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Ethnicity Plays Second Fiddle At Eurovision Music Fest

  • Kristin Deasy
  • Kenan Aliyev

Of the 43 songs competing this year, only six were performed in the representative country's native language. None of these made it to the top 10.

Of the 43 songs competing this year, only six were performed in the representative country's native language. None of these made it to the top 10.

Due in part to the growing global dominance of pop and the homogenizing affect of the Internet on popular culture, the historic Eurovision song competition -- in which voters and appointed juries choose the best song submitted by a host of countries in the pan-European zone -- is adapting to a globalized era.

Nothing demonstrates this shift better than Ukraine's entry, the song "Angel."



As with the majority of this year's entries, there is very little that is demonstrably Ukrainian about the song aside from the local roots of singer Mika Newton, whose real name is Oksana Stefanivna Hrytsay.

Of the 43 songs competing this year, only six were performed in the representative country's native language, and just three of these (France, Italy, and Serbia) made it to the Top 25, competing in the grand final, which takes place May 14 in Duesseldorf, Germany.

The last round pits Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Georgia, and Moldova against 18 others in a much-anticipated final vote. (UPDATE: The winners, Ell/Nikki, arrived in Baku to a hero's welcome.)

A Deutsche Welle reporter covering the event told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that she felt a new sense of internationalism at the competition this year.

"This year, I think for the first time, it's not about this folkloristic element anymore. Like in the '90s, everybody stopped watching...it was too much. And now it's getting more international, it's about the fun," the reporter said.

"I think it's a good change, but I like it if there's like a little spice of the own culture to every song."

English Or Native Language?

Speaking on the festival's sidelines, one fan told RFE/RL that now Eurovision is more about winning and "not about the culture," adding that he wished more songs would be performed in their native languages.

"I think more countries should sing in their national language, because now every country is singing in English," the fan said, "but it would be better if there were different languages."

Fans generally have strong feelings on the subject. One comment under the official YouTube video of Bulgaria's entry -- one of the few not in English -- says that this year Eurovision has "too many songs in English."

But English-language lyrics also have support, particularly among smaller countries with less-familiar native tongues.

Iceland, for example, embraced English in its entry this year with the song "Coming Home" by the group Sjonni's Friends.

"We did it in English because more people can understand the lyrics. You know, we have so much meaning in our lyric, and we want it to spread around," says the band's singer and guitarist, Gunnar Olason.

"There are many people that wanted us to do it in Icelandic but we just thought, you know, there's just so few people that know Icelandic, you know? We are [such] a small nation, you know? So, that's why we did it in English."

Politics Finds A Way

Eurovision began in 1956 as an experiment in television broadcasting and is now one of the longest-running TV shows in the world. The event has been criticized in the past for what some say is little more than political theater in the guise of musical acts. Organizers have taken steps in recent years to curb political content.

However, there is always a way to sing in between the lines. This year's entry from debt-strapped Portugal has been widely interpreted as a protest song over the proposed European Union bailout. The song did not make it past the semi-finals in Eurovision's host country of Germany, which, as it happens, is also the EU bailout's largest contributor.

The entry from Belarus, where authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent amid international outcry, has also seen by many as a propaganda piece for the administration.

The piece, Anastasiya Vinnikova's "I Love Belarus," speaks -- or sings -- for itself.



The entry also did not make it past the semifinals. Lukashenka said in response that Western forces were out to "suffocate" the country "in all directions."

But Bosnia's entry did make it to the final round. The country is also an exception for having managed to include a few words in Bosnian and even some traditional instruments in the song "Love In Rewind:"



But as with all contests, Eurovision will have found a winner in one country -- even if the winning song's style will sound much like all the others.

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