Phantoms from the past, ghosts of the present, specters of the future, all gathered on 13 May to haunt the Eurovision Song Contest, cohosted in 2023 by the United Kingdom in Liverpool and by Ukraine in the spectral spaces of a Europe divided by war, but singing in concert under the banner, “United by Music.”
Months before the Grand Finale of the Eurovision Song Contest on May 14, 2022 in Turin, Italy, Ukraine was able to claim both moral and musical victory with its entry, the Kalush Orchestra’s “Stefania” (Stephanie). Together with the official videos of all other national entries, “Stefania” began circulating globally on multiple internet platforms in the early weeks of 2022, even as the threat of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine intensified and then reached the full force of invasion on 24 February.
Already during the initial spread of the coronavirus pandemic during the early months of 2020, when the organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest determined the world’s largest and most extravagant musical competition could not take place in May, plans were underway for its return a year later, on 22 May, 2021 in Rotterdam. The intervening year was one of introspection.
What would be left of the Eurovision Song Contest once wrenched from the spectacle and ritual of its annual Grand Finale in May? Could it survive, stripped of glitz, pyrotechnics, and camp, its penchant for ever-expanding excess? Would the legions of fans worldwide, who love the contest, retain their passion and return in 2021? Such […]
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.