Art and Entertainment

Eurovision song contest, Eurovision history, hadise
Sipa/AP
Hadise (Turkey) sings "Dum Tek Tek" by Sinan Akci.

Eurovision Competition Delivers Music, Politics

May 14, 2009 03:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
Before “American Idol,” before “[Country] Has Talent,” there was Eurovision. More than five decades after its inception, its frothy pop music and messy political backdrop live on.

Eurovision: Geopolitics Set to a Drum Machine

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The finals of the 54th annual Eurovision Song Contest are set to take place this weekend in Moscow. Americans looking to watch the contest can do so online via the contest’s official Web site, www.eurovision.tv; no channels are broadcasting Eurovision in the United States.

Turkey’s entry, the belly-dance themed “Düm Tek Tek” by singer Hadise, is being pegged as a top candidate to upset the Eastern Europeans’ reign over the contest, as is Greek megastar Sakis Rouvas’ song “This Is Our Night.” France’s entry will be sung by internationally known contralto Patricia Kaas.

As always, Eurovision’s kitschy pop is blended with a healthy dose of  controversy. Among the semifinal songs that were up for contention is Israel’s “There Must Be Another Way,” sung by Achinoam “Noa” Nini, a Jewish Israeli of Yemenite origin, and Mira Awad, an Arab Israeli citizen. Some within Israel have said the song sugarcoats national tensions.

Georgia withdrew from the contest and opted to hold its own music festival after organizers took issue with their entry’s line “We don’t wanna put in,” meant to poke fun at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports that the song will be performed this weekend at Georgia’s festival. Meanwhile, Russian gay rights activists are planning to hold their annual pride parade in Moscow on Saturday, despite a municipal ban against the event.

AFP quotes a quip from Russian daily paper Kommersant: “The scandals are louder than the songs.”

Background: Eurovision History and Rules

The first Eurovision competition took place in 1956, with the goal of building cultural bridges in Europe after the destruction and divisions of World War II. Eurovision’s official Web site offers a detailed history of the contest, and also explains the voting system, which forbids viewers to vote for their own country’s acts.

This year, each participating nation is also sending a professional jury whose vote will account for one half of the country’s vote tally. One possible reason for this: it’s an attempt to mitigate the effects of alleged “bloc voting.”

Opinion & Analysis: Worthy Peace Builder or Campy Political Spectacle?

Given that countries are unable to vote for themselves, many voters apparently turn to the closest thing—throwing support behind entries from countries with which they share historical and ethnic ties. Naturally, immigrants tend to vote for their country of origin. For example, Eastern bloc countries tend to vote for one another; as do the Balkans and Nordic states. Germany and the Netherlands often cast a heavy proportion of the votes for acts from Turkey, courtesy of their large Turkish immigrant communities.

Both long-held and recent political tensions often manifest in Eurovision voting. In 2003, the U.K. entry received zero points, likely due to other countries’ displeasure with Britain’s participation in the Iraq war. And Turkey’s 10 votes for Armenia last year were intended as an olive branch, reports the Turkish Daily News.

Some shrug off the Eurovision “bloc voting” theory, arguing that regional voting patterns are based on linguistic affinity and similar musical traditions. In 2005, a study published in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Stimulation put the debate to the test and statistically simulated the contest’s voting patterns over several years. The results suggested that political reasons were at play, rather than a shared penchant for a particular flavor of bubblegum pop.

The issue of bloc voting prompted BBC broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan to step down from his longtime post as Britain’s Eurovision announcer last year, when Russia won largely on the Eastern European vote. It marked the third Eastern European victory in five years. “This is no longer a music contest,” Wogan said at the time.

Benny Andersson, member of Swedish group ABBA, agrees. Catapulted into international fame with ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision-winning performance of “Waterloo,” Andersson was quoted as saying by British music weekly NME that he will not be tuning in to this year’s contest. “What it is now is possibly a great television event, but for music it means nothing,” said Andersson.

But while Wogan is no longer giving color commentary about Eurovision on the air, he still offers vibrant banter on the contest—and some countries’ perception of it. "It is not about politics, not even about national pride,” he was quoted as saying by British tabloid The Daily Mirror. “It is a camp, foolish spectacle.”

Related Topic: Americans Riveted by “Britain’s Got Talent”

Another talent competition that Americans can’t see on domestic television, but has piqued their interest nonetheless: “Britain’s Got Talent.” The auditions for the show are getting wide play over the Internet, thanks to riveting performances from Susan Boyle and Greg Pritchard. The latter’s style reminds viewers of “American Idol” finalist Adam Lambert.
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