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‘I am the voice of the past that will always be’: the Eurovision Song Contest as historical fiction

Baker, Catherine


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Dr Catherine Baker
Research Coordinator for History and Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History


The Eurovision Song Contest has been called everything from ‘the Gay Olympics’ to ‘a monument to drivel’, but can it also be thought of as historical fiction – and what could that reveal about how narratives of national and European identity are retold internationally, or about how mechanisms of fictional narrative can structure popular cultural forms not necessarily considered fiction? Beyond the intertextual influence of historical/pseudo-historical fiction on how designers have staged certain contemporary Eurovision performances to mediate distant national pasts to a transnational audience, some entries have been structured as historical fiction more systematically by consisting of first-person narratives where the performer embodies and voices a character representative of what is being constructed as a collective experience in the national or European past. Often these concern historical memory of war and trauma, such as Eimear Quinn’s 1996 winning Irish entry (where a mystical spirit narrated Ireland’s ‘hunger and pain’), Lisa Angell’s 2015 French entry (the story of a survivor from a village destroyed by enemy soldiers) or 2016’s winning Ukrainian entry, Jamala’s ‘1944’. Yet beneath even this level, the contest itself might be considered a historical fiction in terms of its founding myths of post-WW2 reconstruction, post-Cold-War unity and dehistoricised diversity – a recent past that Eurovision viewers are invited to wish Europe had really enjoyed.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2019
Journal Journal of Historical Fictions
Print ISSN 2514-2089
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Issue 2
Pages 102-125
APA6 Citation Baker, C. (2019). ‘I am the voice of the past that will always be’: the Eurovision Song Contest as historical fiction. Journal of historical fictions, 2(2), 102-125
Keywords Europe; Eurovision Song Contest; Historical fiction; Memory; Narrative; National identity; Popular music
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