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Eurovision Controversies of the 21st Century

When producing a live TV event for over 200 million viewers, it is inevitable that not everything will be smooth sailing. Over the years, some moments have stood out to viewers and the Eurovision community as being particularly controversial.

We're going to explore just a few examples of controversial moments this century.

2018 – Stage Invasion of SuRie from the United Kingdom

(Go to 1.40 in the video for the moment)

After being a backing singer for Belgium in 2015, it was SuRie’s time to shine in Lisbon in 2018 with her song ‘Storm’. However, her performance was marred by a stage invader, who grabbed the microphone off the singer and shouted “Modern Nazis of the UK Media, we demand freedom! War is not peace”.

The man was later identified as “Dr ACtavism”, who is a London based political activist. SuRie handled herself exceptionally on stage; while she could not sing, she clapped along while camera shots of the audience were shown. In a terrific act of bravery, she grabbed the microphone back and delivered a powerful end of the song. The UK were offered to perform its song again after the final performance, but declined, with the BBC stating that the team was “extremely proud” of the performance and that there was “absolutely no reason” to perform again.

Australia’s own commentator Joel Creasy gained popularity by calling the stage invader a “absolute cockhead” on live television. SuRie was unfortunately only able to place 24th in the Grand Final, but she can certainly be proud of how she handled the situation.

Georgia 2009 – ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’

Much controversy surrounded the Georgian entrant Stefane and 3G ahead of the 2009 Contest, scheduled to take place in Moscow, Russia. The electro-pop group released their song ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’, and this was seen as a direct reference to Russian Prime Minister (at the time) Vladimir Putin, with the lyrics sounding like “We Don’t Want Putin”, following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

Accompanied with this title was the lyric in the chorus “shoot in’, paired with choreography of appearing to shoot someone in the head. The EBU viewed this as a serious threat to the competition’s rules regarding songs pushing political agendas, and clearly this overstepped the mark. Georgian broadcaster GPB was asked to change the lyrics of the song or choose a new one, but they declined to do so, stating they did not believe the song contained any political references. Georgia eventually withdrew from the Contest and did not take to the stage in Moscow.

Ireland 2008 – Dustin The Turkey

Following a dominant decade in the 90s, Ireland appeared to hit a rock in the early 2000s. The “Irish ballad” which they had been so successful with was, not in vogue.

In response, for the 2008 Contest held in Belgrade, Serbia, Ireland decided to select a puppet to represent them. Dustin The Turkey, voiced by John Morrison, presented the song ‘Irelande Douze Pointe’, and it certainly ruffled some feathers. It was met with widespread criticism, over the sarcastic lyrics; it included references to Riverdance and Michael Flatley, Terry Wogan among others. While the song had a funky-sounding beat, it was not received well by the audience, placing 15th in the semi final and failing to qualify for the Grand Final.

2019 – Maruv and Ukraine withdraw from the Contest

The Ukrainian national final 'Vidbir' 2019 was won by singer Maruv with the fan favourite entry 'Siren Song'. Shortly after her victory, Maruv’s management team was given, in their opinion 'an unreasonable' contract to sign by Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC. Among some of the conditions was a clause stating Maruv would have to cancel all upcoming performances in Russia among other contractual issues that would be end in large fines.

Maruv refused to sign the contract, stating that she did not want to be a “promotion for politicians”. UA:PBC offered the runner-up and 3rd place finishing artists from Vidbir the opportunity to represent Ukraine, but when they both declined, Ukraine decided to withdraw from the contest. Fans were distraught at this decision, especially about Maruv, labelling it as one of the best “lost songs” of the Contest.

2018 – Mango TV from China censoring performances

Chinese broadcaster Mango TV was sensationally disallowed from showing Eurovision after several transgressions of the EBU guidelines.

After the first semi final of the contest in Lisbon, it was noticed that the performances of Albania and Ireland were edited out, as well as the blurring of rainbow flags. Albania’s Eugent Bushpepa’s performance was cut due to the fact he has visible tattoos and Ireland’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s stage performance depicted a same-sex couple. The two performances, plus snippets in the recap, were cut from transmission. The EBU caught wind of this and moved swiftly to terminate their partnership with the TV station, citing that it was not in line with values of “universality and inclusivity”. Mango TV was not allowed to broadcast the second semi final or the Grand Final.

Finland 2013 – same-sex kiss

Krista Siegfrids represented Finland in Eurovision 2013 in Malmo, Sweden, with the song titled ‘Marry Me’. After delivering an energetic and catchy performance in the Grand Final, Siegfrids made headlines when she and a female backing singer shared a kiss at the end of the song, causing some controversy among more conservative nations regarding LGBT laws.

The singer wanted to make a statement to the Finnish government to legalise same-sex marriage. This performance took place in 2013 and same-sex marriage became legal in Finland in March 2017, nearly four years after the performance.

Whether the Eurovision song had any effect on the decision we will never know explicitly, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for LGBT equality in Europe and representation at Eurovision. Siegfrids got married to her boyfriend in late 2017 as well, so while not being gay herself, she clearly saw a cause worth fighting for and made a statement.

Iceland 2019 – Hatari and the Palestinian banner in Israel

Icelandic group Hatari was all the buzz after it won Söngvakeppnin and represented the country in Tel Aviv with the song ‘Hatrið mun sigra’ (Hate will prevail).

What followed, however, was political controversy after the self-labelled anti-capitalist group threatened to make a demonstration about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The moment came while Iceland received their televote score in the Grand Final; they displayed a Palestinian banner, which angered the audience once they realised what had happened, with booing heard inside the stadium and onto the broadcast. The group did not seem to regret this action, which resulted in a €5,000 fine for Icelandic broadcaster RÚV. Hatari went on to release a single with a Palestinian rapper Bashar Murad.

Iceland 2006 – Silvia Night

Silvia Night was chosen to represent Iceland at Eurovision 2006 to be held in Athens, Greece, with the song ‘Congratulations’. What some people did not realise is that Silvia is a character played by Ágústa Eva Erlensdóttir, in a similar premise to Ali G, portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen.

Her appearance at Eurovision was filled with controversial moments; her character is known for being narcissistic and self-centred and thinking she’s the most talented, and this certainly showed. In rehearsals, instead of singing “the vote is in, they say I win”, she sang “the vote is in, I’ll f**king win”, and her song was about how much better she is than everyone else. She is most known for her tantrum in the press centre, consistently using expletives and taking aim at other contestants, journalists and the EBU. Her tantrum (shown above) needs to be seen to believed. Some quotes include: “f**k you ungrateful bastards” and “I’m the best thing that’s happened to this f**king competition”. The song seemingly took a back seat, however it failed to qualify for the grand final, placing 13th in the semi-final, being booed after her performance. Congratulations were obviously not in order…

Some other notable controversial moments include:

  • In 2017, Russian singer Julia Samoylova was not allowed to enter Ukraine to compete in the contest after it was found that she performed in Crimea during the annexation period.

  • In 2015, the Armenian entry referenced the Armenian genocide with lyrics such as “Don’t Deny”, in the centenary commemoration of the genocide.

  • In 2016, Romania had selected their entrant – Ovidiu Anton with ‘Moment of Silence’ – however, the EBU disqualified them from the contest in Stockholm due to unpaid debts tracing back to 2007.

  • In 2016 also, Armenian singer Iveta Mukuchyan was shown in the green room waving the flag of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Wow, that is a lot of controversy! These moments have provided viewers with exciting moments to talk about, discuss, condemn, or even celebrate, depending on the situation. While nobody wants moments which puts anyone in physical danger, it simply wouldn’t be Eurovision without controversy, but the Contest is always able to work through these incidents and continue to present a show loved by all.


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