Around this time two years ago a good friend of mine sent a link to a YouTube clip that he thought I might enjoy. I clicked on the link and was immediately transported to a snowy alpine scene and a wooden stage upon which six strapping chaps in lederhosen began cavorting their way through a very catchy, typically Bavarian sounding schlager.
That song was ‘Voll Ma Tanzn Gehn and the group went by the name of voXXclub – the non-capital “v” and the double-capital “XX” I later discovered are essential to the brand (it’s also another act this year with capital letters in the middle, oh brilliant… – .ed). I was immediately captivated by the engaging performance, which featured much traditional leg and foot slapping as the chaps danced their way through the expertly choreographed song. These boys were having fun, and it showed!
Before the song even finished I was browsing down the right-hand side of the page to see what other delights that guys could offer. There were links to a large number of videos and live performances and within no time at all I was headlong into a full-on avalanche of lederhosen enhanced volksmusik.
The song which had the highest number of hits (currently sitting at over twenty million!) was ‘Rock Mi‘. From the opening bars, which resemble Queen’s anthemic ‘We Will Rock You‘, I knew I had discovered something amazing… The song was insanely catchy, the choreography was slick, the positive vibe that shone through the whole thing was infectious and then there was the fact that the whole package was being delivered by six hunky grown men in lederhosen! What more could a red blooded male who was more than acquainted with Dorothy ask?
After a bit of research, I found out that the band had been formed in Munich in 2012 to cash in on the growing German/Swiss/Austrian volksmusik movement. Korbinian (Bini), Michael, Florian, Christian, Stefan and Julian were launched onto the music scene with a more folksy and gentle version of ‘Rock Mi‘ which failed to do much in the charts. That was followed by a couple of other singles before a decision was taken to oompa-up ‘Rock Mi’ and relaunch the boys with a poppier, more current sound. The remixed version stormed the charts in all three home territories (the guys are a mix of German, Swiss and Austrian themselves) and the voXXclub phenomenon had arrived.
Building The Brand
Over the next few years the boys toured their first three albums and were regularly seen on pop, schlager and volksmusik TV shows across all three countries. They honed flashmob performances of their singles into a fine art and could regularly be found doing impromptu performances in shopping centres, on buses, trains and even in planes.
In 2015 Julian left the group, leaving them as a five piece, but the fun and camaraderie seems to have been unaffected and if anything, the guys perform even better now in their more compact form.
Time To Fly The Flag
I’ve spent the past couple of years enjoying their joyful sound and can regularly be found slapping my thighs to their dulcet tones, so you can imagine my unconfined delight when NDR announced in December that “My voXXclub” are one of the acts that have been shortlisted to compete in February’s “Unser Lied Fur Lissabon”, where the German entry for Lisbon will be selected.
Their most recent album, ‘Donnawedda‘, was released on 29 December and whilst there are a few tracks on it which would have made great entries in their own right, but the guys have be working with a team of specially selected song writers to come up with their song for the German final.
You can bet your bottom Euro that they have my full support as they set down the lederhosen-clad gauntlet to get Germany back on the left hand side of the scoreboard in May. I won’t deny that was hoping for ‘Rock Mi Mark Two‘ with all the fun and spectacle that a similar song could bring to the competition. Did I get it?
After Norway set the precedent last year for vocals not appearing on the backing track (but sounding lke they appear in a Eurovision song), Israel is set to find the limits of that rule if Netta brings her looping machine to the Lisbon stage. That little complication, the fun in San Marino, why we still have Markus Rivas (hint, it’s Excel), and a subtle mention of Val Parnell all turn in this week’s Insight News podcast.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: One Of Us
Another week of Eurovision news in one bite-sized podcast from Ewan Spence and ESC Insight. This week, horny vikings, Israeli rules lawyers, and Excel breaks in Latvia; plus music from The Experiment.
As the 2018 National Finals come at us thick and fast, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
From the launch of Iceland, Estonia and Ukraine’s National Selections to further Semi Final action from Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden, this past weekend saw a packed viewing schedule for the hardcore Eurovision fan. You can view the full Newsletter for a roundup of all the latest results, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the three countries that made their selections for Lisbon this week…
Denmark: Rasmussen – Higher Ground
Written by the Swedish team behind 2010 Melodifestivalen fan favourite Kom by Timoteij, Denmark’s Eurovision hopeful this year is a dramatic folk-rock ballad that leans heavily into the Nordic country’s Viking history – a pose that could play well on the nautical-themed Lisbon stage. Singer and potential Game of Thrones extra Rasmussen has impressive pipes, but may need to work on his stage presence to really make this pop in Portugal.
Italy: Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro – Non mi avete fatto niente
Given that San Remo pre-dates the Eurovision Song Contest and doesn’t place choosing an entry for their sister contest as their highest priority, it’s little wonder that Italian entries seldom sound like ‘typical’ Eurovision songs. So is the case with this slick, sincere AOR ballad from two of the country’s most successful solo artists of recent years. Possibly a little too lyrical and low impact to be truly competitive – but Salvador taught us that anything is possible, and it’s heartening that Italy are continuing to keep the quality control high as the search continues for their first 21st century win.
United Kingdom: SuRie – Storms
The BBC continued to slowly edge in the right direction with the third edition of Eurovision: You Decide last Wednesday. There were no Eurovision winners in the pack, but it was a slick, professional field and the best performance won on the night. Storms currently lacks the impact it probably needs to really make a splash in Lisbon, but SuRie has the professionalism and experience to elevate the material. A well-judged revamp could still rescue this from our right-hand holding pattern.
Stay tuned next week for more national selection antics, including finals from Belarus and Montenegro, plus the first steps on the journey from Armenia, Slovenia and host nation Portugal. Sleep? Who needs it…
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For the tenth time over the last two decades, the Eurovision Song Contest in 2018 will have a first-time host. Our Portuguese friends have already done a great deal of work in preparation for Lisbon: all indications are that RTP has put together a highly skilled team.
The contrast with 2017 is rather stark. We quickly had our theme (‘All Aboard’), hosts, and venues sorted; and there’s no real scuttlebutt or rumbling about things going awry. Ticketing has been something of palaver, arguably because it seems everyone who’s ever considered attending the Song Contest has aimed for Lisbon 2018: high demand means a lot of people have been disappointed. From the outside looking in, preparations are going well.
The Swan Is Graceful On The Surface
Sometimes, however, the greater pressures on first time Eurovision hosts are internal rather external.
This is a chance to showcase the host city and country and its people to a global television audience. Eight hours of live broadcasts will focus primarily on the competing entries but will also offer a great deal of scope for marketing. An early decision to choose a theme that relates to a widely known epoch of Portuguese history that, in a literal sense, put Portugal and Portuguese all over the world map, is not surprising. But there are multiple ways that RTP can employ ‘All Aboard’.
Various members of ESC Insight writers have already presented their own words on RTPs choices. Style maven Lisa-Jane Lewis has already offered a deft analysis on the choice and presentation of this year’s hosting team as being narrow in terms of notions of gender, while historian Catherine Baker has also given us an excellent analysis of why RTP’s theme for Lisbon 2018 is something of a historical whitewash. This article takes a similarly critical tack with perhaps a somewhat broader brush by looking at the challenges and opportunities when an ethnostate hosts its first Eurovision.
We would like to highlight an approach that would leverage an opportunity to reframe what it means to be Portuguese-and, by extension, European-in the 21st century.
The Choice Of Nationalism
Nationalism, as a concept, is rather controversial. To some, nationalism is about reclaiming pride, assert uniqueness, or articulating a sense of self: to others, nationalism represents extremism, racism, and the worst of humanity. In discussing nationalism here we are focusing on the idea of an unique people – a nation – that is defined by shared values, history, experiences or a combination of all three. Benedict Anderson referred to nations as “imagined communities”, something that exists both between and within individuals. Nationalism is shared and personal.
There is a plethora of forms of nationalism, but in the context of the Eurovision, ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism are two that are particularly relevant.
Ethnic nationalism is the idea of a nation – and often, by extension, a state – defined around a common ethnicity or lineage and a shared territory. This is not a modern concept: among the ancient Greeks, Herodotus promoted an ideal of citizenship of a city-state based on shared kinship (blood relations), as well as shared language and customs. In other words, under ethnic nationalism you are born into the nation, your blood is, literally, from the nation.
If that sounds impossibly tidy, it is. Long before the invention of the combustion engine people moved around – a lot. When they moved they, as my beloved grandmother would delicately say, intermingled. Sometimes someone passing through stuck around; other times someone went on a journey and never came home. In both scenarios someone from another nation partnered with someone local, producing children who were not of a single lineage. Long before we had motorways or airports we had intermingling. In the modern age we have even more. When discussing ethnic nationalism we are not discussing – or endorsing – concepts like ethnic purity. It does not exist. It is also not worth celebrating.
An alternative to the idea of ethnic nationalism is civic nationalism. Civic nationalism is defined by the values or principles of a nation-though a physical territory is also affiliated with civic nationalisms. The migrant societies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are examples of ostensive civic nationalism (the denigration of indigenous communities is also a shared element of these, alas). Their espoused civic nationalism, frequently embedded in a discourse around diversity, does not operate in the same way for everyone. There are still elites; there are still marginalised communities. In other words, civic nationalism is also untidy.
In Europe, as the British, French, Belgian, Italian and Portuguese empires began to crumble, some from previously distant colonies moved to Europe. Today’s United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Italy and Portugal are culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse. With the exception of the UK, these are all ethno-states that have become more diverse: the UK was fashioned as the (unequal) union of different nations-though in matters of policy, English culture predominated. In reality, none of these European countries were ever monocultural or monolingual: there has always been a great deal of linguistic diversity in each of these states. More untidiness.
Most recently, from 1980s onwards, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union transformed these large political empires into a collection of numerous ethnostates (states framed around an ethnic nationalism), though in reality none of these were ethnically homogenous either.
Another important recent (in historical terms) development was the idea of the supranational state. The European Union is a level of governance above that of its individual member nations. In something of a paradox, several former Yugoslav or Soviet member states have either acceded to EU membership or have applied to do so. To accede requires a re-orientation of their domestic legal frameworks towards the EU’s ideas of EU citizenship, which is very much a civic nationalism.
Let’s take a look at Portugal’s history as it relates to ethnic and civic nationalism.
Senhors É Senhoras Do Mar
It is not surprising that RTP has chosen to integrate a maritime theme into hosting. Having led one of the world’s great empires it is in the country’s cultural DNA. Given that the national epic poem of Portugal is based on the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, it is clear that Portugal’s past global exploits are a particular point of pride. Their former empire is also part of the Portuguese narrative of ethnic nationalism – something that is not unique to Portugal (or Europe, for that matter).
Sara Tavares at Festival da Cancão 1994 (Source: YouTube/RTP)
Out of a population of 10 million living in Portugal today around half a million (roughly 5%) were born in a former Portuguese colony, mostly in Africa. This has been reflected on the Eurovision stage. Artists like Sara Tavares (1994; ‘Chamar é musica’) Tó Cruz (1995; ‘Baunilha e chocolate’), MTM (2001; ‘Só sei ser feliz assim’), and Homens da Luta (2011; ‘A luta é alegria’) each reflected the important cultural contribution from these communities to modern day Portugal. Prior to ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘, Portugal’s most successful Eurovision entry was a celebration of this diversity: Lucia Moniz’s 1996 entry ‘O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor – My Heart Knows No Colour’.
Lúcia Moniz at Festival da Cancão 1996 (Source: YouTube/RTP)
What initially was a system of disseminating European culture and values around the world whilst exploiting resources and commodities, eventually became something different. The main currency of exchange among the lusophone (Portuguese speaking) countries today is culture through a shared language – music, in particular.
The suggestion is that RTP use ‘All Aboard’ to shift from a discourse of ethnic nationalism to one of civic nationalism.
This is already reflected in its membership in the European Union and Comunidad dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa. It just needs to be more obvious and purposive.
There are two recent examples of how hosts can celebrate ethnic and civic nationalism at the same time: Oslo 2010 and Vienna 2015.
Both Norway and Austria are presumed to be monocultural ethnostates by some. In reality, each host city includes a broad a range of ethnicities. Both had hosting teams that reflected this ethnic diversity. Oslo’s interval act featured Norwegian hip hop act Madcon. Vienna went a step farther by choosing Building Bridges as their theme, reflecting both Vienna’s history as a crossroads between central and western Europe and Austria’s modern day multiculturalism.
Here are some more concrete suggestions for how the 2018 production team could effectively leverage both ethnic and civic nationalism. First, include the Portuguese diaspora: One of the three hosts, Daniela Ruah, is from the Portuguese diaspora. So too, by the way, are the current title holders: the Sobrals lived in the US for several years before returning to Portugal. Excellent start.
Second, feature the global Lusosphere: the interval acts for all three broadcasts are a chance to showcase Portuguese culture and music’s global reach. An emphasis on how the former colonies have enriched their culture would be great. Look at Birmingham 1998’s interval act for inspiration.
The interval act in Brum (Source: YouTube/escbelgium4)
Lisbon should feature its uniqueness and its diversity, in the context of today’s Europe. Doing so makes the case for civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism co-existing in a productive way.
Lisbon is great city. It is easily accessible within a couple of hours’ flight from many other European capitals. It is lovely and warm in the spring. It’s relatively affordable. If you have not yet acquired any tickets for the live broadcasts, consider coming to Lisbon anyways. There will be excellent public spaces to view all the broadcasts, along with other events and activities.
Whatever RTP decides, Lisbon 2018 promises to be a cracker of a Eurovision.
Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections On The Origins And Spread Of Nationalism. London: Verso Books.
The biggest question this week after the UK National Final is which Swede is the bigger fan of The Wombles, Zelmerlöw or Af Sillén? We can’t help you with that one, so ask us about National Final results, new songs, upcoming releases, the mysteries of Sanremo or the inevitable ‘Saturday Night’ puns at Dansk MGP…
Eurovision Insight Podcast: One Of Us
Seven days of Eurovision squeezed into just one podcast, hosted by Ewan Spence. This week, three new songs to love, a bad Whigfield pun, and trying to understand Sanremo; plus music from The Kolors.
As the 2018 season builds up momentum, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Tonight will see the BBC’s ‘Eurovision: You Decide’ National Final take to the air, with six acts hoping to win through to represent the United Kingdom in Lisbon come May. With bit of ‘home advantage’ in reporting a National Final for once, the ESC Insight team decided to meet the stars that will take to the stage, and some of those behind the scenes.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Power To All Our Friends
Lisa-Jayne Lewis and Ewan Spence talk to the six acts performing at Eurovision: You Decide to decide who will represent the United Kingdom at the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon. Along the way they also talk to Head of Delegation Helen Riddell, Musical Director Hugh Goldsmith, and OGAE UK President Alasdair Rendall.
As the 2018 season continues to fill up the spreadsheet of songs, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.