It has been 66 years since The Eurovision Song Contest began broadcasting on TV. Since then, there have been some high-profile incidents where the contest turned undoubtedly political. This year was no exception. Ukraine, naturally, took the coveted crown.  

Should it have been the UK?

Many have claimed that the UK would have won if not for the war in Ukraine. Just as many disagree with this.

Historically, Ukraine is known for doing well when there is ethnicity in the songs. All three past wins (2004, 2016 and 2022) contained ethnically-inspired music and were sung in the Ukrainian language. This also demonstrates that songs performed in the native language are a firm favourite at Eurovision.

When it comes to the UK, despite singing in the ‘ethnic’ tongue, we have done extremely poorly at every Eurovision since the turn of the millennium. This disheartening series of results has led some to claim that Eurovision is largely political. And they’re quite right.

This year, Tik-Tok star Sam Ryder who boasts 12.9M followers, was selected to represent the UK with ‘Space-Man. TaP record label helped promote the song and audiences responded. The UK went from a finger-numbing zero points in 2021, to a heart-thumping 466 points in 2022. Leading at the halfway mark, many Brits were on the edge of their seats, hoping we could do the unthinkable — win. But alas. Rightly or wrongly, European solidarity prevailed and Ukraine took the title instead.

The European Broadcasting Union’s rules state that the winning country gets first choice of whether they host the following year. With Ukraine still at war that shows no signs of slowing down, it is unlikely that the country will manage to rebuild itself in time to host the contest in 2023. But we already suspected that. The win was about sending a clear statement to Russia: we do not approve.

Top three political Eurovision Songs

Winning is not everything. But making your statement is. The following songs were not all winners, but they left their political mark.

2018: French migrant crisis song

‘Mercy’ was released by the French duo Madame Monsieur in 2018. It tells the story of a girl born to Nigerian refugees at the height of the global refugee crisis, who is named ‘Mercy’. On the day that Mercy was born onboard the immigration rescue ship L’aquarius, the musical duo recorded their debut album in Paris. Madame Monsieur’s vocalist Émilie Satt told the French press:

‘We were just chilling on Twitter and we found this picture of this baby born fifteen minutes earlier. It came so hard and so strong into our hearts that after a few minutes, we thought maybe we should try and translate this emotion into a song’.

The song subsequently became the French Eurovision entry in 2018, reaching 13th place.

Notable LGBT contestants

Dana International: Dana was the first openly transgender woman to perform at Eurovision in 1998, with the song ‘Diva’. Israeli Orthodox Jews tried banning her from competing on religious grounds. Despite the backlash, Dana won for the Israeli entry with 172 points. The singer gave a powerful speech following her win:

‘My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am, and this does not mean I don’t believe in God. I am a part of the Jewish Nation’.

Conchita Wurst: Conchita Wurst’s selection for the Austrian entry proved controversial from the start. She attracted criticism from conservative groups, particularly in Eastern Europe. This clearly highlighted the continental divide between East and West on the issue of homosexuality. Petitions were drawn up in Russia and Belarus, calling for their national broadcasters to edit-out Wurst’s performance from the contest. Russian political figures called for a boycott of the competition, describing Wurst’s participation as ‘blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay’ and referred to her as the ‘pervert’ from Austria. Fellow contestant, Aram Mp3 from Armenia, stated that Wurst’s lifestyle ‘was not natural’. In turn, The New Statesman noted that:

‘… a vote for Wurst on the night is another vote against Russian homophobia and transphobia, and a win would send out a strong message of defiance eastwards’.

And win Wurst did. The singer and drag queen won the 2014 contest for Austria — despite Russia’s moral disapproval.

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