Key Takeaways From The Eurovision Song Contest Conference At Maynooth University

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For casual viewers, the Eurovision Song Contest is simply a fun night to get together with friends and family. For more devoted fans, however, the Eurovision Song Contest experience extends far beyond a single night. Normally, the months leading up to Eurovision are packed to the brim with national selections, pre-parties, and rehearsals. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented many of these events from taking place, but a virtual Eurovision conference has recently given fans an opportunity to convene and share their love for the infamous song contest.

Eurovision: Maps, Memories, and Music was organized by Maynooth University’s Department of Geography to discuss the importance of the Eurovision Song Contest in contemporary European life. It was divided into three panels:

  • Maps and Music: Analyzing Eurovision from a geographic perspective and discussing factors affecting voting trends.
  • Representation at Eurovision: Looking at the representation of women, the LGBT + community, and ethnic minorities at Eurovision.
  • Eurovision 2021: Opinions and predictions about Eurovision 2021.

Adrian Kavanagh, lecturer at Maynooth University’s Department of Geography, hosted the conference alongside postgraduate students Caoilfhionn D’Arcy and William Durkan, along with six additional panellists: Michael Kealy, the head of Raidió Teilifís Éireann or RTÉ, the broadcaster responsible for organising Ireland’s Eurovision entries; Esma Jansen, a Dutch correspondent for Wiwibloggs, a large Eurovision blog; Johnny Fallon, who works for Carr Communications and is interested in the political and PR sides of Eurovision; Louise Holst, an Irish Eurovision fan and a contributor to YouTube channel Eurovision Hub; Padraig Muldoon, an Irish contributor for Wiwibloggs; and Sinead Crowley, the Arts and Media Correspondent for RTÉ.

Without further ado, let’s get on with the show!

Maps and Music

This first panel analysed the geographical factors behind Eurovision voting patterns. Voting systems at Eurovision are frequently changing, but there are always two areas where acts can receive votes. The tele-vote comes from viewers at home while the jury vote comes from a panel of music experts – countries cannot vote for themselves. 

Voting patterns have changed over the years, especially in the 1990s when the contest opened up to the newly independent ex-Soviet countries. This era also marked a big change by abolishing the rule where countries could only perform in their official languages. Given English’s status as a lingua franca in Europe, this rule gave the UK and Ireland a huge advantage.

Kavanagh states that there are two consistent patterns seen in voting since 1998: the friends and neighbours effect, and the diaspora effect. The former describes a tendency for countries to vote for their neighbours, leading to the creation of several voting blocs, such as the ex-Soviet bloc and the Nordic bloc. The latter shows that countries will receive a lot of votes from their diaspora, particularly benefitting Armenia, Poland, and Romania. To succeed at Eurovision, a country must be able to get votes outside of those areas.

Voting for neighbouring countries is mostly a result of cultural similarities, and the panellists all agree that politics do not have a large impact on votes, but the jury is more prone to political bias than the tele-vote. For example, Russia does well in the tele-vote with all former Soviet countries, but they don’t do as well in the jury with Ukraine and Georgia, with whom they have political conflicts. Fallon argues that political factors won’t determine whether a country wins or not, but it could affect their placing or whether they qualify for the final.

Representation at Eurovision

Jury votes show that women vote differently than men at Eurovision. Women are more socially engaged and like songs about female empowerment. On the other hand, they don’t seem to like unconventional entries, such as ‘Hatrið mun sigra’ by Hatari (Iceland 2019). 

Eurovision is well known for its massive following in the LGBTQ+ community. It remains one of the few places where queer people are welcomed and celebrated. But aside from the fans, there have been several famous acts that identify as LGBTQ+. This includes Dana International (Israel 1998), Conchita Wurst (Austria 2014), and the current champion, Duncan Laurence (Netherlands 2019). 

Eurovision gives contestants a platform to showcase their culture or deliver a message. Many minority cultures and languages have appeared at Eurovision that are rarely seen elsewhere. How often do you see Hungarian Romani Music (Hungary 2017/2019), Udmurtian grandmothers (Russia 2012), or Sami joiking (Norway 1980/2019)? Eurovision allows these people to have the spotlight and shine where they might not be able to otherwise.

However, Eurovision still falls short when it comes to representation. Many countries frequently send white singers despite having a very diverse population, while increased representation has also caused backlash from white male fans. There was a lot of disappointment when Eurovision 2020 was cancelled as it had the highest number of Black artists ever.

Eurovision 2021

The panellists wrapped up the conference with their views and predictions for Eurovision 2021. There will be 39 countries participating in total, with 26 represented by the same artist that was supposed to participate in 2020. 

The panellists first discussed how the running order for the semi-finals will affect each act’s chance of qualifying. A team of eight people determine the running order based on musical flow and technical requirements. Kavanagh’s studies show that 92% of songs that perform last qualify, and positions #3 and #11 have historically yielded bad results.

As for the overall winner, the general consensus is that Malta is the one to watch. However, we have yet to hear Destiny (Malta 2021) perform her song live, something only a handful of artists have done at this point.

To watch the full conference, a recording is available on Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute’s Facebook Page

Words by Emma Bainbridge

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