When Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands briefly acknowledged his victory in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with the dedication, “this is to music first, always,” he was making a claim that most viewers would have found unobjectionable. Laurence’s hopefulness notwithstanding, the real position of music in the 2019 Eurovision Grand Finale on 18 May 2019 in Tel Aviv was more troubling than secure.
At a speed few can fathom, nationalism has become the dirtiest word in all of European cultural politics. Embraced by the right and rising populism, nationalism seemingly poses a threat to the very being of Europe. Nationalists proudly proclaim a euroscepticism that places the sovereignty of self over community.
Spectacle at its grandest has long been crucial to the Eurovision Song Contest’s projection of its own importance for Europe and, increasingly in the past two decades, a unified Europe’s position in the world. Each year’s competition outstrips that of the year before, as song styles multiply and nations are added to the spectacle of nation competing against nation with the hope of representing Europe musically to the world.
The negotiation of sameness and difference seemingly moved to Central Europe again with the 60th Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) in Vienna, which took as its motto “Building Bridges.” Austria became the host of the 2015 Eurovision after the sensational victory at the 2014 ESC in Copenhagen by Conchita Wurst, whose winning entry, “Rise like a Phoenix,” ascended to continent-wide popularity as an anthem for the diversity of sexual identity.
By Philip V. Bohlman
For Rambo Amadeus, Montenegro’s entry in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), Europe’s annual spectacle of musical nationalism was over the moment it began. Randomly placed as the opening number in the first semi-final evening on 22 May, Rambo won only disdain from the millions of Eurovision fans who follow the build-up to Eurovision week. For Eurovision’s loyal minions Rambo did everything wrong: A bit portly, with unkempt hair and a poorly-fitting tuxedo, he rapped coarsely, unapologetically attacking the European financial crisis head-on.