Falco's Song "Ganz Wien". A Socio-Textual Analysis of Popular Music and Austria's National Identity

Seminar Paper 2018 12 Pages

Cultural Studies - European Studies



I. General Introduction

II. Theoretical, Historical, Political Introduction

III. Textual Analysis Case Study

IV. Relevance and Consequences of Case Study

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography.

I. The process of forming national identities is an integral function of popular music. Music has often voiced oppositional ideologies and thus challenged the legitimacy and authority of whole state systems.[1] On the basis of a socio-textual analysis of Falco’s song “Ganz Wien” this paper strives to give evidence that his artwork had a distinct effect on redeveloping Austrian ideology and identity in the 1980s. Falco, Austria’s only international popstar, is prima facie considered to be a highly instrumentalized mainstream figure of the musical industry. Subversion or harsh political protest is at first glance not associated with his Oeuvre. In contrast to the general opinion, I am aiming to examine his art as hotbed of cultural introspection, as well as illuminating Falco’s embracement of a certain subversive propensity in his early work. With recourse to the Marxist concepts of “Hegemony” and “Counter-hegemony” I am intending to analyze Falco’s music as a site of political protest and social critique.

II. Hegemony is the power or dominance of one state or social group over others exerted by imposing cultural and ideological norms.[2] On the basis of this Marxist concept, Italian philosopher and activist Antonio Gramsci established a refined theory of Hegemony and stated that the “Bourgeois Hegemony is reproduced in cultural life through the media and stately institutions to ‘manufacture consent’ and legitimacy”.[3] In contrast, Counter-hegemony is the “attempt to dismantle the power that hegemony wields”.[4] According to Gramsci, this notion is emblematic for the opposition to a ruling power, and in further consequence its revolutionary potential can also be observed in music.

From a musical perspective, Falco built on the golden era of German popular music in the 1920s and 1930s.[5] After the Second World War the Austrian (and German) nation changed beyond recognition, battling with a tremendous cultural and political decline. Henceforth, being a mediocre microstate, the country spent decades to finally come to terms with its past and to form a sense of national identity. An unequivocal Austrian post-war identity did not exist until the mid 1980s. Beforehand society mainly envisioned itself as being German.[6] The notion of a separate Austrian culture- and nationhood in its own right was alien to post-war society. The Austrian soul was deeply at odds with itself, as identity drew on multi-ethnic traditions originating in the Habsburg empire, as well as on the German Reich. Even today national pride is still not well received. Thus, a certain sense of ambiguity and divisiveness belonged (and belongs) to the essence of Austrian identity. Moreover, revelling in a “glorious” past and shifting the blame for causing two World Wars on others dominated the public opinion. The so-called “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”, or coming to terms with the past, did not emerge until the mid 1980s.[7] Beforehand, Austria was considered to be “Hitler’s first victim” and was pitied for the deprivation of its nation state and identity. As part of the Moscow Declarations, politicians consolidated Austria’s “Opfermythos” (victim theory), by asserting the country’s innocence and inventing a new form of Austrian nationhood (“2. Republik”).[8] The lack of critical self-reflection was further established by a large-scale denazification in the 1940s and 1950s. The Austrian government recruited thousands of (“Ex-“)Nazi officials due to a massive shortage of manpower after years of cruel war.[9] As a consequence the desire of rebuilding a “Großdeutsches Reich”, as well as the denial of the nation’s role on the horrors of the Nazi regime was established. Historical amnesia and selective remembering were common.[10]

Thus one can state, that post-war national identity was composed of constant denial, apathy and a distinct penchant for “Germanness”. Further, the nation turned into a hotbed for reactionary political systems. Post-war Austria turned into a deeply federalist, highly repressive and restrictive country. Through chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s establishment of “Austro-Keynesianism” in the 1970s and 1980s the civic society was forced into total political apathy.[11] Stately supported culture was only used to manipulate the masses into passivity and the belief in the legitimacy of the status quo was imposed.[12] Hegemony therefore served to maintain existing structures of stately power.

III. By textually analyzing passages of “Ganz Wien”, I am aiming to reveal its highly subversive lyrical content. With the aid of semantic interpretation, the text discloses counter-hegemonic social and political messages. My exegetical claim emphasizes on the perception of the protagonist being metonymic with the suppressed and deluded Austrian society.[13]

He is wandering the streets

Not revealing whereto,

The first verse examines the agent’s spatial and intellectual discomfort by emphasizing on his straying from the straight and narrow. By putting a lack of direction and guidance into writing, Falco linguistically expresses his doubts about the political and societal future of Vienna. Supporting evidence is to be found in an interview from 1993. Falco stated that “he created “Ganz Wien” at the very beginning of his career, mainly out of frustration and anxiety about the future”. The song was truly a “first attempt, paying no mind to potential commercial success whatsoever, but I rather created it as an intended statement of rebellion”. He felt

“trapped in a reactionary, oppressive cultural and social system”.[14] Thus Falco held a certain awareness of hegemonic power relations.

His liver is waisted.

(…) His veins are open,

And it smells like formalin.

A token of resistance is displayed by referencing to the figure’s apparent physical decline. The decomposition of vital organs and body parts is metaphorically signifying social retrogression and the decease of a sense of togetherness. Further, the mentioning of Formalin, as substance used for preserving corpses, is exemplary for the civic society’s defunct state of mind, conserved and perpetuated by the establishment. Thus lyrical sites of social as well as political critique disclose themselves.

(…) The whole of Vienna

Is high on heroin

The whole of Vienna

Dreams with Mandrax

The whole of Vienna, the whole of Vienna

Also falls for Cocaine

Especially in ball season

One can see that the whole of Vienna

Is gloriously broken

Cocaine and Codeine

Heroin and Mandrax

Ruins us.

At first glance this verse only pays attention to vile substance abuse. But by applying critical analysis, the lyrics unfold all their counter-hegemonic subversion. From the perspective of

Marxist philosophy, Heroin, Mandrax and Codeine, can be considered as cunning metaphors for ideological stately oppression and a consequent “sedation” of the Austrian nation. The proletariat is considered to be “high on heroin”, thus deluded and ruined by the ruling powers. In contrast, Falco once referred to the government as an utter charade of vanity.[15]

The Viennese “ball season”, a noble relict of the aristocratic establishment, can be considered as a metaphor for the state apparatus. Addressing Cocaine-related verses to the “waltzing” bourgeois politicians, subtly links the dominant ruling class to conditions like sociopathy or megalomania, which cling to this substance.


[1] John Connell and Chris Gibson, Sound Tracks: Popular Music Identity and Place (London: Routledge, 2003), 117-129.

[2] Sanditha Chandra, “Gramscian Hegemony”, Thefablesoup, 26. September 2016, https://thefablesoup.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/gramscian-hegemony/ (accessed 3. January 2018)

[3] Andrew Heywood, Political Ideas and Concepts: An Introduction (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1994), 100-101.

[4] Sarah Mucha, “Hegemony vs Counterhegemony“, Prezi, 13. March 2014, https://prezi.com/vplx0eyeoasg/hegemony-vs-counterhegemony/ (accessed 2. January 2018)

[5] Michael Pilz, “ Wenn Falco das noch erlebt hätte!“, Welt, 15. February 2007,

https://www.welt.de/kultur/article714952/Wenn-Falco-das-noch-erlebt-haette.html (accessed 2. January 2018)

[6] Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, “Wie deutsch sind die Österreicher?“, Spiegel, 26. September 1988,

http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-13531257.html (accessed 9. January 2018)

[7] Felix Kreissler, Der Österreicher und seine Nation. Ein Lernprozess mit Hindernissen (Wien: Böhlau Verlag, 1994), 522-601.

[8] Werner Mück, Österreich. Die zweite Republik (Wien: Linde Verlag, 2004), 201-220.

[9] Eva Holfper, “Diskussionen über die Volksgerichtsbarkeit“, Nachkriegsjustiz, 15. February 2002, http://www.nachkriegsjustiz.at/prozesse/projekte/diskussion_45-49.php (accessed 5. January 2018)

[10] Christian Karner, “Austro-Pop' since the 1980s: Two Case Studies of Cultural Critique and Counter-hegemonic Resistance“, Sociological Research Online, 28. February 2002, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/6/4/karner.html#kreissler1987 (accessed 5. January 2018)

[11] Gunter Bischof, The Kreisky Era in Austria (London: Routledge, 1994), 119.

[12] Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Free Press, 1947) 398-421.

[13] Nota: This is my very own and highly subjective interpretation. Thus this textually analysis is not scientifically “proven“ or the like. But I am “sticking to my guns”.

[14] Hans Hölzel, Einzelhaft 25th Anniversary Edition (Wien: Ariola, 1993)

[15] Hans Hölzel, “FM4 Tribe Vibes“, 25. April 1996, Red Bull Music, https://www.redbull.com/at-de/falco-fm4-tribe-vibes-interview (accessed 4. January 2018)


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falco socio-textual analysis popular music austria national identity



Title: Falco's Song "Ganz Wien". A Socio-Textual Analysis of Popular Music and Austria's National Identity