Eurovision: Switzerland Wins the Most Divisive Song Contest In Competition’s 68-Year History

Swiss performer Nemo has won the 68th Eurovision Song Contest, beating Croatian artist Baby Lasagna, who finished second, in what was perhaps the most divisive competition in its history.

The nonbinary singer, representing Switzerland, won with their track “The Code” collecting 591 points from a combination of music industry juries in each participating country and the global public. Croatia placed second with 547 points at the event in Malmö, Sweden and Ukraine third with 453 points. Rounding out the top five were France and Israel with 445 and 375 points, respectively.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

Eurovision was back and supplied everything fans are used to seeing on Europe’s most eccentric music night of the year: corset-clad dancers in knee-high leather boots puckering up for the Spanish “Kylie Minogue,” Ireland‘s horned goth gremlin scream-singing a dark tale of witchcraft and some crafty camerawork masking the genitals of Finnish entrant Windows95Man (his denim shorts were swiftly delivered onstage by rope).

Hosted by Swedish-American actress Malin Akerman (27 Dresses, The Proposal) and presenter Petra Mede, the four-hour spectacle featured performances from 25 different countries and even surprised the audience with virtual avatars of the legendary ABBA performing 1974’s winning hit “Waterloo.”

Despite the most tumultuous build-up the contest has ever seen, it was a relatively uneventful show (nudity-heavy, perhaps, but as lively and colorful as expected).

Eurovision organizers came under fire for their handling of the contest up until the Grand Final. Reports of unrest among the contestants and country delegations ran amok on social media. Rumors of entrants missing rehearsals, flags being pulled down and claims of misconduct backstage hugely disrupted the usually peppy Eurovision build-up. It was not helped by the disqualification of Dutch participant Joost Klein on Saturday, after an allegation of intimidation was made to Swedish police by a female member of the production crew.

Eurovision bosses have long believed their event to be nonpolitical, but in recent years the competition is more sharply reflecting geopolitical opinion across Europe. Russia, for example, was barred from 2022’s contest after it invaded Ukraine. In a show of solidarity, Ukraine’s participants Kalush Orchestra were voted winners that year (despite, as many critics pointed out, not putting on the strongest performance).

However, the contestant at the center of this year’s controversy, Israel’s Eden Golan, ended up receiving a powerful public backing. Golan’s participation came with widespread criticism including being booed while rehearsing this week, but votes from the public placed her a very impressive fifth, indicating a more positive impression among voters than outside reception over the past week may have led observers to believe.

The only tangible evidence of an unwelcome reception for Golan was a notably less enthusiastic crowd response at the final — for Israel’s spokesperson, too. Attendees reported a sea of jeers that television microphones might not have picked up; the executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, Martin Österdahl, received a chorus of arena-wide booing as he spoke, presumably following Klein’s exclusion.

Golan has become a lightning rod for mass condemnation of Israel’s war on Gaza, which has left nearly 35,000 Palestinians dead, mostly women and children, since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog ordered “necessary adjustments” to Golan’s initial entry to ensure his country could compete — the lyrics to “October Rain” seemingly referenced the Hamas attack. Instead, the 20-year-old performed a romantic ballad called “Hurricane.” But even the most fervent of Eurovision fans pledged to boycott the event this year, objecting to the barrage of missile strikes on Gaza.

However, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) repeatedly defended its decision to include Israel, winners of Eurovision in 1978, 1979, 1998 and 2018. It released a statement demanding viewers do not abuse Golan. The young singer was under police protection this week.

“We would like to stress that any decisions regarding participation are the responsibility of the EBU’s governing bodies, not the individual artists,” the EBU said. “We are firmly against any form of abuse or harassment directed at participants, online or offline, and are committed to fostering a safe, respectful and inclusive environment.”

U.K. entrant Olly Alexander, once the frontman of British pop band Years & Years before he began performing under his own name, also faced pressure to quit. More than 450 queer artists, individuals and organizations called on him not to perform amid the conflict in Gaza. He refused, posting a statement explaining that while he “wholeheartedly” supports a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of all hostages, “it is my current belief that removing myself from the contest wouldn’t bring us any closer to our shared goal.”

Outside the Eurovision venue, ongoing pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place. On Thursday, local police reported that over 10,000 people, including Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, marched through the city in a protest that directly called on Eurovision organizers to drop Israel from the contest. Another 15,000 people gathered before Saturday’s finale.

Ireland Eurovision Entrant Bambie Thug
Ireland entrant Bambie Thug at Eurovision 2024.

Individuals from certain delegations refused to take part in the Eurovision finale. Just hours before the show began, former Eurovision entrant Käärijä pulled out as the spokesperson for the Finnish jury, saying that distributing points “does not feel right.” He did not elaborate further.

Dutch broadcaster Avrotros soon followed suit, citing Klein’s disqualification. The company wrote on X after consulting with their spokesperson Nikkie de Jagge: “Just like Nikkie, we imagined this evening very differently.”

As the competition now turns to its new host, Switzerland, the political turbulence has certainly left a sour taste in the mouths of spectators and organizers this year; a taste which will linger, perhaps, long after Malmö de-Eurovisions and returns to normal.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter