“Take the bait!” The covert political agendas within Eurovision songs.

Estimated read time 6 min read


After permitting Israel to participate in this year’s Eurovision song contest despite calls for a boycott, organizers will closely examine the country’s entry for any political statements. This includes analyzing whether lyrics like “they were all good children” could be referencing the ongoing conflict in Gaza or hostage situation. The scrutiny has intensified after Israel’s national broadcaster KAN announced that the song is titled “October Rain.” According to the rules of Eurovision, the event is meant to be non-political and should not be used to promote any political agendas or bring any negative attention to the event.

The culture minister of Israel claims that the song is not politically charged, and KAN has stated that they will not comply with any requests to change the lyrics. Despite this, there have been numerous other songs that have managed to circumvent the regulations.

Italy 1974

Gigliola Cinquetti’s track “Si” is a beautiful ballad in the style of Bacharach. In the song, the protagonist reflects on a potential breakup but ultimately chooses to embrace love and say “yes, yes!” However, during the Eurovision contest, it coincided with a referendum on divorce in Italy, causing controversy. The song was deemed to be promoting marriage and was subsequently banned from Italian media. In a typically melancholic British manner, a re-recorded English version featured Cinquetti telling her partner to leave.

Greece 1976

I do not have access to the Eurovision rules from the mid-70s, but I doubt that a song directly addressing Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus would be approved today. Mariza Koch does not shy away from mentioning refugee camps and the use of napalm bombings against Cyprus in the 1960s. Even though Turkey was not participating in the competition, their TV broadcast censored the song and replaced it with a patriotic Turkish song.

Turkey and Norway 1980

In 1980, Turkey was experiencing a political crisis and, unlike neighboring countries, had to rely on importing a majority of its oil. Despite expectations of a light and carefree performance at Eurovision, Turkey instead addressed its struggles directly with Ajda Pekkan’s song “Petr’oil,” which personifies gasoline in a highly charged love song. This unique approach could only be found at Eurovision! Let’s hear it, Ajda.


Upon your arrival, it was as if the sun had risen.

My life was fantastic, providing light during both day and night.

Suddenly, everything has shifted unexpectedly.

Life becomes challenging and arduous without your presence.

The hand movements become more vigorous as the chorus reaches its climax.

Beautiful gasoline, delicious gasoline!

I require your assistance immediately, gasoline!

In another location during that same year, Norway integrated the customary musical style of the Sami community and performed in support of Sami protestors who were on a hunger strike outside the Norwegian parliament to protest the building of a hydroelectric dam.

Georgia 2009

It is evident that at Eurovision, there is a certain level of leniency for controversial performances. However, there was one entry that was deemed too inappropriate and did not make it through. “We Don’t Wanna Put In” is a disco song that references Georgia’s rejection of a specific Russian leader and their desire to join the EU. However, the lyrics lack subtlety and come across as immature, with lines such as “I like all Europe countries and I love Europe-ah / say: give me sexy, ah!” The title is also very obvious and the line “Imma try to shoot in” could be interpreted as a call for assassination, especially with the accompanying gun-to-the-head dance move. As a result, this entry did not make it to the final round.

Armenia 2015

The Eurovision organizers promoted Armenia’s song, Don’t Deny, as a celebration of happiness achieved through unity and harmonious living within oneself, family, and love relationships. However, Turkey and Azerbaijan interpreted the title as a political message directed at them regarding the Armenian genocide of 1915. They also pointed out the music video, which featured families in early 20th-century clothing and empty chairs. In response, Armenia changed the song title to Face the Shadow, which may have been even more accusatory. Despite this change, tensions were eased.

Ukraine 2016

In recent years, Ukraine has been given more flexibility compared to other countries. The theme of their 2023 entry, Heart of Steel, was a tribute to the Azovstal steelworks battle, and their 2022 winning song, Stefania, also had patriotic undertones with its references to motherhood. However, their past entries have been even more politically charged. In 2005, the hip-hop group GreenJolly performed Razom Nas Bahato, which had become an anthem during the Orange Revolution the year before. Eurovision organizers required them to change the lyrics before allowing them to compete. Ukraine also won in 2016 with 1944, a song about the Soviet forces’ ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars that year. In 2007, drag performer Verka Serduchka’s entry, Dancing Lasha Tumbai, sparked controversy among Russian listeners who believed the nonsensical phrase sounded like “Russia goodbye”. Serduchka denied this, but has since used those same words in performances following the Russian invasion.

Iceland 2019

Iceland’s Hatari hold Palestinian flags during the 2019 competition.View image in fullscreen

Hatari from Iceland performed at Eurovision in 2019 in Tel Aviv with their popular track “Hatrið Mun Sigra” which translates to “hatred will prevail”. The song, a blend of nihilistic techno and pantomime, featured aggressive lyrics such as “Universal obfuscation! Unilateral execration!” mixed with moments of lamentation in the chorus. The band’s performance was a clear message against fascism and they further solidified their political stance by waving a Palestinian flag during the voting, resulting in a €5,000 fine. That same year, Madonna also included a Palestinian flag in her guest performance, alongside an Israeli flag, as a symbol of unity.

Croatia 2023

In 2021, the Belarusian band Galasy ZMesta chose to feature authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko in their country’s entry. The band had previously supported Lukashenko at political rallies and sang lyrics such as “I will teach you to dance to the tune, I will teach you to peck the bait, I will teach you to walk the line, you will be happy with everything”. However, their performance was ultimately banned. Another song, Mama ŠČ by Croatian comedy-rockers Let 3, also referenced Lukashenko in a more subtle and critical manner. The music video featured the band dressed as dictators on a tractor, possibly in reference to the tractor that Lukashenko gifted to Vladimir Putin for his birthday.

Switzerland 2023

Perhaps it was more palatable coming from the politically neutral country of Switzerland, but the strongest anti-war message during the Russia-Ukraine conflict was delivered through their Eurovision entry, Watergun, by Remo Forrer. The lyrics express a desire to not be involved in war and the consequences of such actions, with lines like “I don’t wanna be a soldier, soldier / I don’t wanna have to play with real blood…Can’t turn and run / No water guns / Just body bags that we’ve become.” In interviews, Forrer explains that his generation is burdened with the consequences of decisions made by others, but he still holds onto hope for change.

Source: theguardian.com

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