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The Eurovision Song Contest is Meant to Inspire Unity, But Does It Also Inspire Misinformation?

Maxim Sorokopud Maxim Sorokopud
19th May 2021
The Eurovision Song Contest is Meant to Inspire Unity, But Does It Also Inspire Misinformation?

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

It’s May, 1956. Henriette Nanette Paerl has just traveled from The Netherlands to Switzerland to represent her country in the very first edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. She soon becomes the first ever person to perform in the contest. She’s competing against artists from Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Italy, and one other performer from the Netherlands. Just imagine what was going through her mind as she made her way through a continent that was still ravaged by World War Two to participate in a song contest.

It’s May, 2021. Gjon Muharremaj has traveled from Switzerland to The Netherlands to represent his country in the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. He’s competing against 32 other nations, many of which have tense relationships with one another. Just imagine what was going through his mind as he made his way across a continent that was still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic to participate in a song contest. 

These two real life stories, separated by decades but linked by the same competition, show why the Eurovision Song Contest is important. It’s intended to be a celebration of international cultures and an effort in strengthening communication. It doesn’t always turn out like this, but its popularity has endured and it does get many people to appreciate the differences and similarities between nations. In fact, the most popular edition of the contest, Eurovision 2016, reached 204 million viewers. For comparison, the most popular Super Bowl in history, Super Bowl XLIX, could only gain 114 million viewers. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly for an event that includes a mix of cultures, controversy and misinformation thrives. In fact, the results of the very first Eurovision Song Contest have always been the subject of speculation, due to its idiosyncratic voting system. The host nation, Switzerland, won that first contest. Each participating nation was supposed to bring two judges. But Luxembourg couldn’t do this, meaning that Switzerland’s judges were allowed to take their votes. These votes were conducted in secret, leading to accusations that Switzerland only won due to its judges double voting for their own entry.  

In the most recent Eurovision Song Contest, a different form of voting misinformation caused the embarrassment of the lowest ranking nation to only get worse. In Eurovision 2019, the United Kingdom’s entry came in last place, with just 16 points. However, a few days after these results were broadcast across the world, the organisers of the contest announced that they had miscalculated the results, meaning that in the end, the United Kingdom had actually earned just 11 points. For comparison, the winning entry, The Netherlands, originally gained 492 points. But with the recalculation, they ended up with 498 points. 

Mix ups in scoring, and their impact upon the results, can be fun to read. But there is sadly a wealth of other misinformation surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest that illustrates how the world still needs to make progress. Since the 1970s, Eurovision has embraced a camp disco aesthetic. This has made it popular with LGBT communities across the world. In the years since, this association has only become stronger. For instance, in 1998, a trans singer performed and won the contest for the first time. The treatment of LGBT people across European nations is not equal, and in some instances it is becoming more oppressive. Therefore, the Eurovision Song Contest has become an easy target for homophobic politicians and other prominent figures. For example, in 2019, Hungary did not participate in the contest, with sources inside the country’s public television broadcaster telling The Guardian that the reason was because the contest was “too gay.” There was no official explanation for the withdrawal.

While the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest final has not yet aired, it has already seen its fair share of controversy and misinformation. For instance, Belarus has been disqualified from the contest due to the organizers deciding that their entries had overtly political lyrics. Unsurprisingly, some have stated that the contest organizers would have banned Belarus’s entry even if the song had contained no lyrics. In Cyprus, Orthodox Christians have protested their country’s entry, claiming that the song promotes the worship of Satan. The duo behind the song state that this isn’t the case and that the song, titled El Diablo, is a metaphor for an abusive relationship. Nevertheless, this song has managed to make it to the final.

Despite the many controversies, the Eurovision Song Contest endures. In 2020, the contest was cancelled for the first time in its history because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, it’s back. Let’s hope that the event can rise above the misinformation and succeed at what it should be: A colorful, campy, cultural curiosity. After 2020, countries of the world should take every opportunity to come together to celebrate both what makes us different and what unites us.