Fans sing along to most pro-LGBT Eurovision, though winning song isn’t kitschy
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Fans sing along to most pro-LGBT Eurovision, though winning song isn’t kitschy

Audience love France for embracing difference, Iceland for counterculture message, Russia for putting its singer in a shower, and Azerbaijan for hooking up to a heart machine

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Spectators watch the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Spectators watch the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest went to the Netherlands and its 25-year-old Dutch singer Duncan Laurence, with his solo piece “Arcade.”

The country hasn’t won the Eurovision since 1975, and Laurence was a fan favorite from the start, although he was told in rehearsals that he needed to look more closely at the camera to engage the television audiences.

Laurence’s song is a sweeping ode with a strong refrain to love and loss, and was in stark contrast to many of the other songs, which were high on camp, kitsch and dance tempos.

Fans loved “Arcade,” but they didn’t sing along or clap to it, simply because it’s not that kind of song. And Eurovision fans love a good refrain and an opportunity to clap in time.

Fans at the Eurovision press screening in the Tel Aviv Expo on May 18, 2019 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Despite the nature of the winning song, Saturday night’s show may have been the campiest Eurovision yet, with France’s gay Muslim singer Bilal Hassani bringing his message of tolerance, the bondage-happy trio Hatari from Iceland with their techno punk thrust, the presence of Israel’s Dana International and Austria’s Conchita Wurst, and Madonna’s monk-like choir wearing gas masks for her rendition of her new song, “Future.”

It was a show that thrilled the many LGBT fans who converged on the Expo Tel Aviv venue and are among the most die-hard Eurovision fans; many of them had carefully learned about the contestants from each country, even memorizing the words to the songs.

This reporter watched the extravaganza unfold from the press room, where screens showed the goings-on in the 7,300-seat main hall and on the stage. All around were hundreds of people from all over the world with press credentials, many of them devoted European bloggers.

The fans this year loved Iceland for its counterculture message, France for embracing difference, Cyprus (and Malta) for bringing thigh-high boots, Russia for putting their singer in a shower, and Azerbaijan for hooking theirs up to a heart machine.

They wore plastic crowns for Hassani, donned silver cardboard tiaras for Australia’s Miller-Heidke and her swaying stilts, yelled “Na Na Na” with glee during the San Marino set, and were particularly loyal to North Macedonia’s Tamara Todevska, who was performing in her fourth Eurovision and appeared to be close to winning during the jury count.

Fans also appreciated the well-rehearsed, tightly produced show that was generally well-paced, considering it was more than four hours long.

Still, each of the 26 contestants had just three minutes to perform, and there was a fair amount of screen time for the four hosts — Erez Tal, Bar Refaeli, Lucy Ayoub and Assi Azar.

Politics were mostly absent as well, in keeping with the strict European Broadcasting Union rules, but special guest Madonna brought the Palestinian flag to the Eurovision stage, putting a miniature version of the red, white and green banner on the back of one dancer and the blue and white of the Israeli flag on another.

An announcement by the EBU floated around Twitter immediately after the completion of the contest, stating that the flags hadn’t been part of the rehearsals and had not been cleared by the EBU or Kan, the Israeli broadcaster for the show.

The EBU keeps a strict non-political agenda for Eurovision, it said.

Madonna, who rejected activists’ calls for her to not perform in Israel, told Reuters earlier in the week that she would “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda, nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.”

Madonna with Eurovision Song Contest host Assi Azar in a live interview during the contest in Tel Aviv on May 18, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

Unfortunately, Madonna’s performance was less than overwhelming, with a slightly off-key tone throughout.

The fans were unperturbed by the presence or absence of politics, singing along lustily, waving flags for each country, and generally enjoying the lighthearted, somewhat goofy atmosphere that is Eurovision.

It’s one giant singalong, and the audience complied, happily. Next year in Holland.
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