Archetypes in Eurovision
Carl Gustav Jung is famous for his listing of human archetypes. He listed four main ones.
No he didn’t; it was seven.
No, it was twelve. No, twenty-four.
He did list rather a lot of archetypes over his life. This ‘wheel’ showing twelve of them is a popular distillation of his work: https://conorneill.com/2018/04/21/understanding-personality-the-12-jungian-archetypes/.
Eurovision often features ‘archetypal’ characters. The sexy lady, the confident young man (and so on). I thought I’d map these onto the Jungian 12-archetype wheel – but I failed. They just didn't fit.
I don’t mind. Attempts to map one model onto another often end up with reality being horrendously stretched and squeezed. So instead, here are twelve special Eurovision archetypes...
1. The Sexy Lady in Full Flow. This year, she is represented by Chanel from Spain. She was Eleni Foureira (Cyprus) in 2018. Back in 2005, she won, courtesy of Helena Paparizou. She was sent up by Poland in 2014. ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it,’ is her motto. And why not? But she still needs a good song to get near the winner’s podium.
2. The Sensitive Young Girl on the Edge of her First Big Relationship is a more subtle archetype, so can produce a wider range of songs. She was Belgium’s Blanche in 2017 – and Luxembourg’s France Gall back in 1965. In the old days, this archetype often expressed herself as a mature woman looking back. Isabelle Aubret’s Un Premier Amour, back in 1962, still sends shivers down my spine. There is a male version of this archetype, too – Donny Montell from Estonia had been ‘waiting for this night’ (and came 9th in 2016).
3. The Confident Innocent. Not all innocents in Eurovision are scared and sensitive. They can have a breezy, kooky confidence about them. Examples? Lena, who won for Germany in 2010. Leonora from Denmark in 2019. ‘Love is forever,’ she sang. Of course it is, it never goes wrong! This archetype can be male, too – though then often comes in disguise. Alexander Rybak sang about being in a tortured relationship, but nobody believed a word, not with the broad grin he kept on his face during his whole performance. Mikolas Josef from Czech Republic in 2018 talked big-boy stuff but did he really mean it? A cute variation on this was the older singer, Betty Missiego from Spain (she was actually born in Peru), rediscovering her inner child back in 1979.
4. Hurt by Experience – and Letting It Out at Full Volume. Again, this tends to be a female, though not always. My favourite expression of this is Pastora Soler from 2012, though this archetype has been singing loud and clear since the dawn of the contest: Lys Assia won the first one, back in 1956, by singing of lost love. This archetype’s heyday was possibly the 1970s, when the contest was bossed by magnificent French balladeers: Vicky Leandros, Anne-Marie David, Marie Myriam.
5. The Empowered New Woman. She isn’t that new. She was Mia Martini 1977. She was Celine Dion back in 1988 – you’re not going anywhere without me. She was Netta, who won in 2018 and Tamara Todevska in 2019, who propelled North Macedonia into the Top Ten, getting her country’s best-ever result (by miles).
6. The Sensitive, Tortured Young Man. He sings alone: no need for dancers or special effects. Gjon’s Tears would probably have been better off last year without the dry ice effect. Other recent expressions of this are Salvador Sobral and the most-streamed Eurovision artiste of all, Duncan Laurence. All these three show that this archetype is a winner (or at least Top Three) in the contest. He often sings in, or at least breaks into, falsetto. This can land him in trouble in more conservative cultures – when Bulgaria fielded countertenor Krassimir Aramov in 2009, some people there complained he was letting the nation down by singing so high.
7. The Hunky Bloke in Leather / Chains. There have always been good-looking blokes in Eurovision. In the past they have often been dancers or been whacking the hell out of some large, ethnic drum (Moldovan grannies also do that). Of late, a twist of BDSM has been added to the mix. Slavo Kalezic, from Montenegro, did this in 2017, and the bondage was taken into overdrive by Iceland’s Hatari in 2019 (they were, of course, Making a Statement about Capitalism).
8. The Young Man with a Swagger. No chains for this chap. He knows he’s going to sweep his intended off their feet, and tells them (and everybody else) so. Musically, the best version of this (in my view, anyway) is Domenico Modugno’s Volare, back in 1958. Come fly with me! Sweden’s Robin Bengtsson (2017) expressed awe at his intended lover in his words, but his body language – and those of his dancers – told a different story.
9. The Artist. A genuine attempt to push musical boundaries. One of the things the Balkan countries did to arouse the ire of the old Eurovision guard in the 2000s was to experiment musically (as well as introducing new, established local genres into the contest). Bulgaria’s Stoyan and Elitsa in 2007 (Stoyan is also a world-class jazz and session drummer). Rona Nishliu (Albania) in 2012. Both these entries did well, despite saloon-bar mutterings in old Europe about cats being strangled. As a nation, Georgia is the one that probably fields this archetype most. Usually, this results in their getting an early ticket home – it has this year – but one day Eurovision will be in the mood for them.
10. The Eccentric(s). This is one of Carl’s original archetypes, the Jester. In Shakespeare, the Fool character tells home truths to power that nobody else dare (albeit often via late 16th century jokes, which can fall a bit flat nowadays). So it is on the Eurovision stage. Austria’s Alf Poier was trying to highlight cruelty to animals in 2003. The great joker of modern Eurovision, Ukraine’s Verka Sedushka, wanted to say ‘Goodbye’ to Russia. In this year’s contest, Moldova (so often the eccentrics) are hymning the delights of closer links between their capital, Chisinau, and that of Romania, Bucharest, via a wonderful mix of folk and punk.
11.The True Believers in the Gospel of Rock. Eurovision was pretty much a rock-free zone until 2006, when Lordi steamrollered their way to victory. It has been part of the mix ever since, though rarely a route to victory. The one time Ukraine have done really badly in the contest was the time they featured a rock band. Now rock is back. Last year saw Måneskin both win the contest and crack the global market. Rock, of course, is a way of life, not just a musical genre: rocker Eurovision winners must live it (though there was an embarrassed silence this year when Måneskin were asked what was the most rock-n-roll thing they had done at the contest this year).
12. The Loved-up Couple. Well, this is what all these emotions are supposed to be about ultimately, isn’t it? Finally getting it right. Ask an evolutionary biologist (or Jane Austen). In Eurovision, this archetype goes right back to the supposedly strait-laced 1950s, when Denmark’s Birthe and Gustav shared a twelve-second kiss at the end of their song. in 1957. Lithuania’s Ieva Zasimauskaitė sang about how she wanted to grow old with her lover in 2018 – at the end of the song he appeared on the stage and they embraced in happy tears. This year’s Mahmood and Blanco are a tortured version of this – they still have a few issues to sort out.
One key to doing well in Eurovision is to produce something that expresses an archetype that nobody else is doing that well that year. In this year’s first semi, we had three Jesters: Latvia, Norway and Moldova. Norway and Moldova were sufficiently different musically not to overlap, and succeeded. Latvia was one Jester too many.
Of course, the real key to winning Eurovision is to produce a superb, original, moving, timely song! How do you do that? If I knew that, I’d be writing this from a beach...
Incidentally, there is an excellent piece by Derek Sillerud on the ESC Insight site about nations and archetypes in the contest. He does manage to map Jung onto Eurovision! (Denmark, the Innocent; Portugal, Everyman and so on). Check it out:
Is my list perfect and exhaustive? Of course not! Please feel free to add your thoughts.