The top 10 song contest controversies

Controversy and the Eurovision Song Contest go hand in hand. From Paul Oscar’s raunchy leather-clad performance for Iceland in 1997, to the presenter’s skirt ‘accidently’ coming off in 1985, to the 1981 Yugoslavian jury spokesperson announcing “no I don’t have it” when asked for the votes, Eurovision always throws up surprises and scandals. It’s the perfect mix of high drama and tension which has kept people watching for reasons other than just the music. Here is a top ten of just some of the scandals that have rocked the Eurovision world.

10) The Bearded Lady from Austria

Drag is nothing new to Eurovision or particularly controversial. However Conchita Wurst, Austria’s entry for 2014 and the drag persona of Austrian singer Tom Neuworth, is different. Conchita’s character challenges traditional ideas about gender, notions of beauty and conformity. Recently there have been complaints in some countries from groups calling for Austria's performance to be censored from the Eurovision broadcast as they view her as a corruptive influence! Conchita's performance takes place during tense times in Europe. Only last week Russian politician Vitaly Milonov described Eurovision as a ‘Europe-wide gay parade’. It'll be interesting to see how this one pans out.

9) On your marks, get set, and er don’t go!

Performing first in Eurovision can be tough, it’s nerve-wracking and despite the many rehearsals beforehand, there’s always a real chance that something can go wrong. In 1990 the Spanish duo Azúcar Moreno took to the stage in Zagreb to belt out their entry “Bandido”. Unfortunately the backing track was not played on time so both the singers and orchestra missed their cues. The two sisters looked confused, frustrated, walked off the stage and undoubtedly had a serious word with the crew backstage. After awkward applause for the debacle, the girls later returned and pulled off a pretty gutsy performance. Hiccups on such a scale are rare in Eurovision but it still remains one of the worst starts of the contest imaginable.

 8) It’s in his kiss

Europe has changed a lot over the past few decades and of course so too has Eurovision. In 1957 Denmark’s entrants shocked the Eurovision community by engaging in a full-on snog after they performed their song. The kiss, lasting 11 seconds, caused an outcry in some countries back in 1957. Birthe Wilke, the female of the duo, appeared on the show Congratulations, marking the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest. Even to this day she appears to be somewhat proud of making waves back in the day.

7) And the winner is… Spain! And the UK and France and Netherlands!

Whether it’s allegations of neighbourly voting or vote-rigging voting in the Eurovision Song Contest has always been controversial. In 1969 each country had ten jury members who cast one vote for their favourite song. At the end of the voting sequence it emerged that Spain, the UK, France and the Netherlands all had 18 votes each. Having no protocol in place for such a situation, and after much confusion, all four countries were declared winners. This attracted a wave of withdrawals the following year by countries viewing the procedure as a farce. Following this a count-back procedure was introduced which came into effect in 1991 when France and Sweden tied for first place. Whilst both countries had received the same amount of 12 points, Sweden had received more 10s and was declared the winner. With such an open field in 2014 could the voting be close this year?

6) No crowd surfing at Eurovision but there’s always stage diving

Eurovision in Belgrade in 2008 and Moscow in 2009 had some of the most stringent security seen in the competition. When the contest went to Oslo in 2010 the Norwegians relaxed a little, the decision with hindsight, was probably not a wise move. During the Spanish performance, a Catalonian stunt man, known as Jimmy Jump, stormed the stage and took part in the performance. Daniel Diges continued to perform without so much as flinching, a testament to his professionalism. The entire debacle lasted only a matter of seconds before security whisked the imposter off-stage and into a police cell. In accordance with the rules, Spain performed their entry again later in the show. Whilst the incident seems pretty harmless now, it could have been a lot more serious and led to a revision of the security plans surrounding the Eurovision stage.

5) Viva la Diva

Whilst the selection of a transgender person to represent a country in Eurovision might not be seen as a big deal today, in 1998, the selection of Dana International, to represent Israel at Eurovision, caused uproar in the country. Ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets in protest, they claimed that Dana International was an abomination, some even issued death threats. Dana International, being the powerful diva, took it all in her stride. After a close voting sequence she emerged victorious and appeared to have the last laugh at her detractors’ expense.  However the following  year in 1999 the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem was dogged by controversy. Dana International then featured as the interval act singing below Jerusalem’s historic city walls and causing further outrage to ultra-Orthodox Jews, who were also incensed at religious lyrics being used in the performance. The rules of the ESC state that a full dress rehearsal must take place on the Friday evening before the contest. This violated the traditions of the Jewish Sabbath where all activity is forbidden from sunset on Friday through to Saturday evening, again provoking angry reactions from conservatives despite the fact that, officially, Israel is a secular state. A compromise was reached, the IBA held the rehearsal in private.

4) A game of ping pong anyone?

At the 2000 contest, Israeli representatives, Ping-pong, waved Syrian flags during rehearsals. Israel and Syria were officially in a state of war at the time and Israel’s politicians called for the group to be banned for failing to represent national values. The waving of the Syrian flag during rehearsals on Israel’s Independence Day, 10 May, in particular, caused further upset to officials, who publically boycotted the group leaving them to cover their own expenses. Despite threats from the Israeli delegation to ban the group from performing altogether, they appeared at the 2000 ESC and waved the Syrian flag along with the Israeli flag in a call for peace.

3) Dis(qualification)

In 2009 Georgia faced the music with the European Broadcasting Union and Russia’s Channel One in the run-up to Eurovision in Moscow. Georgia, which only the year before was engaged in a war with Russia, after initially refusing to take part in the show, confirmed their choice of entry in early 2009. However the song, 'We Don’t Wanna Put In', was largely seen as a swipe at Vladimir Putin and deemed to be ‘too political’ by the EBU. The Georgian broadcasting authorities were asked to change the lyrics of the song or submit a different entry, which they declined to do and so withdrew from the competition. In 2005 Lebanon was thrown out of the contest after it emerged that the national broadcaster could not guarantee that it would broadcast the Israeli entry as a result of laws banning the broadcast of any Israeli content. Lebanon was also banned from entering Eurovision for several years following the incident. The country has yet to make its debut in the contest.

 2) Azerbaijan and Armenia – an uneasy coexistence

In 2009, a series of disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan unfolded throughout the live broadcasts of the semi-finals and final. During the semi-finals, an introductory postcard leading into the Armenian performance depicted, amongst other monuments, a statue located in Stepanakert, capital city of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which, according to international law, constitutes a part of Azerbaijan. The statue was built in Soviet times to celebrate the Armenian heritage of the area. The delegation from Azerbaijan complained to the EBU that the video clip was unacceptable based on the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, and it was subsequently edited out for the broadcast of the final. In retaliation, the presenter of the Armenian votes held up a clipboard with the monument’s picture on it multiple times as she read off the votes. In the background, a screen in the capital’s main square could also be seen to display the disputed monument. In August 2009, the BBC reported that several people had been questioned in Azerbaijan after their votes for Armenia were traced by mobile phone service providers. The issue was investigated by the EBU and whilst they found no evidence to pursue the affair, a clause preventing telecom communication providers from disclosing personal information was added to the rules of the contest. The 2012 contest held in Baku, Azerbaijan was arguably one of the most controversial ever for a number of reasons. During the voting the German spokesperson, Anke Engelke, appeared to make reference to the political situation in Azerbaijan: “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country. But it is good to be able to vote. And it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey, Azerbaijan. Europe is watching you”.

 1) May we have your votes please?

The 1963 contest was held in the BBC TV Centre (things were a little more low-key in those days!) During the voting it was a tight race between Denmark and Switzerland. When it came to Norway’s turn to vote, the votes were disallowed since the spokesperson had not used the correct procedure for announcing the results. The legendary presenter, Katie Boyle, informed the jury in Oslo that their votes would be collected later. In the meantime the Norwegian jury altered their votes resulting in Denmark winning whereas Switzerland would have won had the original Norwegian votes been used. There was considerable consternation in the hall and questions remain to this day about the fairness of the incident. Today the results have to be sent into the EBU before they are announced on-screen meaning that such an incident cannot happen again. New voting rules in place for 2014 mean that the process will be even more transparent with the names of jurors and their individual votes made public for the first time.

Can you think of any other Eurovision scandals or controversies which have shocked and delighted you in equal measure? Let us know!


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