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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Norway hit bottom at chaotic Eurovision

Norwegian fans of the annual Eurovision Song Contest were licking their wounds after Norway’s entry ended up in last place. The disappointment followed a chaotic and politically charged run-up to the huge production that has prompted Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) to launch a “thorough evaluation” and issue “clear feedback” to the contest’s organizer, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Norway’s entry at the Eurovision Song Contest was the band from Trøndelag called “Gåte” (riddle or mystery, in Norwegian). They ended up in last place, Norway’s worst standing at Eurovision in years. PHOTO: Sarah Louise Bennet/EBU

“There were some extra dramatic rounds yesterday (Saturday),” said NRK chief Vibeke Fürst Haugen on Sunday. She acknowledged how she and her colleagues “had talked a lot” about the conflicts over Israel’s participation in the contest, which sparked strong protests both outside and inside the arena in Malmö, Sweden, where Eurovision was held this year because Sweden won last year’s contest.

That in turn set off a string of dramatic events on Saturday that EBU did its best to ignore during the show itself:

*** The Netherlands’ performer, Joost Klein, was suddenly dumped from the program on Saturday afternoon. Klein had been among those most critical towards Israel’s participation and was favoured to win, but Eurovision officials reported that a complaint had been filed against him by a female member of Eurovision’s production crew over an unspecified “incident” after the contest’s second semi-final on Thursday. “While the legal process takes its course,” stated the officials, “it would not be appropriate for him to continue in the contest.”

Dutch broadcasting officials claimed they were stunned, but Eurovision’s “Grand Final” proceeded without Klein. The Netherlands was still allowed to vote for its favourites, but the votes were orally delivered by a Norwegian member of the EBU. Ther was no further comment or explanation regarding the unusual presentation of the voting results, nor when contest’s fourth performer (from Luxembourg) was immediately followed by the sixth, who happened to be Israel’s Eden Golan, who grew up in Russia.

*** It was the Israeli entry that caused the most controversy in the months leading up to the competition. Golan’s initial song, called “October Rain,” was rejected because of its political ties to Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 last year, but an altered version called “Hurricane” was allowed. Many couldn’t understand why Israel would be allowed to participate given its government’s ongoing attacks on Gaza six months later, especially since Russia was banned over its war on Ukraine, and disagreements continued. The EBU, meanwhile, tuned out booing in the arena while Golan performed.

*** Meanwhile, in Norway, pro-Palestinian demonstrators maintained weeks of protests outside NRK’s headquarters in Oslo. They and many others wanted Norway to withdraw from Eurovision but Haugen and her colleagues at NRK refused. She has condemned Israel’s decision last week to shut down the Qatar-based TV channel Al Jazeera in Israel as an attack on freedom of the press, but she continued to claim that Eurovision “isn’t a competiton between countries, but a music competition for broadcasters who are members of the EBU.” Nor would NRK join any cultural boycott of Eurovision.

That ultimately led to more drama on Saturday, when last year’s winner of Norway’s Eurovision qualifier, Alessandra Mele, suddenly refused to go on air during the final on Saturday to announce Norway’s points (eight of which actually went to Israel). Mele noted that Eurovision’s motto, “United by Music,” had become “empty words” right now. “There’s a genocide going on,” she said in her announcement on social media, just as Israeli troops continued their especially controversial attacks on Rafah on Saturday. Mele was quickly replaced by another NRK TV host, Ingvild Helljesen, who stepped in at the last minute.

Then came alleged boycotts of Eurovision’s “flag parade” by performers from Switzerland, Greece and Ireland, and then Norway’s own entry, the band from Trøndelag called Gåte (Riddle), cancelled its appearance at a pre-final press conference. Band members claimed there was so much controversy that they needed time to calm down and collect their thoughts before going onstage as the 14th performance of the evening.

Norway’s Gåte initially received good reviews for its song and performance tied to Norwegian culture and history, but that didn’t help at all when all the voting was over. Norway’s entry ended up in last place with just 16 points, 12 from the national juries and only four from the public. It was the worst showing in many years for Norway, which famously once won zero points at a Eurovision in the 1970s but has won Eurovision three times since.

Gåte’s lead singer Gunnhild Sundli bent over backwards to perform well at Eurovision, but the band ended up in last place. PHOTO: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

“I’m 100 percent satisfied with what we have done,” Gåte’s lead singer Gunnhild Sundli told NRK when it was all over. She admitted to shedding some tears initially, but claimed the band has gained “lots and lots of new fans” after winning Norway’s Eurovision qualifier and performing in Eurovision itself. Another band member said Gåte has a tradition of either doing really well, or very poorly, but admitted they were surprised they did so poorly at Eurovision.

“We’re proud Norway wanted to have us here,” said the band in a statement, and also thanked NRK for backing them with “a fantastic, creative team.” Gåte members had earlier decided against boycotting Eurovision when debate flew over Israel’s participation last winter: “We think it’s great that people state their opinions,” guitarist Magnus Børmark told news bureau NTB last month. “We choose to meet up and use our voice through the music.”

It was Switzerland that won in the end, with a total of 591 points. Swiss singer Nemo Mettler was thrilled, and Norwegian media could at least proudly note that his song “The Code” was co-written with two Norwegians, Lasse Midtsian Nymann and Linda Dale. It had been highly favoured to win, and did, by a solid margin.

Norway was also represented in a way at Eurovision in the form of Norwegian twins Marcus and Martinus, but they were singing for Sweden, not Norway. They wound up in 9th place, with a total of 174 points. PHOTO: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

Second-place went to Croatia with 547 points, while Ukraine ended up in third place with 453 points. Israel ended fifth, after some controversial new rules allow members of the public to vote up to 20 times for a single song. That brings in more voting fees for the EBU but has sparked criticism that it also can contribute to voting for political reasons.

Israel had only received 52 points from national juries, but wound up with 375 after the public had voted. A right-wing politician in Norway along with the editor of a Christian, pro-Israeli newspaper had already gone on record as giving 20 votes each to Israel during the semi-final on Thursday. Berglund



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