Scholars increasingly see Waterloo as a pivotal event for Europe. The song, that is, not the battle. ABBA's breakout hit grabbed global attention when the Swedish quartet won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. The televised competition has also given the world Olivia Newton-John, Julio Iglesias, Céline Dion and the song "Volare."

Each May, about 40 countries from Iceland to Azerbaijan select bands to represent them in the battle, which first aired in 1956. More than 125 million people now watch it live and can vote by phone for their favorite act.

Tastemakers cringe. The contest is routinely savaged as being everything from a lowbrow hash of unoriginal pop to total camp. The winner in 1998 was an Israeli transsexual named Dana International with a song called "Diva." In 2006 the contest was won by Lordi, a Finnish heavy-metal band whose members dress as monsters, singing "Hard Rock Hallelujah." Ireland's 2008 entry was a sock-puppet turkey.

But 125 million Eurovision fans can't be wrong, argue a new band of academics. Instead of focusing on musical merits, they examine issues like "the concept of European community"; victories for "culturally peripheral nations"; and a "pan-European identity" fostered by the contest's ban on voting for one's own country. Read full article in the Wall Street Journal...