When and why was Eurovision created?

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) was created by the newly-formed European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in the mid-1950s, in the spirit of post-war reconciliation and cultural rebuilding. The notion of a shared European culture had been shattered in the first half of the 20th century and a number of artistic and cultural ventures were launched at that time in response – the Edinburgh and Avignon festivals are others. The person credited with the idea for a European contest of light music is the then-director of the EBU, Marcel Bezancon, who modeled the contest on the San Remo music festival in Italy (which is still running today). It must be pointed out, of course, that quite like the Olympics, Eurovision is somewhat paradoxically an event intended to foster unity via competition.

How important is it for European Solidarity?

I would argue, very important ­ though this is not always apparent. Competitions bring rivalries and affinities to the surface and Eurovision has always been a relatively benign conduit for the working out of international tensions, though this is something the EBU works – somewhat vainly – to play down. There is a clause in contest rules which forbids songs with overtly political content, which was invoked this year, for example, when Georgia proposed a song which clearly seemed to mock Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. (Though the Georgians denied this, and subsequently refused to compete this year). All that being said, the ESC is one of the few times every year -perhaps – in which Europeans come together for a (relatively) friendly celebration of a shared cultural tradition. As such the competition is hugely important to European solidarity.

How does Eurovision voting reflect European politics?

Eurovision voting has always reflected existing ties and affinities, with countries from the same region and/or with a shared culture and history tending to share votes. We see this in the strong history of the UK and Ireland voting for each other. Since the entry of nations from the former Eastern bloc into the contest and the advent of tele-voting in the mid-to-late 1990s, the tendency towards neighbour and diasporic voting has become more apparent and many feel this has negatively affected the contest. I would argue that this is nothing new, and that all the uproar about Eastern bloc voting in part channels Western European anxieties that the contest is slipping away from them (all the winners since 2001 have hailed from countries in the Eastern, Southern, and far Northern corners of Europe). That being said, the EBU have changed voting rules in this year¹s final back to 50% jury voting in order to counteract the effects of neighbour and disaporic voting; we’ll see if this results in a country from the West winning.

Describe Eurovision’s musical stlye.

It’s impossible to generalise. If you chart the history of Eurovision winners, it¹s a fascinating survey of what was first called light music and what is now called pop music in Europe over half a century. As popular music has fragmented into sub-genres and smaller markets, so has the music presented in Eurovision become ever more diverse. Eurovision has always been a forum for countries to perform their cultural uniqueness.

How is the contest viewed outside Britain?

There is a widespread perception, which I think is generally sound, that non-Western European countries have, in the past 10-15 years, taken Eurovision more seriously than in the West. Eurovision is a way to perform ‘Europeanness’ (whatever that is) on an entertainment platform viewed by over 100 million people. For countries eager to raise the standards of living and economic stakes for their citizens, performing successfully in Eurovision is part of a process of transformation and Westernisation that can result in EU membership. But I’d caution against assuming that everyone in the East takes it seriously ­ at the end of the day, it’s a song contest.