'Politics is too deeply rooted in the contest’s history to be left aside.'Unsplash@anthonydelanoix

This year was my first time watching Eurovision. Having grown up in France, there’s almost something shameful in admitting it. What was I doing all these years not religiously watching my country lose for the forty-fifth time in a row?

In France, Eurovision is one of these unmissable events where people go to extraordinary lengths to tell you whether they watch it, despise it, or don’t see the point in it at all. And so, I wasn’t completely new to the kitsch and glitter. However, watching it for the first time in John’s half-empty Buttery felt like a real rite of passage, as all of my Eurovision-obsessed friends flooded me with ‘so, what do you think?’ and ‘do you like it?’ after every performance.

“From votes to anti-war messages, I was amazed to see how politics was the contest’s uninvited guest”

This year’s edition didn’t disappoint, serving bright lights, fire explosions and (the cherry on top) Norwegian competitors who wore full-body bright yellow futuristic wolf costumes and sang ‘Give That Wolf a Banana’. Pop, folk, rock: I quickly learnt that it’s all about boldly mixing genres. Although admittedly I could have done with fewer clichés, I still tolerated (and even, at times, enjoyed) the flock of songs that all looked and sounded commercial and manufactured. However, it was the underlying geopolitics that made it worth spending four valuable hours in front of this excessively staged show. Eurovision had everything and more to fill my PolSci heart with excitement. From votes to anti-war messages, I was amazed to see how politics was the contest’s uninvited guest, lurking in the shadows of national flags as neighbouring countries strategically vote for one another.

It is common knowledge that Eurovision has never been apolitical. In the 1964 finale, a man appeared on stage to protest the participation of Spain and Portugal, countries which were both dictatorships at the time. He barely had time to hold up a sign that read ‘Boycott Franco and Salazar’ before he was thrown out. Conchita Wurst, the Austrian singer and drag queen, won the contest in 2014 — a political victory for Europe’s LGBT+ community that would not have been possible outside of the Eurovision context. During the 2019 Tel Aviv edition, guest star Madonna had her dancers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes. And the list goes on. Many music enthusiasts mourn a contest where geopolitics are, for once, left behind to focus on music. And that’s also why, in 2016, jury voting was made a more prominent part of the contest: to reclaim Eurovision as above all a music contest. But politics is too deeply rooted in the contest’s history to be left aside.

“For many countries, Eurovision has constituted a claim to cultural membership in Europe”

As Ukraine headed to victory, I felt a renewed sense of excitement: what would Ukraine’s victory at Eurovision mean for us — for Europe? Ranked fourth by the professional juries, Ukraine benefited from a large solidarity vote from the public, in the midst of the war against Russia. We had all marked the Ukrainian group Kalush Orchestra’s song ‘Stefania’ as one of our favourites. Not particularly because we loved its mix of hip-hop and traditional music but because the band’s costumes, rooted in Ukrainian folklore, and the lyrics, which strongly resonated with the war, made us feel like they deserved to win. The song was initially written in honour of the singer’s mother Stefania, but has taken on a greater significance because of the war. The sentence ‘I‘ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed’ unexpectedly encapsulates the refugee experience that many Ukrainians have been suddenly forced into. The song has become an ode to Ukrainian mothers and the country’s heritage.

If the EU has shown us anything, it’s that European countries don’t agree on much. But Eurovision got us hopeful. We found common ground when Ukraine won: we all agreed that it was the right winner. I was surprised to see how happy my friends and I were when we saw spokespersons and performers wearing yellow and blue ribbons. To us, all of this was proof European solidarity existed beyond empty political speeches and Erasmus brochures.


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As I watched Ukraine achieve victory by popular vote, a concept I had learned about in first year came back to mind: participatory culture. It’s the idea that an audience can actively participate in the production of popular culture, granting cultural objects a new meaning and, sometimes, a political message. The European public used Eurovision as a platform to express their sympathy for Ukraine. And this is not to be taken lightly: solidarity is a meaningful political act, especially when it is used to redefine Europe’s cultural boundaries.

For many countries, Eurovision has constituted a claim to cultural membership in Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, former Soviet countries joined the contest — which was widely perceived as their symbolic entry into Europe. And so today, I am left to wonder if Ukraine’s victory can change something beyond the contest’s world of sequins and bold choreographies. They say it’s just a bit of fun, but after Russia invaded Ukraine, Eurovision gave people a platform to express their solidarity, to take a side and to send a clear message to Russia: the people of Europe stand with Ukraine. And it’s precisely why, come next year, love it or hate it, trashy or camp, we know we will all watch it despite having said we wouldn’t.