“The key to understanding nationalism lies in the relationship between culture and structure, and especially the inverse relationship between the two.” David McCrone, reflecting on Ernest Gellner, The Sociology of Nationalism, p.67.
The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956. Today it consists of 43 states battling it out for the title of best song in Europe. Although primarily a song competition, when one looks at the voting trends amongst the competing countries, it appears to be more political and nationalistic, and arguably nothing at all to do with the music!
Voting appears to be the mostly debated and problematic factor whilst analysing the contest. Certain features such as similar religious backgrounds, historical memories of the past, and other social-cultural contexts seem to dominate how countries vote.
Looking at the content and language of the music and the competition, it gives us great examples of both national and European identity. When looking at France’s participation in the Eurovision, we see a trend of reinforcing their national identity with every entry to date being at least partially sung in French and sometimes also singing about their national identity. See below the somewhat controversial 1993 hit song ‘Mama Corsica’ by Patrick Fiori, and the United Kingdom’s 2007 entry ‘Flying the Flag (For you)’ by Scooch, for examples of counties using the Eurovision to reinforce their national identity.
On the flipside of things, the Eurovision song contest could be seen as a prime example of European cultural identity. Over the past decade or so, we have seen a popular trend of countries (both winners and losers) entering songs which are Euro-disco or Euro-pop in genre. As the winning song is decided by voting from all of the peer countries, perhaps this gives us an idea of a pan-European taste in music. See below France’s 2010 entry ‘Allez Ola Olé’ Jesse Matador which certainly contains elements Euro-pop whilst retaining French elements as the entire song is sung in French.
On the financial side of things, the Eurovision song contest is a very expensive competition, highly invested in by both host and competing countries. The Financial crisis has arguably turned the Eurovision into a battle for losing! Furthermore one could say, the purpose of seeking a European identity the Eastern European Countries has made them more enthusiastic about investing in the Eurovision.
We have seen the Eurovision Song Contest grow and expand alongside the European Union – the original members of both (bar one) were the same, and there have been similar surges in membership throughout the decades. These two social projects are linked in providing an overarching identity; a supra-state identity whilst celebrating the diversity of each member. European identity, a nebulous identity at best, seems once again to have to expand and incorporate greater members in order to solidify its identity.
A collaboration by Irene Young, Tornike Metreveli, Eva Dowling, Yuanwei He, and Jennie Love.