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"This story is my truth" – Eurovision reflects Europe’s confusion

Eurovision seems to be increasing in popularity in the UK. I was surprised last week when I turned on the TV to watch the 10 o’clock news to find it had been delayed because of one of the contest’s live semi-finals. When the news finally did show, I heard about largescale protests in Swedish host-city Malmö against Israel’s inclusion in the contest.

 

It seems somewhat ironic that so many people in one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries [i] should protest against what is undoubtedly the most socially liberal country in the Middle East (and one of the most liberal in Asia). Of course, protesting against Israel’s military operations in Gaza does not necessarily equate to opposition to Israel, still less to support for Hamas. But it is not at all clear what alternative course of action the protestors think is open to Israel, while the protests do appear to include significant pro-Palestinian elements without a clear condemnation of Hamas and its actions on 7th October 2023.

 

Protests against Israel’s participation in Eurovision did not stay outside the contest, either. Palpable tension was reported inside the arena, while several incidents, from booing for Israel’s entrant in the semi-finals and for the representative of the show’s organisers (the European Broadcasting Union, or EBU) during the final, to acts missing the dress rehearsal, jury spokespeople refusing to participate and one act being disqualified, all appear to have been more or less directly related to disquiet with Israel's inclusion.[ii] Israeli singer, 20 year old Eden Golan, was even confined to her hotel room between shows because of concerns for her safety.

 

Despite all of this, Israel actually did well in the contest, finishing fifth. Interestingly, though, the national juries placed Israel's entry in twelfth place, while the public vote placed it second, not far behind Croatia.[iii] It seems that people in Europe are not so concerned about Israel as the protests may suggest, although it is impossible to say how representative voters were of the population as a whole or whether they voted to show support for Israel’s inclusion or its war, sympathy with the victims of Hamas’s attacks in October 2023, unhappiness with the protests, or simply because they liked the song and performance.

 

Golan’s vocals were certainly strong. The song did relate to the events of 7th October, when Hamas attacked Israel, although a title and lyrics that would have made that connection clearer were changed on the insistence of the EBU. ‘October Rain’ became ‘Hurricane’,[iv] but remained a powerful statement of the pain of loss and cry for healing through the embrace of a lover. Golan has spoken of her desire that, “we can bring everything we’re feeling, and everything the country is going through, in those three minutes. To speak through the song to the world”.[v] Her strong placing in the public vote suggests she achieved that aim for many. The protests that embroiled the event suggest that others simply do not get it.

 

Golan had a story to tell of pain and loss. The only country to score a higher vote from the public – Croatia – told a different story. Baby Lasagne’s song, ‘Rim Tim Tagi Dim’, was classic Eurovision in its eclectic mixture of musical styles and visual blend of traditional Croatian clothes and outlandish punkish outfits. The song’s title refers to a fictional folk dance, while its lyrics are described by the songwriter as “a humorous and light hearted approach” to the “burning social issue” of young Croatians leaving home to find better lives elsewhere.[vi] The song tells the story of a young man leaving home with the anxieties that brings.

 

Coming closer to home, the UK entry from Olly Alexander, 'Dizzy' did better with the juries than many recent British entries but was the only country to receive a staggering nul points from the public vote. Shaky pitch in the opening lines of his performance of a relatively weak song could not be overcome by the precision of the choreography. 'Dizzy' did not tell a story. It just repeated the hope that a lover would make Olly "dizzy from your kisses". At least one commentator I read also suggested that audiences may not have liked the overtly sexualised dancing in Alexander’s performance. Some of the other more sexually provocative performances also did relatively poorly. It seems that, while sex may sell, people prefer to have a story!

 

Ireland’s entry, meanwhile, certainly caught attention, with its dramatic staging, costumes and makeup. The performance used imagery associated with the occult and the song, ‘Doomsday Blue’, speaks about placing a hex on an ex-partner so that, “all the pretties in your bed escape your hands and make you sad and all the things you wish you had you'd lose”. This was more than just a revenge song using witchcraft imagery, as the artists Bambie Thug practises witchcraft in real life.[vii] In the end, Ireland finished in sixth place overall and in both the juries’ and the public’s votes. Perhaps its overtly occultic look and feel was too much for some? Or maybe its focus on the pain of loss and the desire for revenge without a note of hope was too depressing?

 

Another strong performance came from Ukraine, which finished third in the public vote and fifth with the juries, giving it overall ‘silver medal’ position. The song 'Teresa and Maria' is an indirect plea for peace, expressing confidence that even when someone wants to break us and our path is thorny, Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary are with us. Like Israel’s entry this is another story of the pain of being attacked, although looking to “all the divas” who “were born as human beings” for help. I think it is fair to say that the strength of the votes for the song were not an expression of approval of its religious themes but were undoubtedly influenced by a desire to show solidarity with Ukraine.

 

This mixture of themes says much about Europe in the twenty-first century. The social pains of war and people movement. Continued interest in spiritual things, whether witchcraft or saints. All mixed together. Not equally mixed, however. It is telling that Ukraine’s entry from the east evoked traditional religion of the Orthodox/Catholic type, whereas Ireland’s from the west embraced pagan and anti-Christian images.

 

But none of these themes emerged victorious in the contest. Amidst each of these stories, another one broke through to the top. The overall winner was Switzerland. Not in the public vote, which placed the central European famously-neutral country fifth, but the jury votes had placed it so far ahead of rivals France and Croatia that it came out in top place in the end.

 

Switzerland’s entry also told a story. Not of wars between nations (like Israel’s and Ukraine’s) or economic migration of young people (like Croatia’s) or sexual desire (like the UK's). No, this was a more personal story, of a war within a person and the person’s migration to a different understanding of self. The song, 'The Code', was performed by Nemo, a 24-year-old who identifies as non-binary. The song is the story of how ‘they’ [viii] went “to Hell and back” before eventually finding “paradise … my kingdom come”. The religious language is striking. The outcome – the place Nemo describes as “balance” and where “everything's light” – is to land “Somewhere between the O's and ones”. That is a reference to computer binary, which makes meaning from zeroes and ones. To get to this place, Nemo sings, “I broke the code”. Again, this is computing language, but it also refers to the moral code that could have held Nemo back. As the song says, “Who decides what's wrong, what's right?”

 

'The Code' is an anthem to self-discovery. It preaches a message of hope for liberty and lasting happiness to be found by shaking off the shackles of conventional morality and embracing one’s own sense of identity. The story of how a person gets to their paradise may have “lows and highs”. It may even entail “burning fright”. But the person can say with Nemo, “this story is my truth”. All is relative. Your truth is your truth.

 

It seems fitting that this song should top the Eurovision scoreboard. It is a concise telling of the predominant worldview among many younger Europeans, especially in the West of the continent. A worldview we might call ‘expressive individualism’, in which each person must discover their own version of truth in their own story. In this belief system, any definitions of right and wrong from outside are repressive and oppressive to the individual. Paradise is to be who you understand yourself to be. The confining categories of 0s and 1s should not define you. Male and female are reduced to merely labels invented by society.

 

Nemo was not the only non-binary performer in Eurovision 2024. Ireland’s Bambie Thug also identifies as non-binary.[ix] After the show, Bambie criticised the EBU, using ‘strong language’ (i.e., swearing!) to say ‘they’ do not care about the Union’s views.[x] The outburst was a response to feeling that the EBU had not been supportive enough of non-binary causes, attempting to stop Nemo from bringing a flag for the cause into the green room. Given the number of rainbow flags on show in the area, I was not convinced this was a fair criticism.

 

What are Christians to make of all this? Well, we have a story which we can describe as our truth. Not our own individual stories of self-discovery. But a story we believe is true for all. It is the greatest story ever told. The story of God. The story of a person who said he is the truth (John 14:6). A story with a very good beginning in God’s creation and an even better ending in the true paradise. But also a story of our turn away from God.

 

This turn, which we call sin, explains all of the struggles that lie behind the other stories in Eurovision 2024. It feeds pride, selfishness and greed. These evils lie behind conflicts as people distrust one another and pursue power. They also fuel economic migration as the have-nots understandably aspire to join the haves. But sin also explains how we came to be so confused about our identity. The good purpose of God in making us male and female has been distorted by false cultural stereotypes, conflict between the sexes and painful personal experiences.

 

The story of God explains our problems. But it proposes a radically different solution from the Eurovision entries. We cannot manipulate powers of nature to achieve our goals, as witchcraft suggests. Nor will a lover’s embrace bring everlasting security. Mother Teresa and the virgin Mary cannot redeem us. They may have walked as human beings, but they had their own sins to deal with. But to turn inward, into ourselves, in search of paradise is also illusory. In our darkness, we cannot see what is right and wrong. Nemo is right to question who can. No other mere human has the right to do that. He is right in confessing that he broke the code. All of us have. But he is wrong in his thinking that we should boast about breaking the code or that breaking it is the path to paradise. The codes set by society are other people are one thing, but God's story tells us there is a code set by the creator..

 

Our problem is we are estranged from the codemaking Creator becase of our code breaking. But the wonder of God’s story is that the codewriter did not hide away from us when our programme became infected with the virus of sin. He gave us his law - the moral code we needed to see our need of his forgiveness and restoration. And he entered his own programme in the person of Jesus. He kept the moral code. And he died for those whose lives were shredded by the virus. He took the penalty for those who broke his own moral code. He not only lived as a human being. He died for sinful human beings.

 

God’s story centres on Jesus Christ. He is the Saviour we need. He is the authority who has the right to tell us what is right. He is the Lord who can tell us the code and through whom we can have power to live by the code. The story of God calls us to acknowledge this. To call out to Jesus as Saviour. That will mean admitting that our alternatives are wrong. There is no place between the 'zero' of a life without him and the 'one' of acknowledging him as Lord.

 

The paradise we are longing for is not one we can create. It is the home we have fallen from. The home Jesus came to lead us back to. The home only he can bring us into as the sinless Son of God who died to rescue us. Europe is a confusing mix of contradictory stories. But there is one true story. This story is my truth because it is the truth. That may sound arrogant to some. But in saying this, I am simply saying this story is the truth because Jesus is the truth.


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ENDNOTES


Image - Eurovision 2024 Logo - (c) to EBU, licensed under Creative Commons by HansKlok92


[i] Sweden comes close to the top in polls of affirming attitudes to abortion, divorce homosexuality and casual sex: https://www.euronews.com/culture/2023/03/12/europeans-are-becoming-more-socially-liberal-according-to-a-new-study.

[iii] Full scores for the 2024 Eurovision final are available at https://eurovision.tv/event/malmo-2024/grand-final

[viii] Nemo was born male but prefers to use the pronoun ‘they’ in English.

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