There’s no denying that this year’s Eurovision winner is a controversial one. While some fans argue that politics have no place in the annual song contest, others have voiced their outrage that a nation currently committing human rights atrocities is now slated to host the competition in 2019. The conflict between the Israeli government and the State of Palestine is an important international issue and one that should not be brushed over, even when it comes to something like a glitzy, light-hearted song contest.
Eurovision is definitely not free from politics. Examples like Finnish singer Kristia Siegfrid kissing one of her female dancers in 2013 to protest a lack of same-sex marriage legislation, to Armenian group Genealogy calling for international recognition of the Armenian genocide in their song entry in 2015, show that Eurovision is no stranger to political performance.This year was no exception when it came to politically themed songs. French entrant Madame Monsieur’s song ‘Mercy’ told the story of a refugee child born on a humanitarian ship. Italian duo Ermal Meta and Fabrizio Moro sang an anti-war song about international wars and terrorism. And Danish viking acapella group Rasmussen sang about non-violence and Magnus Erlendsson, a viking who refused to fight in battle. Other politically charged moments included the depiction of a gay couple dancing in Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s song ‘Together’ (Ireland), and Lea Sirk’s empowering song ‘Hvala, ne!’ (Slovenia). Even the winning song ‘Toy’ advocated to stop bullying. Oh, and let’s not forget the protestor who got up on stage during the final and snatched the microphone from UK singer SuRie.
Political and social issues are the bread and butter of arts and culture. We create art that reflects our beliefs and concerns about the world around us. We cannot separate music, or any art form, from world politics or social issues. So what does this mean for this year’s winning contestant and, more importantly, what should we – the viewers – think about this?
I’m going to take a page out of fellow Adelaide writer Taeghan Buggy’s book and say that we, as consumers of art and media, have an ethical responsibility. In the same way that we should call out sexual abuse in media, we should also voice our concerns about the social and political implications of Eurovision. Already there is a fair amount of debate about who should be allowed, and who should be disqualified, from participating in the contest. Russia was banned from Eurovision in 2017 and many people have a lot to say about letting Australia and Israel compete despite not being part of Europe.
Israel’s participation is problematic on two levels. The lesser is that Israel is not a part of Europe, but we can easily overlook this. But the second, harder to swallow issue, is that Israel is a nation with terms like ‘apartheid’, ‘militancy’ and even ‘genocide’ attached to its reputation. And not without due cause. If Eurovision was willing to bar Russia from entering the competition last year because of its problematic relationship with the then host nation, Ukraine, wouldn’t it be equally appropriate to bar Israel from competing at all considering its own issues?
Where do we draw the line for who can and cannot compete? Should nations engaged in conflicts either on an international or internal level be barred from the competition? Or should we, as many fans argue, leave politics at the door and just enjoy some good music?
There is no easy answer to this and in many ways I am something of a fence-sitter. On the one hand, I do believe that nations that are perpetrating acts of violence and persecution should be held accountable by the media, including popular media like Eurovision. But on the other hand I don’t think that we should judge artists by the actions of their government. Eurovision holds an important place in the European arts world and all musicians should have the right to perform. I also think that our feelings about certain nations should not be used as fuel for abuse towards artists from that country.
Israel’s contestant Netta has had a lot of abuse thrown at her through social media since the very moment she was named the winner of Eurovision 2018. Following the #Eurovision tag on Twitter this morning it was clear that three main types of insult were made against Netta. The first, and most prevalent, was that she represented a nation with a deplorable human rights record and was, therefore, unworthy of winning Eurovision.
The second, and also predictable, response was calling Netta out for her appearance. A great deal of hostility surrounded Netta’s weight and general appearance, which was at odds with most of the other female contestants. She’s a bigger woman and at the very end of the voting she was neck and neck for the title with the ‘conventionally’ attractive Eleni Foureira from Cyprus. Naturally, plenty of Eurovision fans started calling Netta every fat-shaming term in the book, from ‘cow’ to ‘fat bitch’ and all the variations in-between. The last form of insult was calling her ‘chicken girl’ or posting pictures of plump chickens to represent her – a jab at her clucking sounds throughout her song.
While I personally find Israel’s win problematic because of the atrocities taking place against the State of Palestine I am never for attacking Netta as an artist and a human being. There is no moment in any circumstance where fat-shaming should be considered acceptable. Personal attacks on any artist, any human being, is incredibly distasteful. Not only that, but it does nothing to bolster an argument. If anything, it does the opposite. So, by all means get riled up about Israel hosting next year, start a discussion on whether or not Eurovision should allow a problematic country to not only compete but host, but don’t degrade your legitimate arguments with juvenile attacks on Netta’s appearance.
In many ways I can see the appeal of having Netta as the winner of Eurovision because she doesn’t fit into the traditional mould of a female Eurovision performer. She stands out not only because she isn’t conventionally attractive (read– thin), but because she has a strong stage presence that relies on her strength of character, her no-bullshit attitude and a playful demeanour rather than cheap stock-and-standard sex appeal.
I won’t say that Netta herself isn’t problematic– the arguments about appropriating Japanese culture are definitely worth voicing – but on the whole I think we can safely say that she does not warrant the slew of venom aimed at her by the media.
She represented Israel – doesn’t that make her complicit to the country’s current problems? If she was opposed to Israel’s current social and political stance towards the State of Palestine wouldn’t she refuse to compete under Israel’s banner? I won’t purport to know enough about Netta to know the ins and outs of her political leanings. For all I know she might be a supporter of Israel’s militant behaviour. But whether she is or not has no bearing in my feelings about Israel’s win.
A musician is not a government body. Musicians and artists are not the ones on the forefront of violent or military action. We should not direct our anger at a singular musician, regardless of whatever her views might be. We should be angry about the lawmakers who make apartheid and militancy possible.
We can celebrate Netta’s win because she has earned her trophy. She gave a strong performance (though clucking is perhaps not to my taste) and won the popular vote. There’s no use squabbling about how the whole thing might be rigged, or how the voting system is a mess. At the end of the day Netta has won Eurovision and there’s nothing we fans can do about it.
Does that mean we should just be happy about Eurovision going to Israel next year? Of course not. The host country has a lot to answer for and we have every right to boycott the competition if we wish. But let Netta have her victory, not as a representative of Israel but as a musician who has worked hard to perform on the stage of Europe’s biggest music competition. As human beings we owe her that much at least.
Photo: Andres Putting via Eurovision.tv
Words by Lisandra Linde
Lisandra Linde is an Adelaide-based writer of fantasy and creative nonfiction. She tweets at @KrestianLullaby