Eurovision 2019: an inevitable political wake up call

2019 Winner Duncan Laurence with his trophy after the show. (Thomas Hanses/Eurovision Song Contest)

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the 64th Eurovision Song Contest reached its conclusion. After a gruelling four hour-long grand final, Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands was crowned the winner. As the curtain fell on Eurovision 2019, there was no doubt that it would be remembered for years to come.

Eurovision and politics should really never mix, but with the 2019 edition held in Tel Aviv, Israel, it was inevitable. Israel knew that they would be facing huge backlash, starting with widespread protests surrounding the venue. People gathered in numbers demanding for Palestinian human rights, amid the horrific Israel-Palestine conflict.

Yet the hosts were careful to make sure that we wouldn’t see that, instead focusing on creating the best possible image through their live shows. It was unknown whether there would be any political statements whatsoever at the grand final- we ended the night with two.

Protesters nearby the Tel Aviv Expo Centre. (Reuters via Al Jazeera)

The most political performance by far was that of Madonna, whose appearance was only confirmed two days prior to the final. Renowned for her political statements and controversial symbols in her performances, all eyes were on Madonna in her performance of ‘Like a Prayer’ and ‘Future’. Though her key political reference was relatively discreet, it was an incredibly powerful one.

Near the conclusion of her performance, two of her backup dancers walked up the set’s stairs together with their arms linked. The Israeli flag was emblazoned across one of their backs, with the Palestinian flag embodied on the other. While I noticed it straight away, it took a couple of minutes for people to realise when seeing the image circulate on social media.

Madonna’s Eurovision performance, which included the controversial use of the Israeli and Palestinian flags. (Handout/Reuters)
What the TV audience saw from Madonna’s performance. (Eurovision Song Contest)

Madonna ended her performance with the words ‘Wake Up’, another powerful message about Palestine to the 200 million people watching around the world. Although this resulted in a muted reception for Madonna, it was worth it.

Icelandic act Hatari were also rumoured to produce a political statement during their performance. In an interview with the BBC before the competition, they said that they ‘considered many options’ but decided to ‘do their performance as planned’. While they did keep to their word, they didn’t say anything about what they would do during the voting process.

As Iceland were awarded their points during the public vote, the camera cut to the Icelandic delegation and they took their chance. With stone-cold faces, they proudly held up Palestinian scarves to the worldwide audience, making the ultimate political statement of the night.

Icelandic act Hatari with their Palestinian flags. (Eurovision Song Contest)

Their actions were met by an enormous chorus of boos from the audience, and as the camera cut back to the Israeli presenters they were clearly uncomfortable. Israeli officials came over and demanded they hand over the scarves immediately, yet the damage had already been done. Israel went an entire year avoiding their dark secret in build up to hosting the contest, but as soon as the world was reminded for a matter of seconds there was outrage.

All it took was the Palestinian colours to be shown, but that’s all it needed. These political statements on the world’s biggest music stage were huge, as the world received another inevitable wake up call in Israel’s shining moment. Madonna and Hatari reminded us that Palestine is still suffering in the shadows, and that we must not forget about them.

With the competition returning to the Netherlands in 2020, all order will be restored as Eurovision leaves Israel and their controversy. While Israel followed this year’s motto and dared to dream, the world dared to defy on the biggest stage.

Screenshot 2019-05-14 at 20.53.08


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