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Singing application

Eurosong is kitsch in the west. In the east, there is an application to join the European cultural community – and the EU.


[music] Luiz Ejlli stares lonely into the fireplace, surrounded by a bunch of gubber in traditional folk costumes. The camera sweeps over large hotels and inviting beaches, while the old men dance by a swimming pool. It is the first time Albania has joined the Eurosong, which we still call the Melodi Grand Prix here in Norway. The video for the song "Zjarre ftohtë" will sell both Ejlli and all of Albania to the rest of Europe.

- Most countries in Eastern Europe have the same perception of Eurosong as Norway had until the 1980s. It's an entertainment program, but they take it very seriously. It has to do with national pride, believes Melodi Grand Prix expert Jostein Pedersen.

Entrance ticket to the EU

Since Estonia won the final in 2001, the Eurosong has increasingly symbolized the gateway to the new Europe for the states of Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain and the Cold War are gone, and instead it's all about pop music, market economy, cultural struggle and glittering antics. This year, 16 countries that were previously hidden behind the Iron Curtain are in the fight for victory in the melody competition.

- In Eastern Europe, Eurosong has great political significance, and is considered one of several possible entry tickets to EU membership. That is why Albania markets itself as a tourist nation. The competition is a means of showing Europe that it is a sophisticated western country, and when countries such as Estonia and Ukraine won and had to arrange the televised final, it was both a strong experience and an important challenge, Pedersen believes.

Despite participation from Israel, Turkey and Yugoslavia, it has been primarily in Western Europe that Eurosong has been a playground for pop music. Although competition remains strong in Sweden, Germany and the BeNeLux countries, popularity has waned in the west. The competition has to a greater extent evolved into a musical freak show. Parallel to the declining interest in the West, the show has been given a new boost after the fall of the communist regimes, and new broadcasters sought membership in the European Broadcasting Union EBU.

The watershed came in 2001. Then Tanel Padar and Dave Benton won the final for Estonia with the song "Everybody". Just after the victory, the EU increased

support strongly in Estonia, formerly the most union skeptic of the new applicant countries.

"Estonia sang out of the Soviet Union. Now we will sing our way into Europe, "said then-Prime Minister Mart Laar. When Estonia carried out a flawless final for NOK 50 million the following year – more than the total annual budget for Estonian television – the new Eastern Europe emerged as both confident and modern.

- The Western European countries probably have a greater need to show that they consider the competition as a game and a carnival, as Iceland's contribution this year, or they will totally break with what is perceived as typical Eurosong style, as this year's Finnish contribution. However, it is important to remember that the ironic approach in the contributions is not only reserved for artists from so-called old member countries, says Hilde Arntsen, researcher at the Department of Information and Media Studies at the University of Bergen.

- As a television broadcast, however, Eurosong is taken very seriously in Eastern Europe. Government funds often help the final to satisfy the EBU's requirements for television production, to showcase the country's various aspects as a tourist nation, to attract foreign investment and to increase people's awareness of the benefits of the host country. Eurosong can thus act as a media-mediated heir to the previous world exhibitions where different countries showed their technical progress, says the media researcher.

Arntsen has compared the final shows in Oslo in 1996, Tallin in 2002 and Riga in 2003, to say something about the establishment of national identity and European community.

- For many countries, participation has been about an approach to the European cultural community, and about breaking down the old barriers between East and West. By participating, the countries distance themselves from the time behind the Iron Curtain, at the same time as the winners get to show that they can handle such a large TV show, that they can code in a larger media market – and thus also show that they can handle other challenges.

Pop revolution

When Ukraine ran away with the victory in 2004, we saw a new political aspect at Eurosong: The final at home the following year became a tool in the domestic political power struggle, and in the final Ukraine was represented by the rap trio Greenjolly with the song "Razom nas bagato". This was a tribute to President Viktor Yushchenko. Previously, it was used as an anthem of freedom in the streets of Kiev during the Orange Revolution. But since the EBU's rules prohibit politics, religion and strong opinions in Eurosong, the trio had to shave three words off the song – including Yushchenko's name.

- The political significance of Eurosong has never been as clear as during the final in Kiev, just six months after the Orange Revolution. The final was broadcast on a big screen in the revolution square in front of 300.000 people, and Ruslana, who won the year before, is today a national icon, says Jostein Pedersen.

He also believes that several of the Eastern contributions are distinguished by a larger national character, and a marked influence from folk music. Hilde Arntsen also sees the paradox that the participating countries must emphasize their national characteristics in order to be part of the community.

- You can play on the national and the regional to be noticed, or you can try to find a Eurosong style in music and performance where the focus on the artist's body is often prominent. It is a bit of a paradox that in order to try to appear in the European context, one must show one's uniqueness. At the same time, it should not be too different. There is a delicate balance between showing individuality and belonging to the community.

Get neighboring votes in the East

[concatenated] Prior to the referendum on the new European Constitution Act in 2005, the no-side in the Netherlands was given an extra boost. Electoral scientists thought the reason for the no-vote was that Eastern Europeans had voted for each other in the Grand Prix final, so that Dutch Glennis Grace came out in the semi-finals. At the same time, new research showed that neighboring voices are far more widespread in the West than in the East.

The Research Report «How Does Europe Make Its Mind Up? Connections, cliques, and compatibility between countries in the Eurovision Song Contest »came out just before last year's finale, showing that neighboring mood is a widespread phenomenon in the Grand Prix. Among the best neighbors, researchers found Sweden-

Denmark and Greece-Cyprus, while the Nordic region as a whole was the best coordinated group of more than two countries. There were far fewer friendships between neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, according to the report. The researchers did not find similar systems in the voting.

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