Eurovision 2024 is overshadowed by the war between Israel and Hamas

MALMO, Sweden (AP) — Dozens of musicians, hundreds of journalists and thousands of music fans gathered in Malmö, Sweden, where the Eurovision Song Contest prepares for Saturday’s exuberant and scintillating finale.

But even Eurovision cannot escape the divisions of the world. Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters are also expected in the city for demonstrations calling for a ceasefire in the War in Gaza and criticizing Israel’s participation in the competition. Israel’s participation

Here’s a guide to what Eurovision means, how it works and what to watch out for:


The short answer: Eurovision is a music competition in which artists from countries across Europe and a few countries beyond compete under their national flags in a bid to be crowned continental champion. Think of it as the Olympics of pop music.

The longer answer is that Eurovision is an extravaganza mixing pop, party and politics – a cross between a music festival, an awards ceremony and a United Nations Security Council meeting. It’s an event full of madness, a celebration of the unifying power of music, but also a place where politics and regional rivalries play out.


Thirty-seven countries are registered for the competition, which this year takes place over several days in the Swedish port city of Malmö. The country welcomes after Swedish singer Loreen won last year’s competition in Liverpool, England.

Over the course of two semi-finals, 37 artists were narrowed down to the 26 who will compete in Saturday’s final in front of thousands of spectators in the Malmö Arena and a global television audience estimated at 180 million people.

Nations can participate in a solo act or in a group. They can perform in any genre and in any language, but the rules state that they must sing live and the songs must be no more than three minutes long. The staging became increasingly elaborate, incorporating flashy pyrotechnics and elaborate choreography. This year is particularly strong for topless male dancers.

Once all numbers have been played, the winner is chosen by a complex mix of telephone and online voters from around the world and a ranking compiled by music industry juries in each of the Eurovision countries. As results are announced, countries slide up and down the rankings and tensions rise. Finding yourself with “null points”, or zero, constitutes a national humiliation.

Sarah Bonnici of Malta performs the song Loop during the dress rehearsal for the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The musical style of Eurovision has diversified considerably since the contest’s inception in 1956. The early years of crooners and ballads have given way to joyful pop – epitomized by perhaps Eurovision’s greatest song of all time, “Waterloo” by ABBA, which won the competition 50 years ago.

These days, Euro-techno and power ballads remain popular, but viewers have also shown a taste for rock, folk-rap and wacky, unclassifiable songs.


According to bookmakers, one of the main contenders is Swiss singer Nemo, who performs a melodic opera song called “The Code”. Nemo would be the first artist who identifies as non-binary to win the competition, which has a huge LGBTQ+ following. The pageant had its first transgender winner, Dana International, a quarter of a century ago.

Another non-binary artist generating huge buzz is Ireland’s Bambie Thug, whose song “Doomsday Blue” is gothic, intense, over-the-top and a real crowd-pleaser. They are the only known candidates to have brought a “screaming coach” to Malmö. Ireland has won Eurovision seven times – a total matched only by Sweden – but its results have been poor in recent years.

Switzerland’s Nemo performs the song The Code during the dress rehearsal for the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Other artists likely to succeed include Slovenian opera singer Raiven, Ukrainian rap-pop duo Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil and Nebulosa from Spain, including the song “Zorra” caused a sensation because its title can be translated as an anti-feminine insult.

So far, the group with the most momentum is Croatian singer Baby Lasagna. Her song “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” is quintessential Eurovision: exuberant, silly, a little emotional and incredibly catchy. It’s already a big fan favorite.


The motto of Eurovision is “United by Music” and its organizer, the European Broadcasting Union, strives to keep politics out of competition. But it often intrudes.

Belarus was kicked out of Eurovision in 2021 due to its government’s crackdown on dissent, and Russia was kicked out in 2022 after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

This year there have been calls for Israel to be excluded because of its conduct in its war against Hamas.

Israel is competing, but has been asked to change the title of its song, originally titled “October Rain,” in an apparent reference to the October 7 Hamas cross-border attack. It is now called “Hurricane” and is performed by singer Eden Golan, 20 years old.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched in Malmö on Thursday, hours before Golan performed in Thursday’s semi-final, and was one of 10 artists voted for the final by Eurovision viewers.

Another demonstration is planned for Saturday. Swedish police have launched a major security operation, with officers from across the country bolstered by reinforcements from Denmark and Norway.

Palestinian flags hang from the balconies of some apartments in Malmö but were banned from the televised event, along with all flags except those of competing nations. In the first semi-final, one artist managed to insert a political statement by singing with a Palestinian keffiyeh tied around his wrist.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, said it regretted Swedish singer Eric Saadé’s decision to “compromise the apolitical nature of the event”.

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