Shiny dresses, colorful outfits with feathers attached in weird places, tacky dance moves and eternal disco music — those are just few characteristics of Eurovision Song Contest, Europe’s longest-running international music TV competition.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that it is also Europe’s gayest music event being broadcasted live all over the continent (and in Australia). The contest, organized since 1956 without a break, is celebrated each year by a faithful and numerous audience as it shows all the kitsch that Europe has to offer (and I say that with no ill thoughts — I watch it each year as well!).
Ever since Dana International’s win in 1998, Eurovision has come out of the closet (so to speak) in terms of LGBTQ community representation. Obviously even before that there have been some non-heteronormative performances, but it is surely the Israeli singer’s success that paved the way for all the out and proud musicians that competed in the Eurovision Song Contest since then.
And while there is a reasonably big number of gay(-ish) men performing on the ESC stage (or men whose musical acts can be interpreted as sexually ambiguous), there have been VERY few out gay women.
Dana International’s case was unique — she was and still is the only (out) transgender woman to enter Eurovision. Her winning song Diva, sung entirely in Hebrew, is a celebration of female strength and beauty as she mentions Cleopatra, Victoria (Roman goddess of victory) and Aphrodite (Greek goddess of beauty). Despite causing a lot of controversy in the conservative communities the song, along with its performer, received the highest score, thus winning the whole competition that year. Dana International came back to represent Israel at Eurovision again in 2011 in Germany, but didn’t qualify for the final show after coming up 15th in the semi-final (only the top 10 songs advance).
In 2003 t.A.T.u. represented Russia in ESC with the song Ne Ver, Ne Boysia (Don’t Believe, Don’t Be Afraid). The duo became famous all over the world after releasing the single All The Things She Said — the video featured two girls (the singers) kissing in the rain which led to the assumption that the vocalists were a couple. It was clarified later on that they were not and that the whole ‘lesbian thing’ was just a marketing trick to get more media attention. t.A.T.u. qualified easily to the final and ended up with the third best score of that year.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the lesbian community got a true reason to celebrate. During the 52nd Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki Marija Šerifović (Serbia) sung her powerful ballad Molitva (Prayer) and conquered European hearts. The staging and choreography were very minimalistic — especially for Eurovision standards, where everything is usually very flashy and faboulous (if you know what I mean…).
The Serbian vocalist only came out as a lesbian in 2013, but her performance contained a strong subtext when she performed with five female back-up singers, all dressed in suits and wearing high heels (she herself wore snickers). The song talks about the fear of falling in love and not being able to lie about one’s feelings. As it doesn’t really involve any pronouns related to a person of specific gender, it is universal for everyone who wants to identify with it.
Eurovision has always been criticized for it’s voting system, the fact that many countries vote according to their political preferences and give top points to their most liked neighbor (Nordic countries always vote for each other, Cyprus for Greece and so on). Despite clear rules that ‘no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC’, each year there’s at least one song that refers in one way or another to the political situation in Europe or generally in the world. There have been many performers to sing about war/peace, domestic violence and other issues. In 2009 Georgia, which was at war with Russia a year earlier, has been forced to drop out of the competition because of their song titled We Don’t Wanna Put In.
The 2013 edition that took place in Sweden, has been marked as the gayest Eurovision ever. Finnish representative Krista Siegfrids kissed one of the female back-up singers at the end of her song Marry Me making it the first ever gay/lesbian onstage kiss in the history of the contest. According to the singer, it was a way to express her disapproval of Finland’s ban of same-sex marriage. Also, during the interval act, the Swedish comedian Petra Mede acted as a minister and married two grooms.
Eurovision 2014 hasn’t seen any lesbian-ish acts, although the controversy and eventually the win of Austria’s Conchita Wurst can’t be ommited. Conchita, the bearded drag queen portrayed by Thomas Neuwirth (gay man himself), has caused an outcry among the conservatives who called the success of the Austrian entry a result of gay propaganda and ultimate degeneration of European ‘traditional’ values.
Conchita’s win quickly became iconic for the LGBTQ community across the world as it marked a significant change in Europe’s view of otherness and showed that Eurovision — as tacky as it can be — is important in terms of visibility and tolerance.
In 2015 Lithuania followed Finland’s footsteps and played the same-sex kiss card on stage during one of the semi finals in Vienna. The otherwise uneventful performance (and song) of Monika Linkyte and Vaidas Baumila featured two male-female dancing pairs that swapped partners in the middle of the song for some gay and lesbian kisses.
All of the competing countries have already confirmed their acts for this year and so far there have been no news on whether we will see any LGBTQ-themed action in May, when the Eurovision takes place. There were several interesting contestants in the national pre-selections in many countries, my personal favorite being LAIKA by the Norwegian experimental group The Hungry Hearts led by out lesbian Tonje Gjevjon. Many people drew a connection between the song lyrics and the current situation of LGBT people in Russia, but the singers said it was not their intention. They lost to Agnete’s Icebreaker though.
With just two months left, we have yet to see what the 2016 ESC will bring.