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Security was so heavy that the audience was politely advised
to remain seated while applauding, to avoid being mistakenly shot as a terrorist
Technically these aren't secrets, more like dirty, embarrassing
laundry. The hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest, while eagerly
presenting a squeaky clean, bubbly façade, has had bucketloads of
controversies, scandals, boycotts, broken rules, dummy spits, wardrobe
malfunctions, and moments of downright bizarreness scattered
throughout its 59 year history.
The contest was originally created as a way of unifying post-WWII
Europe, which was still fragmented, bruised, and in desperate need of
a big group hug. The European Broadcasting Union decided a
cross-continental televised song contest was the answer - quite an
ambitious idea, since television was still in its infancy in 1956 and
satellite TV was still more than 20 years away.
But a contest involving multiple countries, often with prickly
relationships with each other, performing (and voting) together was
always going to be only a tremulous vibrato away from problems.
In the first few years, the Soviet Union built hundreds of jamming
stations to block the signals from western TV networks getting past
the Iron Curtain. Consequently, the act of just watching the broadcast
was a dangerous, underground activity in many countries.
Political bickering has often interfered with the festivities,
especially the awkward matter of invasions and revolutions. In 1975
Greece, still annoyed from Turkey's invasion of Cyprus three years
earlier, withdrew its entry because of Turkey's inclusion. The
following year Turkish television refused to broadcast Greece's entry.
Then in 1978 Jordan refused to broadcast Israel's entry, showing
viewers some lovely pictures of flowers instead. Annoyingly for
Jordan, Israel ended up winning the competition, so Jordan television
dealt with this inconvenient reality by simply cutting the broadcast
and telling viewers that runner-up Belgium was the winner.
In 2009 Georgia was accused of evoking the previous year's
Georgia-Russia crisis and mocking Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin with their song ‘We Don't Wanna Put In'. They were ordered to
change the lyrics, something they flatly refused to do, spat the dummy
and pulled out of the contest.
Everyone was nervous at the 1973 contest, mainly because of the
inclusion of Israel. The Black September murders at the Munich
Olympics were still fresh in everyone's minds and Israel's entrant,
Ilanit, sang her number wearing a bulletproof vest. Security was so
heavy that the audience was politely advised to remain seated while
applauding, to avoid being mistakenly shot as a terrorist.
The 1974 contest, as well as being the one that famously gave the
world ABBA, also included the only Eurovision song ever to start a
revolution. Rebel military in Portugal were secretly planning a coup
to depose the country's long-standing Estado Novo dictatorship.
Portugal's recent Eurovision song, ‘E depois do adeus' was played on
the radio as secret code to the rebels that it was time to rumble. The
coup was successful. Viva la Eurovision!
The same year, Italy refused to broadcast its own entry, a song
called ‘Si' (‘Yes' in English). The country was smack dab in the
middle of a referendum on divorce, and it was feared the song title
might be seen as a subliminal message to voters. The song was censored
throughout Italy for months afterwards, even though its singer, local
TV personality Gigliola Cinquetti, almost won the Eurovision crown,
being defeated by ABBA's ‘Waterloo'.
In 2000, Israel's performers, a group with the bouncy name of Ping
Pong sang an even bouncier song called ‘Be Happy'. They finished by
waving Syrian flags and calling for peace, causing all of Israel to
clutch their pearls in horror. It was revealed later that two members
of the group were journalists and they'd entered the comp as a joke.
But Eurovision rules were made to be broken. When Belgium won the
contest in 1986 it was revealed that the performer, Sandra Kim, was
only 13 years old, three years below the minimum of 16. Second-place
Switzerland threw a hissy fit, demanding Kim's disqualification.
And of course, Eurovision bizarreness is almost too numerous to
catalogue. Britain's bubble gum quartet Bucks Fizz won the contest in
1981 but also caused a sensation with their Velcro rip-away skirts.
This gimmick caused Velcro to be completely sold out across the
country in just 48 hours. "A strip of Velcro changed my
life," singer Cheryl Baker later told the media. Four years later
in Sweden, presenter Lill Lindfors had an "accidental"
on-stage wardrobe malfunction when her skirt was yanked away by a nail
(yes, Velcro again). Everyone giggled but she had her wrist slapped
afterwards by organisers.
And in 2004 when Ukranian singer Rusiana won the contest she was
rewarded with a seat in Parliament!
The question remains – are these controversies just a European thing,
or would they feature in a song contest anywhere in the world? What
about an Aussievision? It would certainly provide employment
opportunities for events
production and costume
design TAFE graduates. But what might be the controversies
peculiar to Australia that would characterise it? A bogan category?
Mandatory upward lilt at the end of every lyric? The inclusion of
Queensland? One can only wonder.