Eurovision - Douze Points

I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm going to cover it in my blog. And I don't want to hear any groans.

I'm probably not going to though, am I? The very idea of "alternative music" has fizzled out into nothing and most of today's properly radical music is located far away from any hippie tents. All expressions deserve to be taken seriously, and are, even the most insiduously capitalistic mindnumbers. In fact - potentially more so than ever. Might it be that it's the "serious" music they were defending that's the music of the opressors? Adorno is fucking dead.

Something as nakedly commercial, simplemindedly populist as the Eurovision Song Contest holds a wealth of interest to anyone fascinated by music or people. Since I know a great deal of my readers are not European I'm going to use this post to try to explain its appeal.

The Eurovision Song Contest is probably the largest non-sporting annual TV event in the world. The format is essentially very basic - 38 countries from all over the European continent, from Ireland to Azerbadjan, send in a performer who performs a 3-minute original song on stage. These are then ranked by a televote, giving the viewers in all countries equal "power" in deciding the winner.

In one way, it's a giant experiment in pop manufacturing. The viewers act as study subjects, seing a (usually unknown) performer only once or twice and having to decide based on these fleeting impressions which are the best songs. The songwriters and performers have to navigate a huge demographic range of ages, ethnic groups and tastes in order to reach as sucessful a position as possible, and many of the highest-placed entires are based on gimmickry and stupid performance tricks. It's raw, it's naked of all the shrouds of marketing and hype, and it reveals lots about every country involved.

Of course, in practice people tend to vote entirely differently than you'd expect. Most famously, there has formed blocks of inter-voting cliques in Scandinavia, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union where every country inevitably votes for each other. These voting patterns seem immensely interesting to scientists and there's been reams of scientific papers trying to analyse them. Here's a great opportunity to actually statistically analyse cultural differences very straightforwardly that seemingly no social scientist can resist.

Equally fascinating (for me) is the special subculture of Eurovision fans that has grown up around the contest. Significantly gay male, slightly camp yet often deadly fanboy serious, it's an amazing culture that very specifically worships something that is designed to be broadly liked by everyone. Here in Sweden it's huge and the media precence is fascinatingly thorough, but worth seeking out (if you get a chance to see it) is BBC commentator Terry Wogan, whose heavy-drinking, sardonic love-hate relationship with the contest is the stuff of legend.

But what about the music? Well, as you'd expect it's often quite broad, slightly outdated middle-of-the-road pop. But quite often it throws up, I dunno, weird folk hybrids, weak attempts at satire, ska-punk or whatever idiosyncratic music is fashionable at the time:

I think it's a fairly fertile ground to poke about a bit in. I'm certainly no Eurovision expert (and lord knows this subject is overblogged) but I'm going to try to cover this year's entries in a little bit of detail over the months leading up to the final, starting with Andorra who were the first to select their entry. I might even stick in a few off-kilter classics from the past if I get the chance. So Bienvenu! Welcome! Välkommen! To Tunedown's Eurovision 2008!


Mike said...


Anonymous said...

Ethnomusicologist Phil Bohlman has been studying and writing about the Eurovision contest for some time, though I don't think he has yet to publish much on it. Should be great when he does, though.

Meantime, there's this collection:

And perhaps you should consider attending this:

Birdseed said...

Hey if I had the money or the institution's backing...