Love. Love has driven pop songs for decades, as songwriters and performers find shared experiences and moments fit wonderfully into a few minutes of entertainment. The Eurovision Song Contest is no exception. By looking at the lyrics and presentation of all this year’s love songs, I’ve broken them down into three major categories:
- Love as a metaphor for resistance.
The modern love song about seduction is sex positive and upfront about it – it celebrates passion and the frisson of turning a flirtation into physicality.
It should also acknowledge that the seducee is at least as important in the song as the seducer. Sweden and Ireland are straightforward songs of seduction, but with strongly contrasting styles. For Sweden, Robin is pretty confident that the person he’s pantingly desperate for is going to to respond positively, but there’s no such confidence for Brendan from Ireland – he’s ‘Dying to Try,’ but he’s just putting it out there in no real expectation that it’ll be reciprocated. Moldova are a bit further down the road – in ‘Hey Mamma‘ the relationship with the lover is solid enough but Sergei is defending it to a protective mother. I’m not too sure that telling the mum what you plan on doing with the daughter is necessarily a great idea, but it’s a strategy.
I’m putting Spain in the seduction category, even though it’s not exactly clear, even in translation, what Manel wants you to do for your lover. Serbia’s Tijana is playing the role of the seduced in ‘In Too Deep’ – she wants to know at what point she fell in love, because it’s all feeling a little intense.
The other end of the seduction category is songs of pure passion and abandon – I’m putting Montenegro and Greece in this, because Montenegro is about wild physical love and Greece is about the simplicity of emotional love. The Macedonian song, ‘Dance Alone’, is also about enjoying the physicality of dance, and the feelgood infatuation of loving yourself.
Love As Metaphor for Resistance
I’m sure you’ll have noticed that this is a time of great global upheaval and uncertainty. The young people of the world are afraid of what the future brings, and they know that only love and compassion can give us a future. In these songs love leads revolutions. In these songs love protects and sustains us.
In Lithuania, the revolutionary nature of love is explicit – Viktorija sings about breaking rational views and narrow limits – and for Kristian of Bulgaria love is untouchable, even in the line of fire. For Belarus, where political expression is more tricky, ‘Story of your Life’ isn’t explicitly about revolution, but the optimistic tone and the mention of ‘new desires and better ideas’ might potentially be hinting towards the current protest movements against the Belorussian government.
For the United Kingdom, it’s quite easy to imagine that Lucie’s defiant, heartbroken song is ‘I’ll Never Give Up On EU‘, rather than ‘You‘. It’s a song about resistance to difficult emotional circumstances and staying together through the madness of an unimaginable situation. Switzerland have a similar theme of the resilience of love in ‘Apollo’, and Armenia continue their theme of protecting and bolstering their national identity by framing ‘Fly With Me’ as a fable about a girl (the personification of Armenia) with history, whose love unifies and lifts people. Denmark and Cyprus both have love songs that talk about the stability and openness of lasting love, possibly as a reaction to the instability and closedness of current world affairs.
Joci Papai, singing ‘Origo’ for Hungary is talking about anti-Romani racism (why did you lie to me, that the colour of my skin doesn’t matter?) through the prism of a broken heart. His interactions with the dancer tell the story of love threatened by prejudice, but thankfully in the last seconds of the song, there is a reconciliation. There’s hope through love.
Modern life results in a distance between what we do and what we feel – and sometimes love songs reflect this emptiness and alienation. Last year we had a great example, with Dami Im singing about affection mediated across long distances by technology. This year we have Belgium singing about loneliness under the city lights, Australia wondering if they’ve got it in themselves to ever love again, Albania wondering what it takes to love in this world and Latvia still clinging onto the liminal edges of a failed relationship.
Azerbaijan’s ‘Skeletons’ is almost Brechtian in evoking alienation through words, music and disturbing stage imagery. Dihaj’s strong artistic statement about a world spinning faster by the minute and the disorientating effects of the love of a bad boy is perhaps too deliberately alienating in a televised contest with a public vote, but I personally admire the sheer art of it all.
For Iceland and Estonia, the alienation is so severe that it’s ended the relationship – Svala’s love turns her to paper and rips right through her, and Koit and Laura are alienated not just from each other but from modernity and Westernness.
Even though it’s not at all a love song but I thought I’d shoehorn Italy into this section – ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ is a song all about alienation and the occasionally misguided efforts that people make to overcome it.
There’s one love song this year that isn’t really in any of the categories – Malta’s ‘Breathlessly’. It’s not a seduction, it’s not really a metaphor about political resistance and it’s not specifically about being alienated. But it’s close enough.
And In Conclusion
The love songs of Eurovision 2017 tell us that Europe is working through alienation, and trying to use the power of love to overcome adversity. We can also tell that Europe is feeling sexy, and is ready to party.
Which is good, because we’re having a party in Kyiv right now.