Love, music and coronavirus
All responses to an epidemic crisis are political. At the beginning of February 2020, at the heart of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan, the authoritarian Chinese regime massively broadcast the humanitarian song “Believe Love Will Win”. The stated aim of the song was to emotionally support those engaged in the fight against the Covid-19 epidemic, presenting them as heroes of the Chinese nation.
However, as I have analysed in this blog (see this post),1 the making and broadcasting of a humanitarian song means that politics has failed. What is the reason for this? Humanitarian songs have an important place in the depoliticization of responses to crises, constructing representations and shaping official narratives. The songs and the discourses that accompany them conceal the historical and geopolitical depth of humanitarian crises by transforming political issues into moral questions – be they in the contexts of the famine in Ethiopia caused by the civil war in 1983-1985, the management of the humanitarian crisis in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the international intervention to curb the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and 2015.
« We firmly believe love will win »
In “Believe Love Will Win”, Jackie Chan and a dozen Chinese film and television artists sing along the well-established model of “Western” humanitarian songs: the music video of the Chinese song stages the humanitarian emergency, showing men and women recording in a studio. The focus on “positive” emotions, such as love and compassion, suggests to the viewer that the artists are acting spontaneously and selflessly. In addition, the song is accompanied by a making-of, a kind of double mise en abyme that shows the artists preparing to record the song, wearing protective masks and taking steps to disinfect the studio.
Everything suggests that the model for the Chinese music video is the French humanitarian song “Des ricochets”, produced in 2011 by the Paris Africa collective, in collaboration with UNICEF, in the context of a new humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. There are striking similarities between the two music videos: the way the images of the studio are juxtaposed with those of a mocked-up exterior, the use of the “heart” symbol to represent love as a political response and the making-of music video.
« Together, we become stronger »
However, while most humanitarian songs symbolically build a community of “donors” and another of “victims”, the lyrics of “Believe Love Will Win” and the images shown in the music video exalt a unique and heroic national community. In this way, the lyrics of the song glorify the nation’s response – that of President Xi Jinping and the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China – to the coronavirus epidemic. The song speaks of suffering, compassion and national unity in the face of danger. The images show Chinese caregivers, wearing protective masks and working to exhaustion in the fight against coronavirus. Their efforts are depicted as beyond reproach, since they are morally good, necessary and urgent.
In the face of criticism from citizens denouncing lies, repression and excessive public monitoring in the context of the Covid-19 epidemic, the Chinese regime counter-attacked with the help of a troupe of artists singing the love and glory of the nation.
It is highly likely that other humanitarian songs will follow in Europe and the United States. The conditions are conducive to governments resorting to this type of propaganda dispositif and authoritarian measures: lack of legitimacy of political leaders, social inequalities in terms of access to health care facilities and strong emotional focus on the coronavirus crisis. We must maintain our capacity for critical thinking and remain vigilant to attempts to depoliticize the responses and consequences of this pandemic.
Featured Image: Screenshot of the music video of the song “Believe Love Will Win”.
- See also Velasco-Pufleau, Luis, “Chansons humanitaires, dépolitisation des conflits et moralisation des relations internationales à la fin de la Guerre froide”, Relations Internationales, n° 156, 2013, pp. 109-123, https://doi.org/10.3917/ri.156.0109; “Reflections on Music and Propaganda”, Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 12, 2014, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.7523862.0012.007; “Critical Reflections on Music and Humanitarian Narratives”, Arts & International Affairs, vol. 3, n° 2, 2018, pp. 25-32, https://dx.doi.org/10.18278/aia.3.2.3 / PDF.