Eurovision 2024: On and off-stage conflict

With its outrageous performances, flamboyant outfits, and constant need for strobe light warnings Eurovision was back! The 2024 competition was hosted in Malmö, Sweden, following Loreen’s second Eurovision win with “Tattoo” in 2023. The 2024 winner and first-ever non-binary winner, Nemo (Switzerland’s contestant), won the jury (but not the public) vote by singing an opera-dance track, whilst spinning on a stage prop which the commentator Graham Norton referred to as a ‘lazy Susan’. Launching the careers of incredible artists from ABBA (1974) and Céline Dion (1988) to more recently Måneskin (2021), Eurovision provides an amazing opportunity for rising talent to perform and gain life-changing worldwide recognition. Due to the extravagant nature of the contest and unique attempts at grabbing viewers’ attention, Eurovision is often labelled as eccentric with crazy acts, highlighted particularly in the comedic fictional film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’, which pokes fun at the competition and features cameos from the real contest’s past performers.

In a return to our tradition every May, UK viewers were once again reminded that Europe just doesn’t like us, receiving nil pois from the public vote. Our contestant this year, Olly Alexander (well-known through his now solo music project, Years & Years), quite possibly forgot that Doctor Who was on before Eurovision rather than during. His performance of the song ‘Dizzy’ was meant to take place in a spaceship plummeting through a black hole. This interpretation was lost on many people, described by the BBC as ‘scantily clad men dancing in a dystopian shower room’. Unfortunately, Olly showed why the UK will not be winning Eurovision for Years & Years. It should be said, in all seriousness, that our performance this year was not bad by any means and Olly performed fantastically well on the night. The UK did decent in the jury vote and ‘Dizzy’ was a camp epic radio hit. We can maybe put the ‘Brexit effect’ to the side regarding the cause of this voter dissonance (we did finish 2nd two years ago after all!), but one may wonder whether Olly’s song had the same level of emotional connection to voters as his rivals. Whilst the staging was undeniably an octane-filled, otherworldly experience, perhaps those in charge of the production got too zoned into the technical achievement of it all and failed to measure its impact on those watching at home. This left the performance as an eyesore rather than an enjoyable romp; a migraine-inducing, overstimulating experience that drew a distinct contrast to the simplicity of winner Nemo’s ‘lazy Susan’ staging, and when an aspect of your performance contrasts that of the eventual winner it’s often quite a telling sign. Anyway, there is always next year (which is funnily enough what I said last year, and the year before that).  

This year of Eurovision proved to be one of the most competitive in recent memory, and several acts proved themselves to be deserving candidates to win. Bambi Thug, Ireland’s latest goth entrant, provided one of the most iconic Eurovision performances of recent years, involving a demon, satanic rituals, and a rock anthem that stood your hair up. It was quite mesmerising and has remained firmly in my psyche since then; for better, not for worse. Croatia’s Baby Lasagna with their song ‘Rim Tim Tagi Tim’ was a huge crowd favourite, winning the public vote with an enthralling rock-techno anthem and purple dancing farm animals (no that’s not a typo!). Finishing second due to an underwhelming vote from the jury’s side of the voting, Baby Lasagna was a powerful entrant to the ongoing debate over the controversial inclusion of a jury component to the night’s voting. Joost, The Netherlands’s entrant, was also seen as a firm favourite with the techno anthem ‘Europapa’, before their disqualification from the contest.

Off Stage Controversy

The slogan of the competition, ‘United By Music’, was initially created by the BBC to demonstrate the unique partnership between the UK, Ukraine and the Host City in 2023, and has become permanent to reflect the ‘power of music, bringing people together across the world’. In many ways, Eurovision does bring us together, through family BBQs and the display of various cultures. However, the voting and competitive nature of the competition can reflect real-world political conflict creating an uglier view behind the scenes.

The competition is monitored and organised by the EBU which owns and operates the Eurovision and Euro radio telecommunications networks. It was the EBU who kicked out Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, stating that their inclusion would ‘bring the competition into disrepute’. This has led many fans to protest the decision to allow Israel to compete in 2024, which was rejected by the EBU on the grounds that the singing contest was a ‘non-political event’, resulting in pro-Palestine demonstrations outside the arena, booing/cheering of the Israeli contestant’s performance, and the need for increased security at the event. This is not the first Eurovision-Israel controversy, however, as Lebanon pulled out of the competition in 2005 after the EBU would not allow it to cut Israel’s performance from its national broadcast.

Further controversy surrounded the Dutch participant, Joost, who was dramatically disqualified only hours before the grand finale, following alleged threatening behaviour directed at a female member of the production crew. Sources state that Joost repeatedly indicated that he did not want to be filmed and that this wasn’t respected. Still under investigation, the EBU states that they ‘regret’ that some delegations ‘didn’t respect the spirit of the rules’. Other contestants described the atmosphere backstage this year as ‘tense’ and ‘horrible’, as thousands protested outside on the streets of Malmö calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Furthermore, following the grand final Bambie (Ireland’s contestant), who has publicly shared their pro-Palestinian views, accused Israel’s national broadcaster KAN of ‘inciting violence’ against them during its coverage. The Israeli Delegation was also subject to complaints from the Greek and Irish Contestants for filming them without their permission, a crime in Sweden where the contest was hosted this year. 

Taking a closer look at the logistics of Eurovision; each participating country’s state broadcaster must pay a registration fee of approximately 5 million euros. The fee varies based on EBU membership contribution and the number of competing countries as this is split. After Russia’s ban in 2023, the rising cost led to Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bulgaria declining to participate. Hence a similar ban for Israel would have huge cost effects due to them being a large financial contributor. This has been further fuelled by allegations surrounding Eurovision and its primary sponsor, Morrocanoil, an Israeli haircare company that ironically has very little to do with the nation featured in its brand name. Many questioned the relationship between this sponsor and the Israeli Act, and whether the disqualification of Israel from the competition would mean Morrocanoil pulling out of sponsoring it. Many may argue that the disqualification of Joost for breaking the rules, but not the Israeli Delegation, was a telling double standard, and questions remain regarding whether Eurovision was financially tied to Israel’s inclusion in the contest. 

Eurovision really proved to be rather chaotic both on and off stage this year, and it would be interesting to see what adjustments are implemented by the EBU in response to this for the next contest being hosted in Switzerland!

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