Home » Switzerland’s Nemo wins Eurovision contest beset by protests, backstage chaos and Dutch expulsion | CBC News

Switzerland’s Nemo wins Eurovision contest beset by protests, backstage chaos and Dutch expulsion | CBC News

Switzerland’s Nemo wins Eurovision contest beset by protests, backstage chaos and Dutch expulsion | CBC News

Swiss singer Nemo won the 68th Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night with The Code, an operatic ode to the singer’s journey toward embracing their non-binary identity.

Nemo — the first non-binary contestant to win the competition and the latest to win for Switzerland since Céline Dion in 1988 — beat Croatia’s Baby Lasagna to the title by winning the most points from a combination of national juries and viewers around the world.

“Thank you so much,” Nemo said after the result was announced. “I hope this contest can live up to its promise and continue to stand for peace and dignity for every person.”

Their victory in the Swedish city of Malmo followed a turbulent year for the pan-continental pop contest that saw large street protests against the participation of Israel that tipped the feel-good musical celebration into a chaotic pressure cooker overshadowed by the war in Gaza.

Hours before the final, Dutch competitor Joost Klein was expelled from the contest over a backstage altercation that was being investigated by police.

Nemo bested finalists from 24 other countries, who all performed in front of a live audience of thousands and an estimated 180 million viewers around the world.

Each contestant had three minutes to meld catchy tunes and eye-popping spectacle into performances capable of winning the hearts of millions of viewers. Musical styles ranged across rock, disco, techno and rap — sometimes a mashup of more than one.

The contest returned to Sweden, home of last year’s winner Loreen, a half-century after ABBA won Eurovision with Waterloo — Eurovision’s most iconic moment. The opening act wasn’t the pop supergroup, which hasn’t reunited onstage for decades.

A trio of former Eurovision winners — Charlotte Perrelli, Carola and Conchita Wurst — came onstage to sing Waterloo as votes were being cast and counted.

Swedish pop group ABBA performs Waterloo during the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, U.K. (Olle Lindeborg/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden’s entry, identical twins Marcus and Martinus, opened the competition with their optimistically named song Unforgettable, followed by Ukrainian duo Alyona Alyona & Jerry Heil with Teresa & Maria, a powerful tribute to their war-battered country.

After German balladeer Isaak and Luxembourg chanteuse Tali, Israeli singer Eden Golan took the stage to a wall of sound — boos mixed with cheers — to perform the power ballad Hurricane. Golan shot up the odds table through the week, despite the protests that her appearance drew, and ended in fifth place.

Eurovision organizers ordered a change to the original title of Golan’s song, October Rain — an apparent reference to the deadly Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and other militants in southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza.

A singer performs in front of a ring of lights.
Eden Golan of Israel performs during the final on Saturday. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

The show was typically eclectic Eurovision fare: Lithuania’s Silvester Belt was an affable young crooner, while Estonia’s 5Miinust x Puuluup offered a pop-zombie folk hybrid featuring the talharpa, a traditional stringed instrument. Greek singer Marina Satti and Armenia’s Ladaniva both merged folk song and dance elements with power pop, while Britain’s Olly Alexander offered upbeat dance track Dizzy.

Contenders also included the goofy 1990s’ nostalgia of Finland’s Windows95man, who emerged from a giant onstage egg wearing very little clothing. Ireland’s gothic Bambie Thug summoned a demon onstage and brought a scream coach to Malmo, while Spain’s Nebulossa boldly reclaimed a term used as a slur on women in Zorra.

Nemo had been a favourite going into the contest, alongside Baby Lasagna, whose song Rim Tim Tagi Dim is a rollicking rock number that tackles the issue of young Croatians leaving the country in search of a better life.

Protests over Israel’s inclusion

Although Eurovision’s motto is “united by music,” this year’s event proved divisive. Protests and dissent overshadowed a competition that has become a campy celebration of Europe’s varied — and sometimes baffling — musical tastes and a forum for inclusiveness and diversity with a huge LGBTQ following.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched for the second time in a week on Saturday through Sweden’s third-largest city, which has a large Muslim population, to demand a boycott of Israel and a ceasefire in the seven-month-long Gaza war that has killed almost 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Several hundred people gathered outside the Malmo Arena before the final, with some shouting “shame” at arriving music fans, and facing off with police blocking their path. Climate activist Greta Thunberg was among those escorted away by police.

Protesters gather while holding up a banner that reads, 'Welcome to genocide song contest.'
Pro-Palestinian protesters opposing Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest demonstrate in Malmo on Saturday. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Dutch performer ejected

Klein, the Dutch performer, was ejected from the competition after a female member of the production crew made a complaint, competition organizer the European Broadcasting Union said. The 26-year-old Dutch singer and rapper had been a favourite of both bookmakers and fans with his song Europapa.

Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS, one of dozens of public broadcasters that collectively fund and broadcast the contest, said that as Klein came offstage after Thursday’s semifinal, he was filmed without his consent and in turn made a “threatening movement” toward the camera.

The broadcaster said Klein didn’t touch the camera or the female camera operator, and it called his expulsion a “very heavy and disproportionate” punishment.

A singer stretches their arms and holds up their hands in front of them during a performance.
Joost Klein of the Netherlands during the dress rehearsal on Friday. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

Contestants call for peace

Tensions and nerves were palpable in the hours before the final. Several artists were absent from the Olympics-style artists’ entrance at the start of the final dress rehearsal, though all appeared at the final.

Powerhouse French singer Slimane cut short his ballad Mon Amour at the dress rehearsal to give a speech urging people to be “united by music, yes — but with love, for peace.” He did not repeat the speech during the evening finale.

Several competitors made reference to peace or love at the end of their performances.

A demonstrator gestures the peace sign as they hold a large flag with other protestors during a march.
Pro-Palestinian protesters opposing Israel’s participation in Eurovision demonstrate in Malmo on Saturday. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Loreen, last year’s Eurovision champion — and one of only two performers to win the contest twice — said world events were “traumatizing,” but she urged people not to shut down the “community of love” that is Eurovision.

“What heals trauma? Does trauma heal trauma? Does negativity heal negativity? It doesn’t work like that,” she told The Associated Press. “The only thing that heals trauma for real — this is science — is love.”