Library Dissertation Showcase

Integration or commodification: the Eurovision song contest, and the relationship between European nationalism and the global standardisation of music

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

There is little cultural diversity in the popular music industry, despite the amount of countries that are able to influence it. As the world has developed, this music genre appears to be becoming standardised to similar formats which, in turn, have downplayed where a piece of music originated from. While there are many influences to this change globally, a significant instrument for this regulation within Europe is the annual Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). In 1950, Marcel Bezençon suggested that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) could exchange programmes between its members. Coined the Bezençon Plan, its primary aim was that the exchange of programmes would lower costs for broadcasting organisations within the EBU. However, it also had another aim: to promote cultural exchange and understanding among nations (Henrich-Franke, 2010, 69). While this was originally of little interest to the EBU, it was kick-started after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This event demonstrated the relevance and possibilities of cultural exchange between countries when it was also broadcast in Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands, with recordings later distributed worldwide, resulting in a total worldwide audience of approximately 277 million. Although transnationality1 was not originally the main intention of the Bezençon plan, these exchanges became an important feature particularly within the Eurovision Song Contest when it began in 1956. Throughout the years, the ESC has changed drastically, starting off as classical European songs which have gradually shifted into the contemporary music that is heard today, with many of the different national traits “lost in translation” as the contest has undertaken deculturalisation. In this context, deculturalisation is the reduction of cultural diversity within the music produced for the contest each year by different countries.

From participation by only fourteen countries in 1956, to forty-one countries entering in 2019, the cultural diversity within the ESC would be expected to have grown through the years as the numbers increase – particularly with the inclusion of some countries that are not European2. Yet, it appears that the music represented in the ESC is becoming more standardised, therefore diminishing the cultural diversity. Theodor Adorno considers the culture industry’s impact on humans and argues the commodification of these so they can be easily consumed by the public. Comparing the purpose of the contest to the platform it creates for the music industry and country relations, it can be considered that instead of promoting the cultural exchange and understanding between entrants, the ESC has become a tool to encourage standardisation of music across Europe and the globe. This dissertation examines how the ESC has been influenced by the standardisation of the popular music industry, to assess how it has transformed from a product of cultural exchange to a product of consumer culture.

The powerful standing of the USA in cultural considerations must be considered when analysing the use of language within the ESC and popular music. Language within the context of international exportation in the global music industry is undergoing significant changes through the development of universal sound words and a standardised vernacular. This paper will analyse if a priority of linguistics over musical content will result in a potentially homogenous music format that is taking priority in the global music industry.

Comparing the Western ESC with the Soviet Union’s equivalent – the Intervision Song Contest – can suggest differences in the ideologies of capitalism and communist values. The use of the song contests’ mediums, provides a showcasing platform to venerate the principles of that nation and allows for direct comparison between them. In particular, looking at several countries’ experiences with both song contests, may inform the ethos behind each nation’s core values and the cultural standing provided by each contest.

Finally, examining the impact of Britain attempting to leave the European Union – Brexit – can be used as a case study to infer the growing trend in European nationalism. This may suggest that by incorporating political rhetoric into entries to the ESC, could demonstrate a country’s self-promotion over the collaborative engagement of cultural nurturing. Through examining these key areas, therefore raises debate towards the direction of the ESC by lending support to either a continued standardisation through commodification of music, or the reboot of European nationalism

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