A Canadian diva sings for France at the annual glitter and song festival known as Eurovision.
While La Zarra’s participation is welcomed by many fans, some Eurovision watchers believe that by not directly participating in the contest, Canada is missing a chance to exert cultural influence abroad.
“Eurovision is in itself a form of international relations, except that it is centered on music,” said Saskia Postema, a Dutch scholar who has writing about the song contest.
After nearly 70 years on the air, the Eurovision Song Contest has garnered an annual global audience of over 160 million people. And although ‘Euro’ is in the name, there is precedent for non-European countries to get involved.
Australia has participated in the contest since 2015. Israel joined in the 1970s and has won several times. The winning nations can host the competition the following year. This exposure is valuable, said Paul Jordan, a British academic who wrote his doctoral thesis on Eurovision.
CBC News: The House12:34Canada participates in Eurovision, by proxy
“Soft power comes into play, which is why many countries see value in hosting this event,” Jordan told CBC. The House. Ukraine, he said, entered the competition in 2003 with the aim of improving its international image.
“Other countries might kind of laugh at Eurovision, but for smaller countries, especially new independents, it’s a really big opportunity to showcase your country,” he said.
Ukraine won Eurovision last year, but the UK – the 2022 runner-up – is hosting this year on behalf of Ukraine due to the war with Russia. The UK has planned a series of celebrations for the event, including a watch party at the High Commissioner’s residence in Ottawa.
“Part of our job as diplomats is about public diplomacy, and soft power is a very important part of that,” High Commissioner Susannah Goshko said, adding that music and culture are “a very important part.” .[s] to tell the story of a country.
Zelenskyy’s speech request was denied
On Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the group of public broadcasters that manages the contest, rejected a request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address the Eurovision final. The EBU said it would break the competition’s “strict rules and principles” prohibiting political statements.
But politics still plays a role in many aspects of the contest, including song rankings.
The UK won the professional jury’s vote last year – but after the votes were counted by payphone, Ukraine won a landslide victory. Citizens across Europe voted overwhelmingly for the beleaguered nation.
“Everything becomes political when the whole reason for your competition is called into question, namely the unity of Europe. And suddenly it was at stake,” Postema said.
“The Ukraine victory was symbolically imbued with the idea of Europe supporting Ukraine,” Toronto Star theater critic Karen Fricker told CBC. The House from Liverpool, UK, where the competition takes place.
Jordan said the response to Ukraine’s song was less of a political event and more “a very, very emotional moment”.
It’s not uncommon for Eurovision voting to be influenced by global politics.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, for example, are locked in a dispute over disputed territory. They usually rank last in the scorecard.
On the other hand, the EBU rejects overtly political songs. In 2021, Belarus released a song that mocked anti-government protests against dictator Alexander Lukashenko. The EBU rejected the song.
A Georgian song with a veiled reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin [“We Don’t Wanna Put In”] was also refused in 2009.
But coded political songs are part of the contest. This year’s entries from Ukraine, Croatia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic include what appear to be subtle nods to the war in Ukraine.
The Czech song “My Sister’s Crown” has voices in different Slavic languages singing: “My sister’s crown, don’t take it down… She’s her own queen.”
“It almost seems like it’s some kind of Slavic community, the former states of the Soviet Union, saying, ‘Hands off my sister Ukraine,'” Postema said.
“When we say Eurovision is apolitical and the rules require it to be apolitical, there’s a gray area there,” said William Lee Adams, author of Wild Dances: My Queer and Curious Journey to Eurovision. He said the EBU allows some veiled political references and prohibits others.
“The EBU seems very willing to let it stay gray when values align with the West.”
These European values include inclusivity, especially when it comes to LGBTQ representation. A trans woman won the contest for Israel in 1998, and Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won in 2014. Their performances were met with backlash in some countries.
“After Conchita’s win, there were… petitions in Russia and Belarus to step down,” Adams said. “I would say Eurovision brings us together, yes. But it also divides us because there are so many cultural divides across the continent.”
Should Canada Join Eurovision?
Some Canadians (including Ryan Reynolds in an ironic Twitter post) lamented the fact that Australia is part of Eurovision, but not Canada.
So should Canada join?
Jordan said it wasn’t necessary.
“I’m not sure Canada necessarily needs the exposure that countries maybe need because it’s so well known,” Jordan said.
Fricker said she believes Canada could benefit from her participation. She highlighted how Australia has used Eurovision to showcase its diversity, including through Indigenous performers.
“The competition is an incredible platform to represent your country in a way that the world may not necessarily know,” she said, adding that Canada could use Eurovision to showcase its work on the Indigenous reconciliation.
“Any smart national broadcaster can use the content to convey meaning.”
The CBC, as Canada’s public broadcaster and associate member of the EBU, would be a vehicle through which Canada could join the competition. But Chuck Thompson, CBC’s head of public affairs, said the broadcaster would not take Canada to Eurovision.
In a statement, Thompson said, “CBC considered participating, but our programmers don’t think it would resonate here like it does in other countries, some of which have aired the show for decades.
“While not the only factor in our decision-making process, Eurovision is very expensive to produce, especially if we were to host it.”
While that may disappoint some, at least Canada can participate by proxy this year through La Zarra.
“It’s very exciting when you think about it from a Canadian point of view that we’re not competing in Eurovision, but yet we have a singer from Quebec who represents France, who is one of the artists we’re talking about the more in the contest,” Fricker said.
“That begs the question – why can’t we come in?”
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