Eurovision: Making The Political Cultural

The Eurovision Song Contest is a global fixture in the cultural calendar. Not only restricted to Europe, its popularity is such that Australia is now among the countries permitted to enter a song each year, and even America has taken inspiration from it with the newly founded American Song Contest.

But this is not merely a competition pitting song against song, and performance against performance. While judges and audiences from individual countries should, in theory, place their votes on the entries they like the best, there is a long history of politics which makes its way into the voting each year and can have a huge influence on the results.

Some notable examples include Britain – one of the ‘Big Five’ countries which makes it to the final every year due to being a consistent funder of the competition – suffering a ‘nul points’ result at the competition last year and placing last.

The UK’s entry was written and performed by James Newman, an accomplished songwriter whose previous work includes songs for Calvin Harris and Toni Braxton among others, scoring a number one single in the UK and also winning an award for British Single of the Year.

So what was going on at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021? In a word: Brexit.

The political stink surrounding Brexit undoubtedly affected the way that judges from other European countries voted in the competition, and led to Newman’s ultimate defeat.

On the plus side, Newman and his team took the loss well, celebrating on the night in a way that showed an understanding that the result was a critique not of his work but of the political context in which it was presented.

It’s not only unfriendly relationships which play out in the voting at Eurovision, but also friendly ones. Countries cannot vote for their own entries, but another phenomenon which regularly occurs is countries who are neighbours and have good relationships voting for each other, regardless of the song or performance each one offers.

This is not necessarily political, but can also be seen as cultural. Denmark, Sweden and Norway, for example, often give each other particularly high scores.

Interestingly, Russia has arguably benefited from such block voting in the past, with neighbouring countries offering big points to Russian entries. This year, however, Russia is banned from the competition amidst the huge controversy around conflict in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s entry, however, is predicted to score very highly amidst that same controversy, with sentiment for the country running high around Europe.

But at the end of the day, perhaps one thing to be said about Eurovision is that it tends not to bring out nationalism among its most devoted fans. Instead, competitions see dedicated viewers rooting for their favourite song and performance above all else, and wearing flags from all over the continent.

In that respect, when Eurovision is at its best, it remains a cultural force for understanding and unity.