Eurovision faces new call to cut the politics

“I’m a beautiful creature”: Israel’s Netta Barzilai is one of the favourites to win the contest. © Getty

Is the world’s favourite and most bizarre singing contest becoming too political? Amidst the silliness, this year there are songs inspired by #MeToo, terrorism and the global refugee crisis.

When Madame Monsieur were writing this year’s French entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, they wanted to use basic vocabulary that would resonate across the continent. It had to be simple, while still sending a powerful message. See if you can translate the opening lines: “Je suis née ce matin / Je m’appelle Mercy / Au milieu de la mer / Entre deux pays, Mercy.”

Yes, it is sung from the perspective of a baby who has been born at sea. And it is based on a true story: Mercy is a refugee, born last year while her mother crossed the Mediterranean.

“It’s a very soft and kind way to start to talk about migrants,” explained the band’s singer, Émilie Satt. “There’s no problem to have a message and this kind of song at Eurovision, as long as you can touch people with it.”

The contest, which will have its grand final tomorrow in Lisbon, is more popular than ever. Last year’s final was watched by 183 million people in 42 countries. It is particularly popular among young people, reaching 43% of 15 to 24-year-olds.

Technically, songs with a political message are banned. The rules state: “No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted.”

But you might not know it from looking at this year’s line-up. Italy’s song, whose title translates to “you’ve done nothing to me”, is about defiance in the face of Europe’s terror attacks — it name-drops France, London and Barcelona.

Others have more subtle messages. Israel’s song was inspired by the #MeToo movement (“I’m not your toy / you stupid boy”). Ireland’s sweet song about love and heartbreak is accompanied by two male dancers playing out a gay love story.

Eurovision was always partly about politics; it was created to bring European nations together after the Second World War. The first ever contest took place in 1956, a year before the EU was founded.

But its songs are becoming more explicitly political. In 2016, the Ukrainian winner sang a defiant song about Russian brutality. Now refugees and terrorism are on the agenda.

Is this a bad thing?

Nul points!

Yes — Eurovision should stick to weird pop and generic messages about love, say some. Immigration is one of the continent’s most divisive issues. Preaching about it takes away from the core purpose of the event: putting aside our differences and enjoying music. If Europe cannot do that for one night, it really is in trouble.

Wrong, argue others. It is refreshing to see artists raising awareness of important issues. And anyway, the message behind all of these “controversial” songs is that we should see each other as human beings, rather than statistics or problems. That is what all good art is about — we should be pleased to see it at Eurovision.

You Decide

  1. Is Eurovision too political?
  2. Do you agree with the definition of “good art” in the final paragraph of this story?

Activities

  1. Without using Google, translate the French lyrics in the first paragraph of this article into English. The answer is found in Word Watch below.
  2. Write a song that you think represents your country in 2018. (If you’re not very musical, just focus on the lyrics instead!)

Some People Say...

“There’s not enough silliness in the world. Eurovision helps to keep it balanced.”

Terry Wogan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
This will be Eurovision’s 63rd contest. In the UK, the final will be broadcast at 8pm on BBC One with Graham Norton commentating. Britain’s entry is called Storm and is sung by SuRie. Like it or not, Brexit will probably not have an impact on next year’s Eurovision Song Contest, as the competition is not tied to the European Union. (That is why countries like Israel and Australia are allowed to enter.)
What do we not know?
Who will win! Cyprus is the bookies’ favourite, but Israel’s song easily has the most views on YouTube (a whopping 22 million, around three times more than the second most popular song). The winner is decided through a mix of audience voting and a panel of expert judges from each country.

Word Watch

Translate
In English: “I was born this morning / My name is Mercy / In the middle of the sea / Between two countries, Mercy.”
183 million
This was down from over 200 million in 2016, probably because Russia refused to broadcast the contest when its contender was barred from entering the host country, Ukraine.
43%
According to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
#MeToo
A movement protesting sexual harassment that began last year with accusations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
EU
In March 1957, six European countries signed a treaty which established the European Economic Community (EEC). This later developed into the European Union.
Ukrainian winner
Jamala is a Crimean Tatar — a member of one of Crimea’s ancient ethnic minorities. Her song, 1944, was about the killing and deportation of thousands of Tatars by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. However, the timing was notably political, as Russia had annexed Crimea two years previously.

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