Wow. I just watched the first semi-final of this year's Eurovision Song Contest and I was really drawn back into it all. What an amazing stage set up! I'm starting to regret not spending several months analysing every single entry like I did last year.
Because there's plenty to analyse I think. Some of the things happening are quite fascinating, and some even have real-world impact. I'm thinking, for instance, of the balkanisation of Romania.
No, not that kind of balkanisation. I'm talking about how Romania has finally succumbed to using imagery, music and lyrics reflecting its place in the Balkans, something they've never done in Eurovision before.
This may not sound like much, but it runs totally anathema to what for many years was Romania's national image. Romania used to be occupied by the Ottoman empire, and its nationalist movement was very clear in emphasising its Western, romance heritage, in strong contrast with anything vaguely Turkish. The Balkan, eastern aspect of its culture was relegated to an "other" - the culture of gypsies, the poor, immigrants. That's part of the explanation why manele music is so despised in Romania.
Similar stories can be found in just about every country whose modernism stands in contrast to the Ottoman empire. But in the past decades, the hate for all things Balkan-sounding has slowly seeped out of Eurovision in most countries. Greece and Turkey let up early, and in recent years even Slavic stalwart Bulgaria has gone nearly full-on Balkanic. But this year must be some kind of record. From Azerbaijan to Spain to Moldova, the pop and folk sounds of the Balkans have spread everywhere, and obviously that now includes Romania. In a rather weak and slightly R&B-inspired way, but still.
What does this mean? Is Romania losing its antipathy to manele, and by extension the Roma? Is Balkan pop softening and becoming mainstream like rock'n'roll once did? Well, I'm waiting for the full-on manele entry to arrive first before I'm totally convinced. But it's an interesting trend nonetheless.
PS. As a fan and staunch supporter of minorities, it's fascinating to me that Elena Gheoghe is Arumanian, one of the most oppressed minorities in Greece and Albania.
Update: I found a Romanian blog post which suggests manele can be seen as nationally distinctive music, something that's immediately hacked down on by commenters.