Assessing Turbofolk Controversies: Popular Music between the Nation and the Balkans

in Southeastern Europe
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This article explores controversies provoked by the Serbian pop-folk musical style “turbofolk” which emerged in the 1990s. Turbofolk has been accused of being a lever of the Milošević regime – an inherently nationalist cultural phenomenon which developed due to the specific socio-political conditions of Serbia in the 1990s. In addition to criticism of turbofolk on the basis of nationalism and war-mongering, it is commonly claimed to be “trash,” “banal,” “pornographic,” “(semi-)rural,” “oriental” and “Balkan.” In order to better understand the socio-political dimensions of this phenomenon, I consider other Yugoslav musical styles which predate turbofolk and make reference to pop-folk musical controversies in other Balkan states to help inform upon the issues at stake with regard to turbofolk. I argue that rather than being understood as a singular phenomena specific to Serbia under Milošević, turbofolk can be understood as a Serbian manifestation of a Balkan-wide post-socialist trend. Balkan pop-folk styles can be understood as occupying a liminal space – an Ottoman cultural legacy – located between (and often in conflict with) the imagined political poles of liberal pro-European and conservative nationalist orientations. Understanding turbofolk as a value category imbued with symbolic meaning rather than a clear cut musical genre, I link discussions of it to the wider discourse of Balkanism. Turbofolk and other pop-folk styles are commonly imagined and articulated in terms of violence, eroticism, barbarity and otherness the Balkan stereotype promises. These pop-folk styles form a frame of reference often used as a discursive means of marginalisation or exclusion. An eastern “other” is represented locally by pop-folk performers due to oriental stylistics in their music and/or ethnic minority origins. For detractors, pop-folk styles pose a danger to the autochthonous national culture as well as the possibility of a “European” and cosmopolitan future. Correspondingly I demonstrate that such Balkan stereotypes are invoked and subverted by many turbofolk performers who positively mark alleged Balkan characteristics and negotiate and invert the meaning of “Balkan” in lyrical texts.

Assessing Turbofolk Controversies: Popular Music between the Nation and the Balkans

in Southeastern Europe



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Aca Lukas – Balkan Express

Ceca and Rade Šerbedžija – Neću protiv druga svog

Danijel Đokić – Balkan u mojim venama

Đani – Balkanac

Elena Gheoghe – The Balkan Girls

Funky G – Kafanu na Balkanu

Indira Radić – Rodni kraj

Ivan Gavrilović – 200 na sat

Lepa Brena – Čačak Čačak

Luna – Balkanac

Mašinka Lukić – Apolo 9

Milan Stanković – Ovo je Balkan

Mile Kitić and Đogani – Nema više cile mile

Neda Ukraden – Na Balkanu

Rade Jorović – Moje selo lepše od Pariza

Riblja Čorba – Ej moj druže zagrebački

Seka Aleksić – Balkan

Selma Bajrami – Žena sa Balkana

Slađana Ristić - Mafijaš

Stoja - Evropa

*all songs are available via (as of November 2011)


 See for example Velikonja (2002) for an account of Balkan popular culture in Slovenia. Works by Baker (2006; 2007; 2008; 2010) largely explore issues at stake in Croatia while Sugarman (2008) details the phenomenon amongst Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia. An edited collection by Buchanan (2008) explores popular music and its relationship to Balkan stereotypes and the Ottoman legacy at a regional level.


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