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Why the Message Matters Written by on February 19, 2021 | 2 Comments

Looking at the size and scale of the audience for the Eurovision Song Contest, Erik Nelson asks if we are paying enough attention to the messages being sent to the viewers.

One of the most powerful arguments for National Finals to select a broadcaster’s song for the Eurovision Song Contest is the ability to showcase a wide range of performances from multiple genres and artists at different stages of their careers. It’s an exciting opportunity for both the artists and the public broadcasters that get to showcase them.

That ability also comes with responsibility, however, especially in genres of music that can present darker themes such as Finnish Eurovision hopefuls Blind Channel. Their hard-rocking tune ‘Dark Side’ features the lyric “Likе the 27 Club, headshot, We don’t wanna grow up,” which caught the attention of many with its nod towards suicide.

It has become increasingly common for pop culture to normalise suicide. So common, in fact, that the National Institute of Health in the U.S. released a report detailing how the media has influenced the prevalence of these issues. Cases in which a suicide is reported on in detail, such as one describing the method of death, is particularly problematic, according to the report. Whether they mean to or not, such reports romanticize the idea of suicide by painting a vivid picture of it.

It is not unusual for a high profile figure’s death to inspire “copycats.” David Phillips, who coined the term “copycat suicide,” noted that suicide is essentially contagious. According to Phillips, hearing about a high profile death can be seen as “permission” to die to a highly vulnerable person. This sort of spike in suicide rates is exemplified by the one following the death of Robin Williams in 2014. Other media can affect it as well – suicide attempts jumped considerably after the release of the show 13 Reasons Why, which centers on a teenager who takes her own life.

By contrast, when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain died by suicide in 1994, suicide rates actually dropped. It is not entirely conclusive exactly why this is, but the difference appears to be in how Cobain’s suicde was covered. Rather than sensationalizing the violent act that ended his life, the local community turned to outreach and promotion of mental health resources. As a result, calls to crisis centers measurably went up, but actual deaths did not. Lives were saved by how the crisis following Cobain’s death was handled.

Mental health issues affect an enormous amount of people – according to the CDC, about 1 in 5 young adults deal with a mental health issue every year, and 1 in 2 will do so over the course of their lifetimes. Considering Eurovision’s expected audience, any message, negative or otherwise, is going to reach millions of vulnerable viewers. To that end, it’s important to consider what messages those millions are going to see and hear.

The importance of messaging can lead to change – the producers of 13 Reasons Why removed the scene depicting its central figure’s suicide after listening to feedback. That change is a testament to the importance of holding platforms to a responsible and positive standard.

These are not unfamiliar issues for National Broadcasters, and each will have their own editorial guidance to follow. The fast pace of the Song Contest leaves very little time to place songs of a darker nature in context. The EBU doesn’t have many rules against content of this nature, either – outside of being a “family show,” there isn’t much guidance on how disturbing content should be handled.

Perhaps it’s time there was.

If you you or someone you know is in danger or considering suicide, please contact a local emergency number or:

Armenia – Emergency numbers, 112 and 911
Australia – Lifeline, 13 11 14
Austria – Telefonseesorge (Telephone counseling), 142, or Rat auf Draht (youth crisis line), 147
Azerbaijan – Emergency number, 112, or the Youth Crisis Hotline, 510-66-36
Belarus – Emergency number, 112, or for children, 801-100-1611
Belgium – Zelfmoordlijn (Dutch, 1813), or Centre de Prévention du Suicide (French, 080032123)
Bulgaria – Emergency number, 112
Croatia – Plavi Telefon, 48 33 888
Cyprus – Emergency numbers, 112 and 199, or Cyprus Samaritans, 8000 7773
Czech Republic – Emergency number, 112
Denmark – Livslinien, 70 201 201
Estonia – Eluliin, 655 8088 (Estonian) or 655 5688 (Russian)
Finland – Finnish Association for Mental Health, 010 195 202 (Finnish) or 09 4135 0501 (other)
France – Suicide écoute, 01 45 39 40 00 (24-hour), or Fil santé jeunes : 0800 235 236 (for youth)
Germany – Telefonseelsorge, 0800 1110111 or 0800 1110222
Greece – Emergency number, 1018
Hungary – Blue line, 116-123, or Help line, 116-111
Iceland – Hjálparsími Rauða Krossins, 1717
Ireland – Samaritans, 116 123
Israel –, 1201
Italy – Servizio per la Prevenzione del Suicidio (number not available), or Samaritans, 800 86 00 22
Latvia –, 67222922 or 27722292
Lithuania – Vilties Linija, 116 123 (adults) or 116 111 (youth)
Malta – Appogg supportline, 179
Netherlands – 113Online, 0900-0113
Norway – Mental Helse, 116 123
Poland – Olsztynski Telefon Zaufania ‘Anonimowy Przyjaciel, 89 19288 or 89 527 00 00
Portugal – Voz de Apoio, 225 50 60 70
Romania – Alianţa Română de Prevenţie a Suicidului, 0800 801 200
Russia – Samaritans, 007 (8202) 577-577, or 051 (emergency number for Moscow)
Serbia – SRCE Novi Sad, (+381) 21-6623-393
Slovenia – Zaupni telefon Samarijan in Sopotnik, 116 123
Spain – Teléfono de la Esperanza, 717 003 717
Sweden – Självmordslinjen, 90101
Switzerland – Die dargebotene Hand, 143
United Kingdom – National Health First Response Service, 111
United States – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-277-8255


About The Author: Erik Nelson

Erik Nelson is a writer and music fan based in Minnesota. He is a co-host of the Eurovision podcast 12 Points from America.

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2 responses to “Why the Message Matters”

  1. beckettfitz says:

    Maybe they’re hoping that the audience watching Eurovision on the night are mostly English as a second language and wouldn’t understand the reference? Not an excuse but that may be their thinking..

    Also a song that just came out by a Tik Tok influencer Nessa Barrett called La Di Die with lyrics that share the same reference:

    Hope someday I’ll find nirvana
    I’ll be looking down below
    I’ll be dead at twenty-seven
    Only nine more years to go

    So it seems that reference seems to be going around and staying pretty prominent.

  2. […] the disappointing result, and the massive success of a song with a very different message, Aksel has continued to use his voice for good, and to stress the importance of openness and […]

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