For the most part Eurovision is a celebration of a range of European identities, a chance for nations to express and showcase their national individuality and prowess. On a whole this is about celebrating the music and culture of these nations and usually sees widespread generic messages evoking peace, love and tolerance. Eurovision rules state that:
‘The lyrics and/or performance of the songs shall not bring the Shows, the ESC [Eurovision Song Contest] as such or the EBU [European Broadcasting Union] into disrepute. No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC.’
However there have been moments in Eurovision’s history that have flouted this rule and has seen rising tensions between countries who are at odds with come to the fore and play out through the Contest.
Notable events include the withdrawal of the Georgian entry in 2009 by Stephane and 3G. Their song ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ was seen as a controversial criticism of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, an answer to the Russo-Georgian Conflict in August of 2008. Ukraine’s winning song from 2016 ‘1944’ was also seen as an attack on Russia. Although the song was about historic events (the eviction and deportation of ethnic minority Tatars from the Crimea in 1944), the song had current political connotations. The Crimea region which was part of the Ukriane had been annexed in 2014 by Russia. In addition to this in 2016 the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People had been designated an extremist organisation and was banned. These recent events made the Crimean Tatar issue current again, changing it from historic to political and giving Jamala’s song an overt political message.
Another disputed territory is the area of Nagorno-Karabakh which both Azerbaijan and Armenian lay claim to. In 2016 the Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan got in to some bother when she could be seen waving the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh during the semi finals of the competition. She claimed it was an innocent mistake, but many accused her of stoking tensions with Azerbaijan and making a political statement.
Another big example of Eurovision becoming a stage for international politics is in 1974. The Portuguese Carnation Revolution was a military coup to over throw the authoritarian rule of the Estado Novo. Eurovision was scheduled to take place around the same time as the revolution was planned. The organisers of the coup used the 1974 Portuguese song ‘E Depois do Adeus’ as a signal to alert the soldiers to begin the coup. 1974 was also a controversial year for Italy. Their song by Gigliola Cinquetti was banned by Italian state broadcaster RAI because it repeated the word ‘Si’ (Yes) over and over and was seen as an attempt to influence public opinion on the impending Divorce Referendum.
There are many other examples throughout the years of Eurovision getting political, but no year seems as politically charged as 2018. Acts this year seem to fly in the face of the ‘No Political Messages’ rule and there are songs competing that not only have an underlying political message, but that have politics at the heart of their songs. Let’s take a look at a few of these.
Madame Monsieur- ‘Mercy’ (France)
France’s 2018 song ‘Mercy’ details the birth of a Nigerian refugee on her way to France on a migrant boat. While the song is about something that most people can get behind and support; the birth of a child in horrible conditions, fleeing horrific circumstance to make a new life with better conditions, there are wider political implications at play. The migrant crisis in Europe is an issue that has divided many, not only from nation to nation but within each country. Countries most affected by the crisis are the Mediterranean nations, where most of the refugees are arriving to from the sea. While some nations like Germany welcome large quotas of refugees, particularly from civil war torn Syria, countries like Poland, Hungary and Greece (which the refugees have to travel through to get to Germany) have been less welcoming with many right wing parties in each of the countries using the issue to stir up nationalist feelings and garner more votes. Similarly there have been reports within Germany of refugees attacking women at train stations in Cologne which polarised opinion on the crisis further. Some may dismiss claims that the French song is political, but if you watch the video that accompanies the song you can see the band surrounded by refugees dressed in life jackets. This has been given the go ahead by Eurovision HQ, however Portuguese singer Salvador Sobral was banned from wearing a t-shirt last year that had the political slogan on it that said ‘S.O.S. Refugees’.
Netta Barzilai- ‘Toy’ (Israel)
Another issue that has played out in the media in the last year is the accusations by many women in Hollywood that they had been the victims of sexual assault by male executives in powerful and influential roles in the film industry. When more and more women came forward and shared their stories online, it sparked a revolution and encouraged women from all walks of life to tell the world how they too had been victims of misogynistic behaviour in their day to day lives. The hashtag #MeToo began trending on social media worldwide. The Israeli singer for Eurovision 2018, Netta Barzilai uses this as the inspiration for her song ‘Toy’. In it she challenges the traditional gender roles in society and exclaims in the chorus that she is ‘…not your toy! You stupid boy!’.
Zibbz- ‘Stones’ (Switzerland)
Social media usage is also on the minds of the Swiss band Zibbz. Their 2018 Eurovision song ‘Stones’ tackles the issue of cyber bullying. Again this is a topic worthy of attention and inclusion in a song. It is something that currently affects the mental health of any one who uses it but in particular younger people. The song tackles the phenomenon of ‘Twitter Trolls’, and calls people to task for hiding behind a keyboard to throw stones and cheap shots at others without having to face up to the repercussions of their words. A commendable idea. The song does stray into the political arena however when you analyse the lyrics more closely. The opening line ‘Wild joker on a gold throne’ could refer to the U.S. President Donald Trump. Everyone is aware of how Trump allows his politics to play out on Twitter, taking cheap shots at his opponents and spreading his ‘Fake News’ throughout the Twittersphere. The song goes on to discuss this sensation of Fake News in the lines ‘We’re the liars in the face of facts/A different weapon but the same attack’. So what appears to be a song about the wider implications of using social media becomes a veiled criticism of Donald Trump.
Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro- ‘No mi avete fatto niente’ (Italy)
The most politically charged song from 2018 without a doubt is Italy’s song ‘No mi avete fatto niente’. Fabrizio Moro and Ermal Meta’s ballad tackles the issue of terrorism and the recent spate of attacks on the West and in the Middle East. In the song the duo name check incidents in Manchester, Nice, Barcelona and Cairo. It could be argued that the song has the generic message that ‘Terrorism and violence is bad’ and that the song echoes the cliched lines heard in many news reports following any terrorist attack ‘we remain strong’, ‘we will be resilient’ ‘we will continue to live our lives’, ‘the terrorists will not win’. However when terrorist attacks and specifically Islamic Extremist terrorist attacks bring with it so much political baggage, you can’t help but see this song as having a political message. Following any terrorist attack there is always the question of what can be done in retaliation? Do you meet violence with violence? Should the UK, France, Spain and Egypt retaliate against those responsible for carrying out these attacks? If the answer is yes, then it calls into question where should they attack, after all Islamic Extremism is an idea not a country. You also run the risk of alienating non-violent Muslims with counter attacks or even risk turning the general public against Muslims living in the nations where the attacks took place. Then there’s the question of the Middle East where violent wars and tensions have been building for decades. Nations who have a stake in the wars in the Middle East that participate in Eurovision include among others Israel and Russia and former participants Turkey. The song becomes a political hot bed.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy- ‘Together’ (Ireland)
Even Ireland are getting in on the act. While the song itself has no political motivations, the music video for Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s ‘Together’ features a same sex couple carrying out a dance routine. Ryan poked the bear when he accused Russia of trying to ban the video in their country, highlighting the Russian laws on LGBT Propaganda as the reason for this. This claim by Ryan is something that has no evidence based in fact, and as it turns out instead came from an opinion video shared by an Australian Vlogger. Since this, the Irish delegation decided to incorporate the dancers into the staging for the Eurovision semi final performance and as a result Russian broadcasters may decide not to air Semi Final 1 when it takes place on 8 May. This however may be down to the fact that Russia will not compete or vote in the first semi final, as the allocation draw put them in Semi Final 2.
Yulia Samoilova- ‘I Won’t Break’ (Russia)
Russia themselves are fresh off the back of political controversy from last year which saw the nation withdraw from the Contest. Host nation Ukraine had issued a ban for the Russian artist Yulia Samoilova due to the fact the singer had entered the disputed territory of the Crimea which Russia had annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The EBU offered a solution which would see Yulia perform from Russia via a video link, but Russia took this as a slight, declined and withdrew from the Contest. Given this background it is hard not to read their 2018 song ‘I Won’t Break’ as a rebuttal to these events. The song also sees Yulia get a second chance to take to the Eurovision stage and the lyrics allude to showing strength in the face of adversity. Take that Ukraine!
It would appear then that Eurovision 2018 has become more political than any Contest in recent history with many of the songs taking on big, controversial and prevalent issues in today’s world (Trump, #MeToo, Migrant Crisis, Anti-LGBT laws, Putin, Terrorism). They seem to overstep the line when keeping to the EBU’s rule regarding political commentary, however all songs have been given the go ahead to compete at Eurovision 2018. Has the EBU relaxed its rule? Will the inclusion of these political songs see an even more political Contest next year?
What do you think? Leave us a comment with your thoughts!