Popular Music as a Medium for the Mainstreaming of Populist Ideologies in Europe


The interdisciplinary research project Popular Music and the Mainstreaming of Populist Ideologies in Europe is funded by Volkswagen-Stiftung (program: Challenges for Europe; funding amount: €971.000; grant number: 94 754). Over the next three years (2019-2022), an international team of researchers will investigate the use, role and structure of popular music in populist movements across five European countries.


Beyond extremist contexts, in recent years there has been a politicization of music that is new in form. Populist messages and ideas that were previously at the margins of society have now been carried to the center through the selection, production, performance, and reception of mainstream music. This use of commercially successful music has facilitated the increasing popularity of populist movements in Europe.

In research addressing the rise of populism, however, popular music has so far been neglected. The project addresses this gap in research, discussing popular music as a means of mainstreaming populist ideologies in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden. These countries 1) have all shown an increase in populist parties and movements in recent years; 2) have played a major role in shaping the EU’s refugee policy in the wake of the so-called refugee crisis, which was characterized by a rise of populist discourses; and 3) have shown a strong interplay between populism and popular music. Based upon a comparative approach, data from these five European countries will eventually be combined.

The project is staffed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from musicology, media studies, sociology, music pedagogy, and political science. This leads to a broad spectrum of methods, including musicological group analysis (co-developed by the Institute for Jazz Research, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz), participant observation, and focus interviews. This singular arrangement will lead to specific results in the respective team groups. The data generated by the individual research teams will also be subjected to a transnational contextualisation during the course of the project.


Besides the Institute for Jazz Research, the project includes researchers from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg (Germany), Scuola Normale Superiore Florence (Italy), Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary), and University of Groningen (for Sweden). The project is led by Prof. Dr. Mario Dunkel (Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg), while Univ.Prof. Dr. André Doehring leads the Austrian project team.