The Eurovision Song Contest is known for being a non-political annual showcase of European music that reached 182 million viewers in 2019, according to the European Broadcasting Union. The broadcasting union organizes the contest and explicitly disallows messages promoting any “political cause,” but some political messaging has slipped in.
- Down but not out
Ofra Haza triumphantly proclaimed that Israel was alive during the 1983 Contest with Hi. The contest was held in Munich that year and the historical subtext of the Holocaust definitely rang through in Ofra’s celebratory Hebrew lyrics as it took a second place result overall.
“I’m still alive, alive, alive,” Haza proclaims during the chorus in Hebrew. “The Nation of Israel is alive. This is the song that Grandpa sang yesterday to Dad. And today it’s me.”
2. An innocent ballad that started a revolution
Eurovision 1974 is perhaps most well known for its winner: a then-relatively unknown Swedish quartet called ABBA with the song Waterloo, but the political impact of that year’s Portuguese entry also can’t be understated. Three weeks after placing last in Brighton, Paulo de Carvalho’s E Depois do Adeus was broadcast by Radio Emissores Associados de Lisboa as a military signal to kickstart the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. It ended the Iberian nation’s Estado Novo dictatorship and was the initial groundwork for a democratic Portugal.
3. She’s not your toy
Netta Barzilai captured 2018’s Me Too movement with Toy, a female empowerment anthem known equally for its message and accompanying chicken-inspired choreography. She described the song as “the awakening of female power and social justice, wrapped in a colorful, happy vibe” in an interview with the Eurovision blog Wiwibloggs.
4. Standing with Palestine
Netta’s victory brought the contest to Tel Aviv the following year, a move that proved to be divisive given the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Iceland was represented by the self-described “anti-capitalist, BDSM, techno-dystopian, performance art collective” Hatari, whom took the step to unfurl a Palestinian scarf during the reveal of their televoting points. Band member Matthias Haraldsson called the anti-political message stance a “paradox” in an interview with The Independent because “all of the songs that make it to that stage will offend the sensibilities of many people by virtue of the context of where the contest is taking place, and the legitimate criticisms many people have.”
5. Raising your voice
Last year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest featured several songs that alluded to the changing climate, but perhaps none more strongly than Podigni Glas, the Serbian entry. Singer Darija Vračević practically pleads with her audience to act before it’s too late with lyrics proclaiming they should “raise your voice, for all of us, who are living the future together, raise your voice, do it, because tomorrow might be too late.”
There’s no denying the influence of having tens of millions of eyes hearing an artist’s creation, leaving the temptation to make a strong statement a single note away.