Sunday 24 May 2015

"Building Bridges": Diversity, Vienna, Traffic Lights & the Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest, one of the longest running annual TV song competitions, was created by Marcel Bezençon (1907-1981) in 1956, inspired by the Italian "Sanremo Music Festival" firstly held in 1951. Vienna was the host city twice, in 1967 and in 2015 (via and via).

The first time Austria hosted the Eurovision Song Contest was in 1967, one year after Udo Jürgens (1934-2014) won with "Merci, Chérie". 1967 was the year Angolan singer Eduardo Nascimento participated on behalf of Portugal - the first male black performer in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1966, the Dutch jazz singer of Surinamese origin Milly Scott, the first female black singer at Eurovision, performed for the Netherlands (via and via) and by doing so "stepped out of the confines of performing the Euro-whiteness that Eurovision had so far managed to establish". Scott sang "Fernando en Filippo" and "went Latin". Shaking her hips and inserting an improvised scat ad lib was standard practice for a jazz singer but revolutionary in mainstream pop music of the 1960s (Mutsaers, 2007).
By the way, allegedly "cool": In 1967, 50% of each country's jurors had to be younger than 30 to boost the contest's modern image (via).

This year, Vienna hosted the Eurovision Song Contest again. Conchita, the cross-dressing long-haired full-bearded lady, had won the contest the year before which was seen as a clear message as she is regarded as "a symbol for tolerance and artistic freedom". And when Sweden won the 2015 contest with Mans Zelmerov singing "Heroes", Zelmerov continued the message by saying: "We are all heroes no matter who we love, who we are or what we believe in." (via) Conchita about her 2014 entry:
"For me the most special and honoring thing is that Austria shows tolerance and acceptance and I’m so happy to be this statement. I’m allowed to be the voice of their beliefs during this time and this really makes me very proud. We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination. And if I’m honest, I think everyone of the contestants should stand for the same, cause we are joining a very opend minded project, so they should be open minded too."
Conchita Wurst
As part of the preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest and other events linked to tolerance (such as the charity event Life Ball), Vienna installed pedestrian crossing lights with straight, gay and lesbian couples at 49 crossings (via). The campaign aims to communicate Vienna's open-mindedness and also improve traffic safety as the new symbols will surely draw more attention to the traffic (via). At first, the new traffic lights were supposed to be installed for a few weeks only. Due to their popularity in the city, the positive feedback from abroad and successful petitions, Vienna decided to keep the new traffic lights (via) ... see

The Eurovision Song Contest is criticised for its mainstream character, for the political and geographical voting tendencies of certain countries forming "cliques" which have a high impact on the results (via). Nevertheless, there are certain positive aspects: After the so-called "ethnic turn", participants started to display more openly cultural diversity (Björnberg, 2007). Participating countries also choose to send persons to represent the country that are members of minority groups. In 1998, for instance, Israel won with transgender Sharon Cohen (via), Finland chose a band with a difference for the 2015 participation: middle-aged punk rockers on the autism spectrum or with Down's syndrome (via), and Poland chose a singer who is partially paralysed (via). The hosting city of Vienna, by the way, ensured "maximum accessibility", the venue "Stadthalle" and the Eurovision Village were accessible and barrier-free (via).

The slogan organiser chose for 2015 was "Building Bridges", "a great slogan that captures what the Eurovision Song Contest has been all about since 1956 - bringing people together" (via):
"We understand this slogan as a logical extension of the idea Conchita Wurst formulated at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest and also lived: the importance of openness, tolerance across all borders for a joint interaction. With the song contest in Vienna, we want music to build bridges across borders, cultures and languages​​. In light of the unifying power of this great common European event, we invite all to build bridges and to join hands."
Alexander Wrabetz, Director General of ORF (Austrian Broadcasting)

Eurovision is over. But an academic reflection is to take place in the near future. On 19th and 20th of June, the international conference "Musical Diversity and Cultural Identities in the History of the Eurovision Song Contest" will be held by the Karl Franzens University in the Austrian city of Graz. On two days, the Eurovision's role in promoting diversity, cultural identity, gender, and social changes will be recapitulated. Here the programme: download

Eurovision Link Pack:
::: France Gall (1965, France) - Poupée de cire, poupée de son watch/listen
::: Eduardo Nascimento (1967, Portugal) - O vento mudou watch/listen
::: Vicky (1967, Luxembourg) - L'amour est bleu watch/listen
::: Sandie Shaw (1967, UK) - Puppet On A String watch/listen
::: Iva Zanicchi (1969, Italy) - Due grosse lacrime bianche watch/listen
::: Lulu (1969, UK) - Boom Bang A Bang watch/listen
::: Mary Hopkin (1970, UK) - Knock, Knock watch/listen
::: Gigliola Cinquetti (1974, Italy) - Sì watch/listen
::: Brotherhood of Man (1976, UK) - Save Your Kisses for Me watch/listen
::: Mia Martini (1977, Italy) - Libera watch/listen

- Björnberg, A. (2007) Return to ethnicity: The cultural significance of musical change in the Eurovision Song Contest. In: Raykoff, I. & Deam, R. (eds.) A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest. 13- 24. Hampshire & Burlington: Ashgate Publishing
- Mutsaers, L. (2007) Fernando, Filippo, and Milly: Bringing blackness to the Eurovision stage. In: Raykoff, I. & Deam, R. (eds.) A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest. 61-70. Hampshire & Burlington: Ashgate Publishing
- photographs of Eurovision Song Contest 1967 (1-3, 6-7) via and (4) via and (5) via