The Eurovision Song Contest, founded in 1956, is an annual televised pop extravaganza in which bands from dozens of countries compete before a live audience. Commentators often dismiss the cavalcade of three-minute songs as pure kitsch: recent winners include a Romanian Dracula singing in falsetto, a bearded Austrian drag queen, and a Finnish heavy-metal band clad in monster suits. Yet nearly 200 million Europeans tune in. Vuletic goes beneath the bubblegum to reveal surprising machinations. National broadcasters established Eurovision not to promote cosmopolitan ideals but to provide cheap content, and the competition tends to stoke national pride more than collective identity. Central European authoritarians spend vast sums to host it, thereby whitewashing their countries’ meager domestic freedoms, and many governments occasionally rig the selection of national entries to push political agendas. The countries with the five biggest media markets automatically make it to the last round every year—a practice that has led Turkey to withdraw in protest. And the final tally is skewed by the tendency of spectators to favor bands from neighboring countries. Yet after more than 50 years, Eurovision not only lives on but has become ever more tolerant and diverse. Europe would not be the same without it.
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