Eurovision: One of the Biggest Nights in Music on the LGBT+ Calendar

By Travis Espinoza

Eurovision has a long and proud history of supporting queer artists and championing LGBT+ rights. There have been countless key moments that waved the flag for LGBT+ representation.

In 1998 Dana International entered the competition as the first trans performer – she went onto win for Israel, becoming the first trans Eurovision winner. The contest has had several out LGBT+ winners since then.

Another key moment came in 2014 when Conchita (a gay drag queen) brought her gender non-conforming drag to the masses. Her ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ performance was described in the press as “the most genderqueer yet”.

Of course, none of these performers escaped the inevitable bigotry aimed at LGBT+ people – there were calls for Eurovisions boycotts from some, and offensive remarks made by certain country’s broadcasts of the contest.

But the message remained clear, as Conchita declared upon being awarded the Eurovision trophy: “We are unity, and we are unstoppable”.

The Eurovision Song Contest has become firmly ensconced in LGBTQ+ culture in recent years. It wasn’t always this way: in its first decades in the 1950s and ’60s, it was a firmly buttoned-up affair that verged upon staid, with restrained performers in tuxedos and ball gowns: not an onstage costume change or sexualized prop butter churner was to be seen. Toward the ’90s, it became more flamboyant, with flashy outfits and campy songs (the first openly gay contestant appeared in 1997.

Nowadays in Europe (and, increasingly, other parts of the world), the contest is a queer affair, with people going as far as holding Eurovision viewing parties (I attended a spectacular one this year). In that spirit, here are some pointers on the gay highlights of this past year’s contest. Another highlight was the interval performance put on by a fierce trio of drag queens that brought down the house. It was like giving the proverbial middle finger to all those who say Drag is a Crime.

 Even though, all acts might not be LGBTQ+ some of the performances certainly had an air of queerness. If you’re Euro-curious, consider it a list of songs you should check out; if you’re already a fan, well, show these acts to the not-yet-Euro-converted members of your chosen family.

Luke Black (Serbia)

This year, Serbia’s cup runneth over with queerness, and not just because singer Luke Black (Luka Ivanović) is one of the contest’s openly gay performers—an uber-twink in both look and demeanor. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by his song “Samo mi se spava.” The fashion-minded segment of our community should also appreciate Black’s hard-but-soft laced-up white shirt and platform boot combo.

Vesna (Czechia)

Before the music even kicks off on “My Sister’s Crown,” the styling on this girl group screams gay. The six members are in identical soft pink parachute pants with firm-shouldered sequined tops in an identical shade. Oh, and don’t forget the floor-length braids that Vesna whip around as part of the choreography.

Loreen (Sweden)

“Tattoo” is an objectively sublime electro-power pop ballad, and Loreen’s ability to hit money notes already netted her one Eurovision win 11 years ago. Plus, she’s one of this year’s two resident bisexual performers. Yet, a bit like a hit from Adele, Beyoncé or Mariah, Loreen is so hyper-polished and talented that “Tattoo” feels more like a song that the gays will love rather than a song that’s intrinsically queer. (2023 Winner)

Alessandra (Norway)

If Loreen from Sweden could be compared to a Eurovision Beyoncé, Italian-Norwegian singer Alessandra is Katy Perry, but made better with some operatic vocal chops. Competent, yes, but just not quite so compelling. The second of two bisexuals in Eurovision 2023, she says her song “Queen of Kings” is about being proud of her identity. Her Xena: Warrior Princess styling earns her some queer points, plus, her performance radiates an energy that hovers somewhere between “butch” and “mother.”

Let 3 (Croatia)

For Eurovision and their performance of “Mama ŠČ!,” they’re in drag no less—although and not naked as in previous performances the messy styling makes it feel more like men in dresses rather than full-scale drag queenery. There’s also a dash of military aesthetics, and hallucinogenic visuals on both the floor and towering wall behind their performance.

Gustaph (Belgium)

With a performance fronted by a former member of iconic queer electronic collective Hercules and Love Affair, Belgium’s Eurovision entry may be the most overtly promising for those of us on the LGBTQ2S+ spectrum. And while “Because of You” briefly seems like it’s going to channel Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams’s “Get Lucky” in a frustratingly straight way, it quickly kicks into high gear, helped along by dancers voguing and some Donna Summer–inspired backing vocals. A sweaty dancefloor bop that emanates joy, it’s undoubtedly a banger, although it feels more geared toward the gays rather than the queers and could be a little cloying for those who aren’t into down-the-line disco and house music. (Personal Favorite)

Mimicat (Portugal)

Portugal has a history of being more like “Bore-tugal” at Eurovision, yet they’ve mercifully kicked that aside for 2023 with a soulful show tune called “Ai Coração.” But that’s the issue here: Mimicat goes all in on appealing to the theatre kids and Broadway fans. Her enthusiasm is infectious if you’re into cabaret, but it doesn’t leave much for the queers who aren’t.

Mae Muller (United Kingdom)

With “I Wrote a Song,” the Brits have finally learned how to serve. With an R&B tilt and a heaping spoonful of bitterness, it’s a little like if “No Scrubs” had been remade for Eurovision, with a little Lily Allen sass thrown in for good measure and a hip-shaking dancehall beat.

Käärijä (Finland)

Between the shipping pallet set pieces, driving techno beat and his nipple-exposing, fluorescent green puffy-sleeved outfit, “Cha Cha Cha” has the ambiance of a queer, all-gender orgy in a major European city. The music is a fraction messy, flipping between techno, pop and rock. (2023 Runner Up)

Teya & Salena (Austria)

“Who the Hell Is Edgar?” a pop song about how (straight) poet Edgar Allan Poe’s spirit is possessing one of these Austrian singer’s hands has no right to be as good as this. Singers Teya and Salena put on a bookish yet dollish demeanor with exquisite poise, inhabiting a bizarre role as dowdy-glam poetry-loving office workers with more than a whiff of lesbianism about them.

Special thanks to xtramagazine  & ITV for their contribution

About Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest is organized annually by the European Broadcasting Union. Each participating country submits an original song to be performed live and transmitted to national broadcasters via the Eurovision and Euroradio networks, with competing countries then casting votes for the other countries’ songs to determine a winner.

Eurovision has been held annually since 1956 (apart from 2020), making it the longest-running annual international televised music competition and one of the world’s longest-running television programs. Active members of the EBU and invited associate members are eligible to compete; as of 2023, 52 countries have participated at least once.

Each participating broadcaster sends one original song of three minutes duration or less to be performed live by a singer or group of up to six people aged 16 or older. Each country awards 1–8, 10 and 12 points to their ten favorite songs, based on the views of an assembled group of music professionals and the country’s viewing public, with the song receiving the most points declared the winner. Other performances feature alongside the competition, including a specially commissioned opening and interval act and guest performances by musicians and other personalities, with past acts including Cirque du Soleil, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Mika, Rita Ora and the first performance of Riverdance.

Originally consisting of a single evening event, the contest has expanded as new countries joined (including countries outside of Europe, such as Australia), leading to the introduction of relegation procedures in the 1990s, before the creation of semi-finals in the 2000s. As of 2023, Germany has competed more times than any other country, having participated in all but one edition, while Ireland and Sweden both hold the record for the most victories, with seven wins each in total.

Traditionally held in the country which won the preceding year’s event, the contest provides an opportunity to promote the host country and city as a tourist destination. Thousands of spectators attend each year, along with journalists who cover all aspects of the contest, including rehearsals in venue, press conferences with the competing acts, in addition to other related events and performances in the host city. Alongside the generic Eurovision logo, a unique theme and slogan is typically developed for each event. The contest has aired in countries across all continents; it has been available online via the official Eurovision website since 2001. Eurovision ranks among the world’s most watched non-sporting events every year, with hundreds of millions of viewers globally. Performing at the contest has often provided artists with a local career boost and in some cases long-lasting international success.

Several of the best-selling music artists in the world have competed in past editions, including ABBA, Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias, Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John; some of the world’s best-selling singles have received their first international performance on the Eurovision stage.

While having gained popularity with the viewing public in both participating and non-participating countries, controversial moments have included participating countries withdrawing at a late stage, censorship of broadcast segments by broadcasters, as well as political events impacting participation.

Eurovision has, however, gained popularity for its kitsch appeal, its musical span of ethnic and international styles, as well as emergence as part of LGBT culture, resulting in a large, active fanbase and an influence on popular culture.