The Eurovision Song Contest Just Keeps Getting Better
Last month, I wrote a post about the upcoming Eurovision song competition and European politics. I wanted to point out that the competition will be hosted by (and televised from) Moscow and that the Georgian entry was going to sing a disco song that teases Vladimir Putin called, ahem, “We Don’t Wanna Put In.” See it performed here.
Anyway, in the final paragraph I asked who “would have expected Georgians finding a way to make fun of Putin on a TV show being broadcast from Moscow?” I had spoken too soon.
The Contest’s Reference Group ruled that the Georgians had to change the lyrics because the existing lyrics broke the contest rules by being political. The rule in question states:
4.9 The lyrics and/or performance of the songs shall not bring the Shows or the Eurovision Song Contest as such into disrepute. No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the Eurovision Song Contest. No swearing or other unacceptable language shall be allowed in the lyrics or in the performances of the songs. No commercial messages of any kind shall be allowed. A breach of this rule may result in disqualification.
While this ruling came from a board that includes representatives from more than one state, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether anyone would have called Georgia on this if Russia had not been upset.
Anyway, Georgia refused to change the lyric and chose to withdraw instead. The Telegraph reports:
“There really is nothing negative about this song,” lead singer Stephane said. “In any democratic country it would be taken as a harmless joke.”
In a letter sent to the EBU, the producers of the song said that they had their suspicions that the decision to ask Georgia to revise its entry came about as a result of pressure from Russia, where this year’s contest is to be held.
In case you are interested, MSNBC reports that the chorus of the song is
“We don’t wanna put in,
Cuz negative move,
It’s killin’ the groove,
I’m gonna try to shoot in,
Some disco tonight,
Boogie with you.”
Regardless as to whether you think this song is “political” (or even just “sensical”) or not, did Russia really need to go to the mats on this (assuming that they pushed the issue)? As my previous post had mentioned, there are some interesting synergies between politics and the Eurovision song competition, and it seems that those linkages are especially pronounced for Russians. A reporter for the BBC wrote that:
Russia’s main TV evening news ran a report the other day in which it praised the staging of the final as sign that “after decades of isolation, our country is finally returning to Europe and reclaiming the status of a superpower in politics and culture, including popular music, that rightfully belongs to it“.
Wow. Russia a pop music superpower? Really? That is a particularly tough claim to make since the Russian entrant in this year’s Eurovision song competition is actually Ukrainian. (Here’s her performance.) Wait… it gets better. The music was actually written by… a Georgian. And the lyric? Half was written by an Estonian. The BBC provides the context:
In the last 12 months, Russia has had a gas war with Ukraine, and a real war with Georgia. Two years ago, it had a bitter row with Estonia when that country moved a Soviet-era war memorial.
It would be hard to pick three former Soviet republics that have worse relations with their one-time masters in Moscow.
Maybe we should chalk this up to Russia wanting to kiss and make-up (well, besides possibly throwing the Georgian entry under the bus). Maybe not. The BBC continues:
The producer of one of the rival acts in the contest to represent Russia has exploded in patriotic outrage.
“Let’s get Ukrainian footballers to represent the Russian national team at the European football championships – Dynamo Kiev, for example, and a coach from Georgia,” Iosif Prigozhin told Ekho Moskvy radio. “It is all a bluff. It is all a farce.”
Some of the Moscow rush hour crowds seemed to agree.
“It’s not right that Russia will be represented with a song in the Ukrainian language. It’s just not right,” said Anna.
“Yes, it’s no good – after all, the Russian language is mighty and much nicer than Ukrainian,” agreed her friend.
Some may see in Russia’s multilingual, multinational effort an attempt to recreate a communist-era idea of “friendship of the peoples”.
Others sense a sophisticated scheme to draw the sting from any organised anti-Russian voting.
OK, who else smiled when the guy on the street said “the Russian language is mighty and much nicer than Ukrainian.” Yeah, dude, you tell ‘em!
So, what have we learned? Institutional membership, such as who gets to sit on the Eurovision Contest Board (or even institutions that receive less attention, such as the UN Security Council) can provide structural power. Eurodisco and punnery do not innoculate a song from being “political,” but they can be used to make your opponents seem like they have no sense of humor and are taking a song competition way, way, too seriously. We’ve also learned that Russia believes it has returned to its pop music superpowerdom. (See, that soft power stuff is pretty important after all. Take that, realists.) And it seems that Russian sounds much nicer than Ukrainian. Which, seriously, I never knew.
For me, the Eurovision Song Contest is like a gift that just keeps on giving.