(I know I should stop opening these reviews with OOOF, but some of these songs are OOF.)
My Sister’s Crown has been one of the most debated songs of the season this year:
To try to sum up the controversy – the Czech selection was won by Vesna, a six-member, all-women band, whose members hail/have hailed from Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria and Russia. Vesna means spring in multiple languages. It is also the name of an anti-Putin youth movement in Russia that has protested for Navalny and against the war in Ukraine.
“My Sister’s Crown” is a song about sisterhood in Czech, Bulgarian, English and Ukranian. The group has made it clear that they support Ukraine, with a note on their Eurovision artist page mentioning their participation in a pro-Ukraine concert in 2022.
And yet. Some Ukranian fans have questioned the wisdom of singing in Ukrainian when there are no Ukranian members of the band. What Vesna may view as a song of support is actually being interpreted as a song that tries to speak for Ukrainians. Other critics have pointed out that talking about SLavic sisterhood may sound like a good thing, except that far-right Russian movements are co-opting pan-Slavism as a way to expand their sphere of influence.
I’m not Ukranian. I’m not Eastern European. I’m not going to attempt to untangle what people with expertise in their own history are interpreting in these songs.
But I will note that this controversy is the perfect example of why intersectionality matters, and why Eurovision has traditionally been so bad at it. In the three minute world of Eurovision, identity is often stripped down to one overriding characteristic – one’s gender, or one’s nationality – which is then used in marketing. As such, Vesna’s song has been marketed as a feminist one – evidenced by this tweet put out by the contest:
Calling My Sister’s Crown a feminist song isn’t a nuanced enough take. It’s a feminist song that explicitly endorses sisterhood using a number of languages. But by focusing on gender above all else, neither Vesna or the contest are considering what might be the priority for women in Ukraine. At the moment, their identity as Ukrainian is literally under attack, and may be more important to assert than their identity as a woman.
In short: Singing about sisterhood is great, but not when women are getting killed because of their nationality. And a song that talks about boys dying while putting women in a passive role of having things done to her (taking down her crown, being someone’s doll) fails to recognise the very real role that Ukranian women are playing in opposing the Russian invasion.
I don’t think Vesna is being malicious. I think they’ve written a song for Eurovision. And the problem with writing songs for Eurovision is that the ‘no politics’ rule means that statements are often watered down to the point where they’re meaningless. I suspect that Vesna were trying the best they could to write a song that supports women in Ukraine. But there is so much ambiguity in the lyrics and messaging as to make that unclear.
A song like My Sister’s Crown should be just up my street. But for a song celebrating women’s voices and sisterhood, it seems unsure as to what its overall message should be.