Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision: Divided by Music

This year’s Eurovision was marked by chaos and controversy, but can we unite under its ending?

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While “United by Music” is Eurovision’s slogan, the music competition’s 2024 rendition proved that their true ideals are the complete opposite. Thanks to a messy set of decisions from the European Broadcasters Union (EBU) regarding which countries were allowed to participate in this year’s show, Eurovision diehards and new fans alike were at odds with the show’s results. Despite a talented pool of performers, the story of Eurovision 2024 was marred by controversy, calamity, and carelessness.

The controversy surrounding this year’s show was two-fold, beginning when the list of participating nations was announced. In light of the Israel-Palestine war, many expected the EBU to exclude Israel from competing since the board had opted to exclude Russia following their invasion of Ukraine in 2022. However, despite the war and many Western European nations’ anti-Israel and pro-Palestine protests, Israeli broadcasters selected Eden Golan’s “Hurricane” to enter the song competition. A few performers at the show attempted to express their dissent about Israel’s inclusion through their performances, most notably Ireland’s Bambie Thug. Ireland and its people have demonstrated a strong pro-Palestinian sentiment, a sentiment which crept into Bambie Thug’s makeup. Markings on their legs and faces read “Ceasefire” and “Freedom for Palestine” in Ogham, an ancient Irish alphabet. However, before their performance, EBU representatives asked them to remove the markings. 

Golan wanted no part in the controversy but knew she would face disapproval from her audience. After she was selected to represent Israel, she commented, “We can bring everything we’re feeling, and everything the country is going through, in those three minutes. To speak through the song to the world.” The background noise during her performance featured boos equally as loud as cheers, but she delivered a heartfelt and effective performance, utilizing the stage’s lighting and misting machines to create a mysterious, hurricane-like backdrop. The song’s meaning is ambiguous; some argue that the song’s original title, “October Rain,” and lyrics like “Baby, promise me you'll hold me again / I’m still broken from this hurricane” allude to the Israeli perspective on the current Israel-Palestine war. Songwriter Kelen Peles argues that Golan’s team drew inspiration from her recent divorce to emphasize the power of strength in tough times. Israel ultimately finished in fifth place, with 323 of their 375 votes awarded by the televote. National juries didn’t think much of Golan’s production, but fans around the world clearly did. 

In the buildup, Golan practiced her song while her production crew booed her in an effort to mimic the conditions that they expected to occur on stage. Thankfully, the booing was balanced by support, but Golan was not spared from pointed questions during the press hour. One journalist asked if her presence at the Eurovision Song Contest presented a security risk for the event. When the moderator told Golan she did not need to answer the question, Dutch representative Joost Klein, seated next to her, asked, “Why not?”

Klein was one of the competition’s fan favorites. Orphaned at 13 following the passing of his father to cancer and his mother to cardiac arrest in short succession, Klein was raised by his older siblings. His entry, “Europapa,” is both a commendation of European unity defined by the continent’s lack of borders and a tribute to his parents. In it, he paints the story of a boy roaming Europe to deal with loss while being swallowed by loneliness. For those who don’t understand Dutch, the song is a head-bopper with a catchy chorus and light, upbeat melodies. For those who do, the song is a window into Joost’s struggle to find solace after losing his parents. 

Klein performed in the second semi-final, qualifying for the finals with the second-most votes on the day. His performance included playful dance moves and graphics reminiscent of a PlayStation 2 game. The audience loved every second of it, singing along to the chorus and rapturously cheering on Klein. He concluded his performance with a solemnly personal touch—a light piano melody coupled with a few lines from “Europapa - Outro,” where he inextricably ties his emotional burden to his performance. In Dutch, he sniffles while delivering the inspiration for “Europapa”: “My father told me once that the world has no borders / ‘I miss you every day’ is what I whisper to myself / You see, dad I did listen to you.” He lowers his head, and the screen behind him reveals that his song is, above all else, a message to his parents. It was a perfect conclusion to a perfect performance.

Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS worked with Klein and the EBU to ensure that no cameras would follow Klein into the green room following his performance, as he wanted some time alone following the emotional climax of his performance. However, Klein was still filmed. An altercation occurred between Klein and the camerawoman, but specific details have been withheld by the EBU and Swedish police. The camerawoman filed charges against Klein, and the EBU disqualified him as a result. The announcement of Klein’s disqualification came shortly after the press conference incident with Golan, leading many to suspect that the Israeli delegation had conspired to remove him. However, the EBU disclosed that his disqualification “did not involve any other performer or delegation member.”

It was the first time that any contestant had been disqualified from Eurovision, and it happened to one of the competition’s favorites. AVROTROS responded, disclosing far more details than the EBU in their statement. They alleged that Joost made a “threatening movement towards the camera” but ultimately “did not touch the camera operator.” AVROTROS also noted that the EBU went ahead with the disqualification despite them proposing several alternative solutions. Until the public knows the whole story, it will stand firmly alongside the Dutch singer-songwriter, who, given what we know, was robbed by the cowardly EBU of a chance to bring home the glass microphone to his country and, metaphorically, to his parents. 

As most bureaucratic organizations do, the EBU attempted to roll past these controversies in the 2024 Grand Final. From the last-place performance of Norway’s Gåte to the first-place performance of Switzerland’s Nemo, almost every show had a great luster.

Placing high at Eurovision requires a nation to take its song to a new level through performance; having an excellent song is simply not enough. Enter Estonia’s entry—“(nendest) narkootikumidest ei tea me (küll) midagi.” It roughly translates to “We sure don’t know anything about those narcotics,” and like Klein in “Europapa.” hip-hop group 5miinust and Estonian folk group Puuluup attempt to encapsulate deeper societal themes in an otherwise upbeat and playful song. The song provides a commentary on class divides in Estonia, discouraging drug usage and emphasizing how police target the poor while being oblivious to the crimes of the rich. 5miinust’s energy and lyricism combine brilliantly with Puuluup’s traditional talharpas and throat singing to paint a scenic picture of modern and traditional Estonian culture. However, despite the song’s well-crafted music video, which was designed to tell the story encased in the lyrics, the group’s song did not translate well onto the stage. The backgrounds were lazily designed, and the group’s choreography was meager at best, emphasizing the meme-like dance that dominates the song’s final chorus. The “dance battle” that took place between vSauce lookalike Marko Veisson and 5miinust’s Estoni Kohver was a lazy walk back and forth across the stage. If Estonia had drawn more influence from its successful music video, it would have placed far higher. With that being said, their 20th-place finish is in no way representative of their song’s quality, which many believed would finish far higher in the competition.

Eurovision 2024 crowned two winners. The people’s winner was Croatia’s Baby Lasagna. Baby Lasagna performed a rock song containing the story of the exodus of Croatian youth from the nation. The song’s title, “Rim Tim Tagi Dim,” actually has no meaning but is interpreted as the name of a folklore dance. In his raucous and energetic performance, Baby Lasagna puts on a masterclass of Rock and Roll. The song’s lyrics are relatable in and beyond Croatia. He sings that he “Wanna become one of them city boys / They're all so pretty and so advanced / Maybe they also know our dance.” His inner wanderlust and naivety help him suggest that the city may know and appreciate his small town’s culture, even though we all know that won’t be the case. A beautiful live soundscape and colorful background put a bow on Baby Lasagna’s performance, which was the runner-up in Eurovision 2024. 

And the winner, the first non-binary individual to be crowned Eurovision 2024 champion, was Switzerland’s Nemo. Their song about their journey to finding their sexual identity won the most 12 points from the juries, and 226 televotes helped them secure first place. Musically, Nemo’s performance was beyond powerful. Their extreme vocal range, demonstrated in the song’s bridge following the line “My heart beats like a drum,” was commended by the audience and judges alike. They blended a staccato backing melody with elements of Rap and Pop. Nemo’s song might have been about any personal journey; for that reason, it connected strongly with the show’s audience. There was some weakness in their performance, though, especially compared to the others near the top of the competition. Nemo’s spinning disc, atop which they wobbled and spun during the song’s bridge, was the only design element put into their stage enactment. Beyond that, their performance was just white flashing lights, vocals, and well-coordinated acting. It didn’t match the flair of “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” and the artistic genius of Ukraine’s “Teresa & Maria.” However, Nemo’s flashing lights and dramatic breathing won them the glass microphone, and they will bring Eurovision 2025 to Switzerland for the first time since 1989.

Ultimately, despite the controversy, the majority of Eurovision fans are satisfied with Nemo’s victory. This year’s rendition of the tournament went above and beyond in delivering a song for everyone. Perhaps a return to politically-neutral Switzerland will cleanse the contest of this year’s controversy and allow us to celebrate and become United by Music once again.