As captivating as the songs, performances, and costuming of the Eurovision Song Contest are, the politics are where the real intrigue lies. As any football fan will tell you, Europe has never been shy of letting politics become entwined with its entertainment and the Eurovision song contest is right at the centre of conflicts both old and new.
News overnight that Russia's singer has been banned from entering Ukraine, where the event will be held this year, is the most recent political firestorm in Eurovision's long and colourful history.
Echoes of 1944
Eurovision 2017 will be staged in the Ukranian capital of Kyiv thanks to Jamala’s 2016 contest-winning power ballad 1944. Partly sung in Crimean Tatar, it lays bare the bad blood that runs deep in the region.
When strangers are coming
They come to your house
They kill you all
We’re not guilty
Russia retaliated by selecting Yuliya Samoylova, who was to sing Flame is Burning from her wheelchair. As was speculated, Samoylova has been banned from entering the country given she performed in Crimea following Russian annexation in 2014, which is against Ukrainian law.
The Deputy Director of Crimean Tatar television channel ATR did not mince his words: “They’re using this girl as a live bomb in the propagandistic hybrid war against Ukraine.”
A song of tanks
In 2009, Georgia’s disco-infused entry We Don’t Wanna Put In ran afoul of contest rules banning overt political statements. The chorus would have seemed innocuous enough had it not been for the Russian tanks rolling into South Ossetia the year prior.
We don't wanna put in
the negative move
It's killin the groove
I'm a-tryin to shoot in
some disco tonight
Boogie with you
The catchy song easily won the Georgian national contest and was YouTube fodder in the lead up to the final in Moscow. While its performers Stephane & 3G denied any wrongdoing (or politicking), the entry was pulled before it could compete.
No ordinary apricot stone
The tense relations of neighbouring countries Azerbaijan and Armenia play out each year in front of Eurovision’s massive global audience.
2016 Armenian entrant Iveta Mukuchyan risked exclusion from the competition when she revealed the controversial Nagorno-Karabakh flag in the green room during her semi-final. This region is a self-declared republic backed by Armenia that remains part of Azerbaijan.
In 2010 Armenia offered Apricot Stone, a folksy earworm featuring epic back up dancing, an overzealous wind machine, and a fake tree that sprouted flowers during the song’s climax (a key change, naturally). Even this sweet ditty about the national fruit was interpreted by some to refer to the 1915 Armenian Genocide – an atrocity that Turkey and Azerbaijan refuse to acknowledge.
In 2012 when the contest traveled to Baku, the visa ban barring Armenians from visiting Azerbaijan was lifted, and it was hoped that the frosty relations between the two countries might thaw. Alas, Armenian musicians banded together in support of a boycott, and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev kyboshed any hope of a musical reunion when he declared on his website that: “Our main enemies are Armenians of the world”.
Push the button
Israel pushed the envelope in 2007 with its entry Push the Button, a thinly veiled treatise on Iran and the threat of nuclear war.
The world is full of terror
If someone makes an error
He's gonna blow up
To biddy biddy kingdom come
There are some crazy rulers
They hide and try to fool us
With demonic, technologic
Willingness to harm
The song was the first Israeli entry to be performed in three languages – Hebrew, English, and French. (The “He” in the lyrics was rumoured to be then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).
Despite the abundance of publicity at the time, Push the Button tanked in its semi-final, failing to receive enough votes to proceed.
It made it further than Quand tout s'enfuit (When everything escapes), which would have made history in 2005 as the first entry from Lebanon. The Lebanese broadcaster declared that it would not air Israel’s entry during its telecast in line with local laws however, and was banned for three years. They have yet to compete.
All the things she said
Tatu teased the 2003 final in Latvia with a planned stunt that never eventuated, but was rumoured to include nudity and kissing.
Nervous producers had the rehearsal performance ready to roll, but it was not needed as the duo screeched their way through Ne Ver, Ne Boisia (Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear) without incident on their way to third place.
Given Russia's status as a Eurovision heavyweight, and with this year's contest on their doorstep, all eyes are on what the country will do next.
The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast over SBS’s Eurovision weekend - Friday 12 May, Saturday 13 May, and Grand Final Sunday 14 May at 7.30pm on SBS with LIVE early morning broadcasts begin Wednesday 10 May at 5am on SBS.