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Performing the Nation, Writing its Song

European flagsMore than simply popular light entertainment, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has grown into a significant political, social and cultural phenomenon.  It is the largest pan-European television event, attracting millions of viewers each year.

The 58th Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Malmö on Saturday 18 May 2013. To coincide with this, Malmö University is hosting an international conference looking at the performances, politics and places of Eurovision.

Sam Murray, PhD student at the School of Music, will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Performing the Nation, Writing its Song: An Ethnography of Performer and Songwriter Identity in the Eurovision Song Contest.’ Currently carrying out research in Portland, Sam is unable to be present in Malmö for the conference so will be pre-recording his paper.

‘Performing the Nation, Writing its Song: An Ethnography of Performer and Songwriter Identity in the Eurovision Song Contest.’


In the twenty-first century the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has grown to become Europe’s favourite television show, with over sixty million people tuning in to see the nations of the European Broadcasting Union sing for the Eurovision Trophy, and the right to hold the contest in their nation. Behind the dance routines, accordions and bizarre costumes are performers and songwriters tasked with showing Europe one of its many cultural facets. It is the performers who perform their home nations to Europe singing the words written by professional songwriters, who are hired by national television companies.

This study takes an ethnographic examination of performer and songwriter identity within the ESC. Performers and Songwriters from across Europe, from Portugal to Armenia, have been interviewed extensively to find out how they view their roles in the ESC, and the stories of their various ESC experiences. The stories of two participants Zeljko Joksimovic and Daniela Varela (Flor de Lis) are followed, to give voice to the ESC experience for those in front and behind the camera.

Within a discussion of national identity in the ESC, the works of Gumpert (2007) and Pavlyshyn (2006) are examined to see how both scholars have theorised, and contemplated, notions of national identity and auto-orientalism. Lemish’s study of Gay Israeli Men’s connection to the ESC (2007) is identified as a model of successful ESC ethnography, gaining a real sense of the connections between the LGBT community and the ESC.

While ESC literature has focussed on themes of gender, race, sexuality and politics, there are few ethnographic studies about the contest. This study takes the much theorised subject of ESC National identity and places it in the artists’ hands, as through their accounts the notion of national and professional identity is unpacked.

Related links:

The PDX Music Scene Project - Read about Sam's current PhD research