Terence Blacker: New Europe plays all the best tunes

Lowbrow music may not be to sophisticated tastes, but it can be revealing

Share
Related Topics

Amid the roar and thunder of the global news, a few of the breaking stories around Europe may have escaped your notice.

There has been a complaint from Greece that Macedonia's entry for this year's Eurovision Song Contest is unduly nationalistic – it mentions the word "Macedonian" in one verse. Iceland's representative for the competition has very sadly dropped dead; his song will now be sung by his friends. Allegations of plagiarism surround Armenia's song for Europe "Boom-Boom" (chorus: Boom-boom chaka chaka, your love is a like-a like-a") after it defeated its two short-listed rivals "Hi" and "Goodbye".

Denmark is to be represented by an Israeli cross-dresser. Portuguese viewers boldly selected an anti-cuts protest song "E Luta E'Allegria" ("The Struggle Is Joy") but were over-ruled by the professional judges.

There will be those, and they are in the comfortable majority, who sneer at the Eurovision Song Contest. They see it as an unlovely conflation of all that is vulgar, silly, tuneless and crassly commercial in the modern world. When the British entry fails, as it now does on a reliable annual basis, sinister forces are said to be at work. New Europe, still below stairs in the club, are thought to be breaking all sorts of rules – voting tactically, not taking us seriously, writing better songs.

This snobbery is ill-judged, according to a rather surprising number of academics who are now entering the field of Eurovision Studies. In American and European universities, sociologists and musicologists are arguing, with some justification, that a popular international music competition, involving 40 countries and drawing a TV audience of 125 million, is eminently worthy of study.

Supported by a modest research grant, a series of conferences, organised by the University of Warwick under the theme of Eurovision and the New Europe, will take place this Spring. A workshop called "Eurovision and 'New' Europe".

Because we live in a snooty culture, these academics have been widely mocked. They are on the right track, though. Being part of a changing community may mean different things for each European country, but it always matters. Indeed, lowbrow music may not be to sophisticated tastes, but it can be revealing. In recent decades, the songs sung by black musicians in the minstrel and medicine shows of the early 20th century have been a source of uneasiness among liberals, combining musical simplicity with unpalatable racial attitudes. Some academics have even argued that the music of that time and type should be quietly consigned to the bottom drawer of history.

It was only when historians like Paul Oliver pointed out that the lyrics of songs written at the time contained all sorts of subversiveness and expressions of aspiration for change that they began to be taken seriously.

In other words, there is more to the Eurovision Song Contest than meets the eye. Behind the naff décor, the silly videos, the hilarious costumes, the general air of countries trying to be more international than in fact they are, lies the reality of the New Europe.

It is significant the way some nations choose to ape the empty, money-fuelled celebrity nonsense of richer countries. For gay communities in less tolerant countries, the contest's campness will be changing attitudes. Even the British position, in its own slightly undignified way – superior to the songs of New Europe, yet desperately hoping to defeat them – says more about our approach to being European than any poll could.

Long may the competition flourish, and spawn ever larger Eurovision Studies conferences on campuses around the world. The night itself will, as always, be slightly too long but full of surprises. Gambling on a Eurovision winner is a mug's game but, as things stand, my fiver will be going on Iceland's "Coming Home".



twitter.com/TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee Teacher - Maths

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organization is the larges...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - School Playground Designer

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen at Derby day during the Epsom Derby Festival, 2013  

As an MP, I shouldn't have to swear allegiance to the Queen – I serve my constituents, not her

Richard Burgon
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor