Have you ever had that moment when you listen to one of your favourite Eurovision songs and you realise that it had a deeper meaning? Or that a song and its performance reflected a certain point in time for a country, Europe and even the world? Maybe you just like the song’s social or political nature? Well, you are not the only one! Throughout the 65 years of the Eurovision Song Contest, we have seen many songs come and go. Some have made their way into the hearts of non-Eurovision and Eurovision fans alike but some do not, to put it bluntly. There have been songs about many themes such as love, peace, friendship and togetherness. Some songs and performances unintentionally or intentionally become social or political anthems because they become a symbol of the period they were in. For this reason, we will be exploring songs and performances that become a part of huge sociopolitical change. So let’s get ready to learn a bit more about certain songs and the era they were in.
Paulo de Carvalho – E Depois do Adeus – 1974
‘E Depois do Adeus’ was the victor of the 1974 edition of Festival da Canção, sung by Paulo de Carvalho. Following this victory, the song automatically became the one to represent Portugal at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest held in Brighton, United Kingdom. At the time, Portugal was under an authoritarian regime that opposed anti-colonialism, communism and socialism. This regime, created by Antonio Salazar and headed by Marcello Caetano after Salazar’s death in 1968, was known as the ‘Estado Novo’.
The ‘Estado Novo’ promoted nationalism and did not want to give up its colonies of Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde and Timor-Leste. Due to the ‘Estado Novo’s economic policies, Portugal found itself in an economic crisis, with its per-capita GDP falling 52.3% of the European Economic Community average. Opponents of the ‘Estado Novo’ were killed by the PIDE, the regime’s secret police. Because of this, the Armed Forces Movement of military officials and civilian groups came together to overthrow the government.
On the night of 24th April 1974 at 10.55 pm, a certain group of people decided to change Portuguese history forever. It was decided that ‘E Depois do Adeus’ would be one of two songs that would begin a military coup which would later become known as ‘The Carnation Revolution”. At 10.55 pm, Emissores Associados de Lisboa played ‘E Depois do Adeus’ on the radio, making coup leaders announce they had taken control of parts of the country. ‘The Carnation Revolution’ occurred without a single shot being fired. The Revolution saw the collapse of the ‘Estado Novo’ dictatorship. Many gave the soldiers carnations as a form of celebration, finally being free from an authoritarian government. As a result, carnations are now an important symbol in Portugal.
‘E Depois do Adeus’ drastically changed Portugal. The revolution is remembered every year on 25th April. The national holiday commemorates the revolution and many celebrate it as it paved the way for Portugal to become more modern and democratic. Its occasions like these where a road to a better society was the real winner, rather a position at the Eurovision Song Contest. For this reason, Portuguese people remember the events of 25th April 1974 by saying:
“25 de Abril Sempre”In English – “25th April Always”
Gigliola Cinquetti – Sì – 1974
Gigliola Cinquetti, the winner of the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest, represented Italy at the 1974 edition held in Brighton, United Kingdom. She would go on to sing ‘Sì’. The song was about a woman’s love for a man and the excitement she felt at the thought of spending the rest of her life with him.
However, the song was censored in Italy as RAI executives believed the song would influence the May 1974 referendum on divorce. RAI executives believed that if the song gained popularity, the “Yes” side of the argument would win. The “Yes” side campaigned to outlaw divorce and the “No” side argued to retain the existing divorce laws.
On 12th May 1974, the “no” side won – 59.26% of Italians voted to keep the divorce laws. Cinquetti may have never anticipated that her song would be used by RAI as a vehicle to politically influence voters, but this was the outcome.
RAI censoring ‘Sì’ can be seen as a move to pander and not offend the Catholic Church. The Church in Italy was extra important in the 1970s, especially as the Pope was seated in the capital city, Rome. Cinquetti, whether she wanted to or not, tested the morals of an Italian society that was still influenced by the Catholic Church. The referendum of the divorce then led to an open discussion on abortion as well. Abortion and divorce go directly against the views of the Catholic Church, which believed every life was sacred and divorce was morally wrong. The Church noticed that Italians began to challenge these ideas and as a result, the nation became divided and debated the role of religion. At the heart of it was Cinquetti, whose song failed to crack the top 40 of the Italian Music Charts due to RAI’s censorship. However, ‘Sì’ did achieve success outside of Italy, namely in the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.
Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta – A-Ba-Ni-Bi – 1978
For almost a century, Israel has been the subject of fierce debate, with the majority of Arabic nations refusing to recognise the State of Israel. Now, this is where we welcome Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta. The Alphabeta was made up of members
Reuven Erez, Lisa Gold-Rubin, Nehama Shutan, Esther Tzuberi and Itzhak Okev.
A month before the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest in Paris, Israel invaded Lebanon following the Coastal Road Massacre on 11th March 1978. The Coastal Road Massacre saw the death of 38 Israeli civilians at the hands of Palestinian militants. In retaliation, Israel invaded South Lebanon and at least 2000 Palestinians and Lebanese people were killed. The United Nations Security were so concerned with the situation that they drafted two resolutions on 19th March 1978 demanding Israel withdraw from South Lebanon. South Lebanon was an important place for Israel as they knew many Palestinian groups and civilians resided in the area.
‘A-Ba-Ni-Bi’ was not political in nature. It was an upbeat disco song about children trying to understand love. However, the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast in several Arab nations such as Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco (who all allied themselves with Lebanon). As of 2021, Tunisia and Algeria all still have no formal relations with Israel. However, Jordan and more recently Morocco in 2020, have both normalised relations with Israel.
However, back in 1978, the Arab nations who watched Eurovision all expressed disgust at Israel winning, so much so that Jordanian television cut its transmission and showed a picture of flowers. Shortly after, Jordanian television reported that Belgium (the runner-up) had won instead. For these nations, Israel winning was not the result they wanted as they all sided with the Palestinians and Lebanon. However, ‘A-Ba-Ni-Bi’ is now considered to be one of the best Eurovision songs and is highly regarded among fans. In 2019, Izhar Cohen said his and the Alphabeta’s victory in Paris:
‘Was like a revolution”
Insieme: 1992 – Toto Cutogno – 1990
The early 1990s saw immense upheaval and change. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed and Yugoslavia was on the cusp of splitting up. In terms of Yugoslavia, many lives were lost following ethnic conflicts and battles for independence. Another increasing change was the Maastrict Treaty, which formally created the European Union in 1992. Amid European conflict, changing borders and political upheaval, one song stood out.
The ‘1992’ in ‘Insieme: 1992’ is a direct reference to the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. As well as this, Cutogno sings of the hope that Europe will stay together despite all the differences in nationalities and beliefs. Cutogno was joined by ‘Pepel In Kri’, a group of five singers from Slovenia, who represented Yugoslavia in 1975. The addition of the Slovenian group is very significant as Slovenia had its first free elections in April 1990, a further symbol of change sweeping Europe.
‘Insieme: 1992’ won Eurovision 1990, allowing Italy to host the contest in 1991. Times were uncertain for many Europeans in the early 1990s but Cutogno wanted to spread a message of hope in the face of adversity. He wanted to remind Europeans that they were better together, could work together and share cultures across borders even though the continent was changing rapidly.
However, a sad casualty of the conflict in Yugoslavia was Tajči, who sang ‘Hajde Da Ludujemo’ for Yugoslavia on the same night Toto Cutogno sang about Europe staying together. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, Tajči was forced to leave her life in the now independent Croatia in 1992 and move to the United States. It was no longer safe for her to stay in her homeland and she gave up her promising music career to seek safety. A cruel irony.
Eurovision 1990 symbolised two opposites of human nature: one that promoted solidarity and the other full of those who could no longer live life as normal. It was very ironic ‘Insieme: 1992’ won in Yugoslavia as the country completely collapsed by 1992. Therefore, Eurovision 1990 was a contest tinged with sadness.
Diva – Dana International – 1998
Dana International set off a string of events that we may have never seen following her victory at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham. Without Dana International, Conchita Wurst would have never been on the Eurovision stage. We also would have never seen Kritsa Siegfrids kiss one of her dancers on stage during her performance of ‘Marry Me’ in Malmö 2013. We might have been also robbed of the opportunity to see Måneskin’s open support of the LGBTQ+ community after they won this year. Dana International’s win was not only groundbreaking but also legendary as it inspired so many LGBTQ+ people. Another significant part of Dana International’s win was that she solidified the Eurovision Song Contest as a safe space for LGBTQ+ people.
Before she arrived in Birmingham, Dana tried to enter the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest but was rejected by the bosses of the Israeli national final. When Dana arrived in Birmingham in 1998, she was at the receiving end of transphobia from Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community. There were so many concerns about Dana’s safety that British police installed 24-hour protection in case she was attacked. As well as this, Dana also needed police escorts throughout her time in Britain.
Dana went on stage to sing her Hebrew Eurovision entry ‘Diva’, ignoring all the hate and living her best life on stage. Dana was accompanied by four backing singers and there was no dancing. When singing ‘Diva’, Dana made references to powerful women in history. Examples of these women include Cleopatra (the last queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt), Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) and Victoria (the Roman goddess of victory, but some British audiences at the time thought she meant Queen Victoria). At the end of the night, Dana International came first with 172 points from a 100% televoting system. Dana said after her victory:
“My victory proves God is on my side, I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness: try to accept me. I am what I am”.
After Dana did her reprise of ‘Diva’ in an extravagant outfit designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, people began to recognise the significance of her victory. In the 1990s and decades before that, the trans community was not as visible as it is today. Especially in Europe, the trans community was neither seen nor heard in the 1990s. Dana’s win raised discussions on tolerance and the “bravery” it took to sing on stage as a transgender woman. But Dana never thought of it like that:
“They care that I speak my opinion, without fear. They’ll say I’m so brave, blah blah blah. I’m just living my life, and it’s not an easy life.”
However, Dana also said that she did not want to embarrass Israel as she felt her relationship with her country was “tense”. But some countries were so outraged that they threatened to not broadcast her performance on the night or ever again. Despite all of that, ‘Diva’ is now considered to be one of the most classic Eurovision songs of all time. The song also gained global recognition and she appeared on MTV and on the British version of ‘Top of the Pops’ to sing ‘Diva’. In 2005, the EBU ran a poll asking eurofans about the most important Eurovision songs ever. ‘Diva’ was chosen as one of 14 songs that made an impact.
If we delve into “impact”, it has a lot of meaning. In this case, Dana’s victory did make an impact. Not only was ‘Diva’ the last non-English winner until 2007, but she also drew attention to the transgender community in Europe.
Sameach (Be Happy) – PingPong – 2000
The 2000s promised so much; there was a New Millenium which promised sweeping changes for the new decade ahead. One example of this change was the removal of the orchestra, so Eurovision songs now had to take a completely different musical direction. In Sweden 2000, the Israeli pop group PingPong caused a stir among the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, which ceased to exist in 2017. PingPong comprised of Ahal Eden, Yifat Giladi, Guy Asif and Roy Arad and they waved the Syrian and Israeli flags together at the end of their performance in the final. The Israeli Broadcasting Authority was furious at this and the fact that the group decided to change the original Hebrew title (Sameach) to English. The English title was ‘Be Happy’. ‘Sameach’ referenced wars and floods and discussed a person’s love affair that had gone completely wrong.
When PingPing performed ‘Be Happy’ with the Syrian flags at the dress rehearsal and live final, Israeli newspapers and radio stations were overwhelmed with complaints. They came from angry members of the public who argued that the group and song were deliberately provocative as it occurred on Israeli Independence Day. Not only this, the Syrian government still did not recognise Israel and supported Hezbollah attacks on the Israeli militants. The Israeli Broadcasting Authority was so incensed that it withdrew its support for PingPong and said:
“They will compete there (Sweden), but not on behalf of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority or the Israeli people… They are representing only themselves”.The Israeli Broadcasting Authority
The Israeli Broadcasting Authority was even angrier a month before Sweden 2000 as the music video for ‘Sameach’/’Be Happy’ included two men kissing and very suggestive acts with a cucumber. This is what the Israeli Broadcasting Authority argued after the publishing of the video and performance in the live final:
It started with sexual provocation and now it has turned to political provocation”The Israeli Broadcasting Authority
Eytan Fox, the artistic director of ‘Be Happy’ defended the song and the performance, going completely against the views of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority:
“The song is about love and peace so we thought it would be a good idea to use Syrian and Israeli flags, because we would like to have peace with Arab countries”Eytan Fox
Fox added the group represented a new Israel that wanted to have fun and enjoy themselves, showing Europe they were nothing like their government. Most of the anger towards the song came from the Israeli right-wing media but it became a popular number one hit single in Israel. PingPong refused to put aside the Syrian flags for their performances and even visited a Syrian community centre in Stockholm to speak to Syrians in Sweden. ‘Be Happy’ placed 22nd at the end of the night. It did not take Europe by storm and it provoked a lot of discussion in Israel. People still regard ‘Be Happy’ as a political song but some argue it was only supposed to be a bit of fun.
Razom Nas Bahato – GreenJolly – 2005
Following Ruslana’s win in 2004, Europe turned its eyes towards Kyiv as it would host Eurovision 2005. However, from November 2004 to January 2005, a wave of protests hit Ukraine and which later became known as the ‘Orange Revolution. The ‘Orange Revolution’ came to be following the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. People claimed the election was dominated by voter fraud, corruption and voter intimidation. These claims were then increased as it came out that the election was most likely rigged in favour of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia candidate. These allegations meant that Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-EU candidate, was already set to lose. The ‘Orange Revolution’ was dominated by civil disobedience, sit-ins, public protests and strikes. The Ukrainian Supreme Court then annulled the result of the original election and demanded a new one to take place. On 26th December 2004, Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-EU candidate won 52% of the vote. On the other hand, Yanukovych, the pro-Russia candidate, won 44% of the vote. On 23rd January 2005, Yushchenko was officially inaugurated, ending the non-violent ‘Orange Revolution’.
You probably read all of that and you must be asking yourself “what does all of this have to do with Eurovision?” Well, that is when GreenJolly come in (and Ruslana too a bit). GreenJolly was a hip-hop duo comprising Roman Kalyn and Roman Kostyuk. Their song ‘Razom Nas Bahato’ became the unofficial anthem of the ‘Orange Revolution, being heavily played on radios and television stations. The song was also played at protests, some of which were headed by Ruslana, who lent her support to the pro-EU candidate Viktor Yushchenko. GreenJolly were also pro-Yushchenko supporters and ‘Razom Nas Bahato’ was accepted as a late wildcard in the national final for Eurovision. GreenJolly was officially chosen as the host entry but their song had to be severely reworked as it contained clear political references, such as directly naming Yushchenko in the song.
The song finished 20th in Eurovision and was reworked to include translations of the title ‘Razom Nas Bahato’ in several languages such as Spanish, English, Czech, Russian and French. This was done to ensure the message of the song was hammered home to audiences all over Europe and for this reason, some parts of the song were translated into English. Even though eurofans may consider 20th to be a bad position in Eurovision, but the Ukrainians did not care. They were happy with a song that represented them and was keen to show Europe how much it meant to them. ‘Razom Nas Bahato’ was more than a song; it came to represent a new chapter in the history of Ukraine. This is the Eurovision version:
The video you see above is the original version of ‘Razom Nas Bahato’.
Homens Da Luta – A Luta É Alegria – 2011
Like ‘Depois do Adeus’, ‘A Luta É Alegria’ by Homens Da Luta won the 2011 edition of ‘Festival da Canção’. The song describes the struggles people go through to make sure their voices are heard. It calls for people to shout and join together for unity. In 2011, Portugal went through a huge economic crisis. Unknown to Portuguese audiences at the time, their economic crisis would continue until 2014, making people frustrated. Alongside the economic crisis, 11% of the population were unemployed. The last time a high percentage of people were unemployed in Portugal was twenty years beforehand as of 2011. Pensions were cut and the Prime Minister at the time, Pedro Passos Coehlo, advised young Portuguese people to leave the country as there were no jobs for them. It would be an understatement to say that Portuguese people had it difficult.
Now, let us return to the significance of ‘A Luta É Alegria’. Even though eurofans were not keen on the song at the time (with some even leaving the arena where ‘Festival da Canção’ was taking place when ‘A Luta É Alegria’ was announced as the winner), the Portuguese public liked it. They liked it so much that they voted ‘A Luta É Alegria’ as the winner as it appealed to them. The Portuguese people were tired of their economic crisis, their government and rising unemployment. All they wanted for this era to end as they could no longer stand it. As a result, ‘A Luta É Alegria’ came to speak the feelings of a frustrated population that did not want to struggle anymore:
We represent the people that don’t like the way things are in Portugal and in Europe and we are going to be in Düsseldorf to tell the world.”Jel – the lead singer of Homens Da Luta
Many eurofans consider the song to be a joke to “troll” Eurovision. Even though the song did not qualify for the grand final, it spoke to many Portuguese people. It did not matter that Europe paid little attention to the song but this protest on stage allowed audiences to understand the Portuguese situation a bit better, even though it was done in a very humorous way.
Koza Mostra – Alcohol is Free – 2013
Stop and pause for a minute. I would like you to imagine that you are in a country that is winning and hosting everything. You do not want this positivity to end as it is giving you some of the best weeks, months and years of your life. This was Greece in the 2000s. Being alive in Noughties Greece was special; they won Eurobasket 2005, became surprise winners of Euro 2004, won Eurovision 2005 and hosted the Olympics and Paralympics in 2004 in Athens. Greece also hosted Eurovision 2006 in Athens as well. When Helena Paparizou won Eurovision in 2005, there were wild celebrations on the streets as finally, Greece won Eurovision. As you can see, life in Greece was amazing and the country also benefitted from its booming tourism industry.
However, things behind the scenes were a completely different story. As early as 1999, the Greek government avoided tax payments and Greece’s GDP went above the 60% average to become part of the Eurozone. Greece then got help from Goldman Sachs and then went through a period of prosperity and financial success in the early and mid-2000s (this era coincides with many of Greece’s highlights, as listed in the paragraph above). But following the global 2007 recession, it came out in 2009 that the Greek government continuously lied about their budget deficit. The exposure of such government mismanagement created huge concern because it meant that Greece was in more debt than initially thought. Many feel the 2004 Olympics and Paralympics in Athens contributed immensely to the hidden economic crisis.
In 2010, Greece was in so much debt that it needed a bailout from the European Union to maintain some financial stability. The bailout failed. Suddenly, the joy of the early and mid-2000s was soon replaced by despair in the early 2010s as many young Greeks sought to leave their homeland. In 2012, Greece was plunged into more debt as the economy continued to shrink at an alarming rate. The Greek government was then forced to ask for help from French and German banks, which provided them with loans. But Greece needed to pay back those loans but it found itself in even more debt.
The financial crisis of the late 2000s that continued into the early 2010s and was so serious that Greece felt it had no choice but to withdraw from Eurovision. Greece could no longer finance their own Eurovision entries. At one point, Greece’s national final for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Baku was staged in a shopping centre. Some eurofans tend to find this fact funny, but you need to remember that Greece was in such a huge economic crisis that they had no choice. However, ERT, a private Greek broadcaster, stepped in to aid Eurovision entries. ERT’s move allowed international audiences to be introduced to Kosa Mostra, a ska-punk band and Agathonas Iakovidis, a legendary Greek folk singer.
‘Alcohol is Free’ is about a group of men who get into a massive drinking session, get drunk, think they are at sea driving a boat and crash. ‘Alcohol is Free’ is a very catchy refrain but the song makes very clever allusions to the Greek economic crisis and suffering, something Kosa Mostra confirmed themselves. Kosa Mostra said they wanted to give Greek people something to cheer about as life was hard. The band said they also wanted to escape from the difficulties of the situation at home and immerse themselves in the fun they were missing out on. Well, Europe was very impressed with the song that it placed 6th in the Grand Final. The song and the performance of ‘Alcohol is Free’ contrasted with the economic and social problems in Greece. So Kosa Mostra did achieve their objective of escaping the misery they and their country were going through.
Conchita Wurst – Rise Like a Phoenix – 2014
Now, where do we begin with Conchita Wurst? Well, every major Austrian record label refused to support and produce ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ as they all assumed that the song would not do well in the charts. A huge mistake. However, the song was eventually composed by Alexander Zuckowski, Charley Mason, Joey Patulka and Julian Maas. Following the completion of production, the song was submitted to the ORF internal selection. Zuchowski was a huge believer in ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ because:
“I knew that with this song still something great was going to happen”Alexander Zuckowski
The song was then released to the public on 18th March 2014 and would represent Austria at Copenhagen 2014. The song earned praise from Udo Jürgens, the last Austrian Eurovision winner (he won in 1966). Conchita Wurst celebrated difference and one significant feature of this was her beard which she proudly wore. But Wurst came under huge controversy from conservatives in Eastern Europe and Turkey. Wurst did nothing wrong but her mere existence rubbed people up the wrong way. Conservatives in Armenia and Russia demanded their broadcasters edit any footage of Wurst’s performances at Eurovision and for it to not be shown in their respective countries. Conservative Russians called Wurst a “pervert” and considered her to be the head of “homosexual propaganda”. Even her fellow competitor from Armenia, Aram MP3, argued that her lifestyle was “not natural” and Wurst “should decide to be a man or woman”.
Wurst remained defiant and comfortable in her own skin. Suddenly, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ became more than a song. ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ became an anthem and Wurst a symbol of the two opposing attitudes towards homosexuality in Europe. Many media outlets based in Western Europe considered Western Europe to be “liberal” and “tolerant” as opposed to the “homophobic” and “backwards” Eastern Europe. Quickly, some felt that a vote for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ would be a symbol of defiance and support of LGBTQ+ people.
Conchita Wurst winning was a moment. For journalists, she became a symbol of a Europe that should be free from discrimination and celebrate differences. Stars such as Anna Vissi and Helena Paparizou praised Wurst’s song and appearance but Vissi was disappointed at the criticism Wurst garnered from conservative circles. Wurst became the head of a movement of people who no longer felt ashamed of being different despite what the world thought of them. LGBTQ+ groups in Serbia and Croatia were disappointed with how their broadcasters treated Wurst. Criticism was so strong that RTS, Serbia’s national broadcaster felt the need to apologise for their actions in a letter. Wurst was condemned by the Russian Orthodox Church who even considered Wurst as the reason people rejected Christianity. Although Western Europe is seen as largely tolerant, the former BBC commentator Sir Terry Wogan considered Wurst’s performance to be a “freakshow”.
Conchita Wurst was caught in the middle of two Europes who vehemently or agreed disagreed on homosexuality and transsexuality. She became a figure of hope and an icon for the LGBTQ+ community. At the beginning of Conchita Wurst’s journey to becoming a Eurovision winner, no one predicted the buzz she would create. All of this started because a team of Austrian composers believed in a song that every Austrian label did not. This group of composers and Conchita Wurst sparked a chain of events that saw Europe question themselves and their values. No matter what you think or believe, LGBTQ+ people deserve the right to live, work and be a part of a world that should make them feel safe. But Conchita Wurst’s victory proved that Europe still had a long way to go in being tolerant of difference.
Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro – Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente – 2018
The 2010s were difficult years for Europe. The earlier part of the decade was dominated by economic crises throughout the Eurozone and people were angry with austerity measures forced upon them. This then led to the rise of anti-austerity parties and more importantly, the far-right. Examples of prominent far-right figures and organisations include Golden Dawn (Greece), Jobbik (Hungary), Matteo Salvini and the Lega Party (Italy), Nigel Farage and The United Kingdom Independence Party (United Kingdom) and Front National headed by Marine Le Pen (France). These figures promised to limit immigration in their own respective countries and made immigrants, refugees and ethnic minorities scapegoats.
The European Union unity Toto Cutugno sung about came to an end as the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016. These episodes saw Europe become more divided as people placed themselves in makeshift teams of “Us vs Them”. “Us” being the native population and “Them” being ethnic minorities, immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and children of immigrants.
The late 2010s also saw an increasing occurrence of terror attacks, especially in Western Europe and outside the continent. There were attacks in London, Paris, Nice, Manchester and Cairo. Europe was dealing with violence and division on its shores. There was nothing to be happy about.
‘Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente’ won Sanremo in 2018. It was about the impact of terror attacks and violence but standing defiant in the name of adversity. The song was directly inspired by the terror attacks that dominated Europe and the world. ‘Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente’ had anti-terror, pacifistic and anti-war messages. In the grand final, the song lyrics were translated to many different languages via subtitles on the screen. This move was significant as it allowed viewers to further be inspired and engrossed by the anti-war and anti-terror messages, winning over televoters and finishing 5th in the Grand Final. For once, it seemed as if Europe was united to defeat terror and go back to an era of peace and serenity. The happiness of Eurovision provided a distraction from life’s many difficulties once again.
Diodato – Fai Rumore – 2020
Hello, 2020. This was the kind of optimism that filled people about 2020 on New Year’s Day. People looked forward to a new decade filled with new hopes, aspirations and vibes. Sanremo 2020 conveyed this as people enjoyed all the songs, the meme compilations and seeing their favourite celebrities. But the beginning of the 2020s later became many months of dread and sadness.
COVID-19 happened. Many people fell sick, and many families lost loved ones. Bergamo in Northern Italy became the epicentre of Covid-19 which then spread throughout the entire country. Hospitals and hospital workers became overwhelmed with patients and Italy became the first European country to be affected by Covid-19 the most. Life changed for many young university students in Italy as they were forced to return home as they could no longer stay on their campuses. They and many others were forced to partake in online learning classes, something completely different to the norm. Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s Prime Minister at the time, called a national lockdown in March 2020 as cases skyrocketed to very alarming levels. Soon after, other European nations began to go into lockdowns (but not all of them did).
RAI kept the nation informed with the efforts of medical professionals. They also tried to keep people optimistic as many found themselves stuck at home unable to leave their regions. RAI broadcasted people singing songs such as ‘Fai Rumore’ by Diodato, the winner of Sanremo 2020, on balconies. Following his win at Sanremo, Diodato agreed to represent Italy at Eurovision and had a lot of enthusiasm for the contest as time went on. But the joy of early 2020 was soon replaced with uncertainty over the future. People were not sure what their futures would hold as normal life was on pause. But many did not know how long for. At the same time, the EBU had a huge dilemma on their hands; should Eurovision go ahead or not? On March 18th 2020, it was decided that Eurovision 2020 in Rotterdam could not go ahead because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So the EBU decided to create an alternative programme called ‘Europe Shine a Light’.
‘Europe Sine a Light’ divided opinion. People did not like the dreary, funeral-like procession of the programme that reminded Europe of everything that it had lost. Others liked ‘Europe Shine a Light’ because it reminded them of how much they loved Eurovision. The debate on the effectiveness of ‘Europe Shine a Light’ will probably never end but one standout moment from the show was by Diodato. In an empty Arena di Verona, Diodato sang ‘Fai Rumore’. The performance struck a chord with Europeans who were reminded of the unnatural silences they struggled to get used to. ‘Fai Rumore’ had become an unintentional anthem for unity in Italy but it then spread to all of the continent via ‘Europe Shine a Light’.
The performance of ‘Fai Rumore’ was also a sad reminder of lost opportunities created by the pandemic. Europe was united in grief over the death of many and the loss of what life used to be.
Manizha – Russian Woman – 2021
Now, we have to turn to the most recent song on our list. Manizha was born in Tajikistan to a doctor and psychologist. Tajikistan used to be a part of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991 (the same year Manizha was born) but the country descended into civil war from 1992 to 1997. On one side, there were groups from the Garm and Gorno-Badakhshan regions, where the traditional working-class parts of Tajikistan were. The other side was mainly from the old Soviet elite from the Kulob and Khujand regions.
One of the prominent figures from the old Soviet elite was Rahmon Nabiyev. Nabiyev’s government was dominated by people from the Kulob and Khujand regions, supported by Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nabiyev’s government was also supported by Denmark, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Ghana. On the other hand, the United Tajik Opposition opposed the communist, post-Soviet elite and they were supported by Al-Qaeda. Living in Tajikistan was dangerous at this point; there were mass killings, displaced people and entire villages being burned. 1.2 million Tajiks became refugees, some of which included Manizha and her family who went to Russia in 1994.
Manizha grew up to be an inspirational, open-minded woman. Manizha was open about her body struggles, created an app to help victims of domestic abuse, voiced her support for the LGBTQ+ community and was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. All of this happened in the space of 3 years. Manizha’s singles were all independently released and they made references to social issues and feminism. In 2021, Manizha entered the Russian national final with the song ‘Russian Woman’, which won 39.7% of the public vote. Manizha’s song was a clear feminist anthem about women being independent and ready to challenge stereotypes. Manizha says this herself:
“This is a song about the transformation of a woman’s self-awareness over the past few centuries in Russia. A Russian woman has gone an amazing way from a peasant hut to the right to elect and be elected (one of the first in the world), from factory workshops to space flights. She has never been afraid to resist stereotypes and take responsibilities. This is the source of inspiration for the song. By coincidence I wrote it on March 8th, 2020 (International Women’s Day) while on tour, but for the first time I perform it a year later.”Manizha speaking to Eurovision.TV
The 1993 Russian Constitution guarantees both men and women equal rights. But in 2017, first-time incidents of domestic abuse were decriminalised. What this means is that if an offender hit the victim for the first time without leaving a physical injury, the offender can only be sentenced to a maximum of 15 days in police custody. Before the law was passed, the offender would normally receive a sentence of two years in prison. If a family member hit the woman for the first time, they would be fined or get a suspended sentence. But if a family member hit the victim for a second time, this would then be seen as a criminal offence. Manizha’s app was a direct response to this and her other acts of open-mindedness rubbed people up the wrong way.
Manizha winning the Russian national final with ‘Russian Woman’ caused controversy. Many found it bewildering and ridiculous that a woman of Tajik descent was singing a song about Russian Women. Bear in mind that Manizha has lived in Russia since she was three years old, so Manizha had every right to sing about Russian Women. As well as this, people were angry about Manizha being pro-LGBTQ+. As of 2021, there is still no legal protections in place that protect people from homophobia and transphobia in Russia and it has been publicised on several occasions that Russia is historically anti-LGBTQ+. After winning the right to go to Rotterdam 2021, Manizha received a lot of abuse and death threats, mainly from Russians on her social media. There were even calls for her to be disqualified.
Despite all of this, Manizha continued on her journey to Rotterdam 2021. With her, Russia got 3rd place in their semi-final and 9th in the Grand Final. Manizha’s charisma and performance captured the minds of non-eurofans and eurofans alike. ‘Russian Woman’ allowed the world to gain an insight into the prejudice and stereotypes that Russian women face daily. One way she did this was by showing the faces of Russian women towards the end of ‘Russian Woman’s performance. What Manizha did was incredible; she was able to spread her message to an international audience and encourage Russian women to challenge the stereotypes they face to strive for something better.
Thank you for taking the time to read about songs and performances that became part of the sociopolitical background of the country they were from. All of the songs and performances featured here became intentional or unintentional symbols of a certain period they were in. For this reason, we cannot ignore their significance. Some of the songs and performances here poke fun at or tell a serious message about how difficult life was for a population. Some have become such classics that it has influenced the way eurofans and non-eurofans think about the Eurovision Song Contest. And as I have said before, some of the songs and performances here have no clear political message but were used by a country or countries or political movements to advance a certain cause (maybe causes too). Some of these songs and performances caused so much disgust in their homelands or elsewhere that they were even censored, robbing people of the opportunity to hear the beauty of an artist’s voice.
I want you all to concentrate on the songs, the performances and the eras they came from. All of these songs are significant in their own way; not just for eurofans, but also a country (or countries). Sometimes, a song’s position at the end of the night does not matter; instead a message is of greater importance than a “douze points” or a “nil points”.
I hope that you have learned something from this article I have written and maybe even found some new favourites.
If you have any other songs and/or performances that show ‘A Glimpse Into the Times’, please let us know! It could be a song or performance and used to advance (or not advance) sociopolitical messages of a country or countries. Or one that tells the story of a people going through happiness or difficulties. Anything you think! We would love to hear your opinions and thoughts in the comments below.
Again, thank you for reading!