthrob and a hairdo.

The message: Germany is a lovely as this young performer. This year, the singer Roman Lob has the honor to represent Germany. Again, the statement is clear: Chancellor Merkel might be brandishing her sceptre during the Euro crisis – but Germany can’t be that nasty.

No country gives up the chance to present itself at the ESC in its most polished form. Former Soviet states (including Azerbaijan) are particularly professional about cultural diplomacy. At the ESC 2010, the Azerbaijani singer Safura and her song “Drip Drop” scored high in the rankings. Just like last year’s winning song (“Running Scared” by Ell&Nikki), it was a carefully orchestrated pop-product from the hands of international producers and songwriters. Russia has pursued a similar approach and hired American hip-hop producer Timbaland to produce the winning title of 2008.

But the question remains: Of what use are these efforts if we simultaneously defend the supposed lack of politics at the ESC? Exactly – it doesn’t make much sense. In the past, it might have been that the only ones who truly cared about contest were the various national juries. But today, the ESC has ascended into the spotlight of popularity and its value has increased drastically. Azerbaijan has understood that and, to get back to the German representative, so will Belarus. The ESC has arrived in the reality of politics.

Read more in this debate: Shahin Abbasov, Maria Martirosyan, Leyla Yunus.

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From the debate

Eurovision Song Contest

Sing Loud, Speak Out

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For human rights activists in Azerbaijan, the Eurovision Song Contest is a blessing in disguise. Never before have their concerns received as much exposure in the European press.

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by Shahin Abbasov
26.05.2012

Don't Call It Culture

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The European Song Contest is a thoroughly politicized event, not a celebration of culture. The strained relationship between the Azerbaijani hosts and their Armenian guests is only the most obvious example of the politics of art.

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by Maria Martirosyan
24.05.2012

Words Are the Only Weapon

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How can we celebrate and seek comfort in pop entertainment while dissidents are beaten and repressed? The only beneficiaries of "apolitical art" is the regime which avoids scrutiny.

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by Leyla Yunus
22.05.2012
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