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Eurovisions: The Story Of Eurovision’s Academic Conference Written by on May 5, 2023

Think Eurovision is all dancing to schlager on sweat-stained dance floors while the sun starts to shine through the EuroClub windows? Think again. The Tuesday and Wednesday morning of Eurovision week in Liverpool sees the 6th edition of Eurovisions, Eurovision’s own academic conference, take place at the Capstone Theatre. Ben Robertson speaks to the organisers to find out more about Eurovision academic research and what is on the agenda for this year’s edition. 

It is estimated that around 100,000 extra visitors will descend on Liverpool for the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Eurovision fans take up many different demographics. Some love to party, some love the live shows, some love the fringe events in the host city, some love the glitz and the glamour, some adore the statistics and some love the mashing together of different cultures from across and beyond the continent.

It was this latter point that captivated Irving Wolther. Irving is a veteran of the Eurovision community, having attended the Song Contest since 1992 and being a founding member of the original OGAE club in Germany. But the more he got involved within the Contest the more Irving was missing the book explaining everything else around the show and what was happening behind the scenes.

Eventually a last minute PhD submission was accepted to write what he describes as the “world’s first PhD thesis on the Eurovision Song Contest” about national cultural representation at the Song Contest, describing how often the artistry shown on stage is intertwined with the culture from the nation the artist is from.

But where could Eurovision discussions on such an academic level find their home?

Creating Eurovisions

Readers of ESC Insight may recognise the Eurovision Research Network, established in 2009 as a “platform for researchers to share ideas and dialogue and to establish future lines of communication and set the agenda for further research”. This annual get together was a formal one, focused on academia, and one designed to help out researchers establish themselves in an academic world often hostile to studying our Song Contest. Irving himself described the fact that much Eurovision research is “not known by the public or the scientific community” and as such these get togethers did allow for those opportunities to share ideas and create collaboration opportunities.

Another aspect was that this created a support network between researchers focusing on the Eurovision Song Contest. Irving recalls how there were times when he was “not encouraged to go on with research”, blaming traditional academia’s bias against Eurovision as something not of academic value both culturally and musically.

Now members from the Eurovision Research Network were involved in a half-day conference organised by the EBU and the Stockholm School of Economics in 2016, but by the time the contest rolled into Lisbon in 2018 there was a gap in the organisation of any such event, and Eurovisions was born.

Irving had met Sofia Vieira Lopes at Eurovision in 2013. There she was beginning her academic career, and as a ethnomusicologist had stumbled into the Song Contest through studying music on television, considering how television provides a democratic platform for music to spread. It was her supervisor who nudged her to study Festival da Canção and from there she realised how Eurovision was “one of the best subjects to understand social dynamics.” It also provided an outlet for her to explore the Contest further away from the formality of musicology, and the “prejudice” from many professors about the cultural value in this annual extravaganza.

After Salvador Sobral’s victory in Kyiv the Contest’s migrated to Lisbon and with that finally catching the attention of many within Portuguese music study. There Irving and Sofia collaborated to form two conferences that spring – one in February and one later during Eurovision Song Contest week, supported for the latter by OGAE to hold the event in EuroCafe. This was a step change away from more formal academic meetups of the past, with the aim of Eurovisions to “bring together fans, professionals, and researchers no matter how much they know about the Eurovision Song Contest.”

At least for Sofia, Eurovisions was meant to be a one year project, but fellow Portuguese academic Carla Figueira of Goldsmiths University found contacts within Tel Aviv to host the showcase once more in 2019. And when the pandemic shut down the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, the conference kept going online, bringing in the Contest’s Project Manager and Frank-Dieter Freiling (Head of the EBU’s Reference Group) amongst others to discuss the opportunities and challenges for Eurovision going forward.

2023 will now be the sixth edition of Eurovisions.

What makes Eurovisions different?

Eurovisions tries to make academic research into the Eurovision Song Contest as welcoming as possible for visiting fans to the Contest. There is no need to pre-register, and fans are welcome to turn up on the Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at the Capstone Theatre (a 36 minute walk from the Liverpool Arena, so likely closer for most living in Liverpool city centre) to listen to proceedings.

Gone is also the traditional conference set up of highly scientific topics with lengthy monologues. Much of the conference is instead set up in panel discussion topics with plenty of mingle opportunities and musical interludes to break up the activities. Last year former Eurovision participants Jalisse spoke and performed at the Eurovision Conference, whereas this year students from Liverpool Hope University will be entertaining the participants with their own three minute Eurovision creations.

The first day of Eurovisions is home to the annual Science Slam, aimed to allow young and new researching into academia a chance to bring their topics to the stage where other conferences might not give them the opportunity. This year eight different research topics with direct or indirect links to the Eurovision Song Contest are presented to the audience. These presentations are online, with ten minute videos available to watch about their topics.

That means at Eurovisions instead each person will defend their research in a viva-style discussion, a format that aims to be more entertaining and engaging for the viewers than eight back-to-back Powerpoint presentations. The public, be it before coming to the Capstone Theatre or during the conference itself, can vote for their favourite presentation online.

The theme of this year’s Eurovisions is “Representing oneself and the other”, which of course takes inspiration from the fact that this year’s production is being run in the United Kingdom on behalf of Ukraine. Volodymyr Sheiko from the Ukrainian Institute and Oksana Skybinska, Ukrainian Head of Delegation, will be amongst the guest speakers. Furthermore there will also be a round table conversation about the issue of representation at Eurovision, which amongst others will feature members of the Spanish, Czech and Welsh (yes, from when S4C entered Junior Eurovision) delegations.

Part of Eurovisions is of course the academic level discussions about all things Eurovision. But it does so in a way that aims to reach out to the entire Eurovision community. Irving says the conference would be “useless” if it only succeeded in engaging fellow scholars, without being able to bring in people from the wide variety of experiences that the Eurovision Song Contest offers.

And that’s where you are very welcome to attend. No registration is required, come for the Tuesday, Wednesday or both and engage in what is hoped to be the deepest, yet most accessible, discussion about anything Eurovision Song Contest in the entire Eurovision fortnight.

More information about Eurovisions, the Eurovision Academic Conference, can be found on their website The schedule for the 2023 Conference can be found via this link, and if you are unable to attend in person the event should be streamed on their YouTube channel

ESC Insight is the official Media Partner of Eurovisions. We aim to produce a summary article following each day of the conference on our website. 

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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