14 of the biggest, brightest and most proudly queer performances in Eurovision history
Eurovision 2020 may be cancelled, but the contest’s queer legacy remains something to celebrate. Here, we list the first, best and most significant LGBT+ performers from Ketil Stokkan and Dana International to t.A.T.u and Conchita Wurst.
To some it’s a source of amusement, to others a camp spectacular, but for many, the Eurovision Song Contest has come to represent a celebration of queer identity.
While many parts of Europe remain bitterly divided on LGBT+ rights, the contest has served as a beacon of inclusion beamed directly into millions of homes on an annual basis.
But while we’d like nothing more right now than to build bridges, come together and celebrate diversity, unfortunately the 65th edition of the contest has become a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Eurovision 2020 not be going ahead as planned, we’re taking a trip back through time to look at some of the best and most significant queer moments the contest has produced.
Ketil Stokkan, ‘Romeo’ (Norway 1986)
The first LGBT-themed performance at Eurovision came at the 1986 contest, two years before Section 28 would ban all mention of homosexuality in British schools.
Norwegian singer Ketil Stokkan made history by performing alongside drag troupe the Great Garlic Girls — providing the first glimpse of LGBT+ identity at Eurovision.
The track “Romeo” was nothing to write home about musically, coming in a solid 12th place.
Stokkan now works as a school teacher, while the Great Garlic Girls are still going strong after 39 years — albeit, with some changes to their line-up.
Paul Oscar, ‘Minn hinsti dans’ (Iceland 1997)
A new dawn has broken, has it not?
Paul Oscar was the first out gay Eurovision artist to take to the stage in his own right for Iceland in 1997, and the hints of what the contest could become emerged — PVC trousers, jewels, eye shadow and all.
The song placed 20th out of 25 entries on the night, but the track’s stiletto-prints can be felt in much of the staging over the years since.
Dana International, ‘Diva’ (Israel 1998)
The first out transgender contestant in Eurovision history – and the first (and only) trans winner.
Few can rival the original Eurovision diva herself, who won the contest for Israel in 1998 and charmed the world in the process with her Hebrew-language track.
It’s easy to forget how groundbreaking her performance was at the time, as the singer pulled off the extraordinary feat of becoming the first openly transgender artist to take home the Eurovision trophy, at a time when trans people across Europe faced even more oppression and discrimination than they do today.
The singer has since proved an important mouthpiece for the LGBT+ community in Israel.
The queerest year of all: Serbia, Ukraine, and Denmark, 2007
If there was a watershed year for queer representation at Eurovision, there is absolutely no debate to be had: it’s 2007.
Where do we even start?
First, with Denmark’s entry DQ, a drag performer whose campy Eurobop “Drama Queen” may not have made it beyond the semi-final, but definitely made it into the grand final of our heart — with a mid-song outfit reveal that RuPaul would kill for.
Next up, Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, a comedy drag performer whose track “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” became the 2007 equivalent of a viral internet phenomenon — and an instant Eurovision classic.
Verka placed second in the contest, losing out to Serbia’s Marija Šerifović, who served some major queer energy with her besuited Balkan ballad “Molitva”.
While the Eurovision winner wasn’t technically out of the closet at the time of her victory, Marija later came out in as bisexual a 2013 documentary.
t.A.T.u ‘Not Gonna Get Us’ (Interval 2009)
Russian girl band t.A.T.u, who aggressively cultivated a lesbian image, have a particularly controversial place in the history of queer pop music — not least because former member Julia Volkova, who previously identified as bisexual, has since made extreme homophobic comments.
t.A.T.u first competed at Eurovision for Russia in 2003 with “Ne Ver ne Boysia”, placing third.
But they channelled much more (arguably-appropriated) queer energy during their interval comeback at the 2009 contest in Moscow, performing “Not Gonna Get Us” with the Red Army Choir in front of a pink flowery tank — probably not the image that Vladimir Putin would seek to project these days in a post-‘gay propaganda’ law Russia.
Krista Siegfrids, ‘Marry Me’ (Finland 2013)
There’s a song with a message, and then there’s “Marry Me”.
Krista Siegfrids underlined how straight allyship should work in 2013 with her campy pop bop, utilising her entire performance as a not-particularly-subtle protest in favour of equal marriage, which skirted right under Eurovision’s rules banning political gestures.
The track sees Siegfrids beset by male suitors, singing about her desire to get married. However, the final drop-the-mic twist reveals the object of her desires — a female backing dancer. After sharing an on-screen kiss with her, the singer shouts: “Ding dong!”
Ding dong indeed, Krista.
The song finished 24th in the final, but it’s definitely not the points received that matter with this one. Same-sex weddings finally became legal in Finland in 2017.
Conchita Wurst, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ (Austria 2014)
Well, it’s the one you’ve been waiting for. Eurovision’s drag superstar.
When the bearded Austrian drag artist known as Conchita Wurst stepped onto the stage in Copenhagen, it was to some snarky remarks from commentators – but few were still laughing as she sang her final note.
So many parts of “Rise Like a Phoenix” are iconic, from the perfect staging to the orchestration, that it seems almost reductive to reduce Conchita to her queerness.
But there’s no escaping the fact that the artist became a true symbol of the contest’s inclusiveness, and to this day remains one of the only Eurovision winners who can boast of having performed for both the European Parliament and the United Nations.
As she raised the trophy, Conchita declared: “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are — we are unity and we are unstoppable.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila, ‘This Time’ (Lithuania 2015)
After the victory of Conchita, suddenly queerness was cool at Eurovision — with Lithuanian singers Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila aiming to send a clear message with “This Time”.
The folky number did not beat around the bush, utilising all six permitted performers for a simultaneous male-male, male-female and female-female kiss.
The song placed 18th in the final.
Saara Aalto, ‘Monsters’ (Finland 2018)
Look, you don’t probably need us to tell you that Saara Aalto is great, but it’s our article and we’re going to do it anyway.
After her rise to fame in the UK on The X Factor, Aalto has been an out-and-proud queero of the music world, so we were pretty excited when she was picked to represent Finland at Eurovision in 2018.
Obviously she did not disappoint with “Monsters”, with a troupe of genderfluid dancers giving us everything we wanted. The singer explained to PinkNews of the track: “[It’s about] living life as you want, finding your strength, being brave as who you are and not being afraid to show it.”
The song placed 25th in the final. Sometimes, there’s no accounting for taste.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy, ‘Together’ (Ireland 2018)
While there’s plenty of loud-and-proud entrants n this list, Irish singer’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy delivered a sensitive ballad in Lisbon which managed to be moving without high-camp theatrics.
The song’s lyrics addressed a failed relationship, with the singer accompanied on stage by two dancers re-enacting a same-sex love story — holding hands and sharing an intimate moment as they fall in love.
Speaking about his song, O’Shaughnessy has said: “My only intention was to help people see that love is just love, and there’s no difference – whether it’s between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man.
“It’s so important, because not everyone is as liberal as the people [at Eurovision] are.”
O’Shaughnessy made it to the final and ended up in 16th place. The performance was apparently too much for the Chinese state broadcaster showing the contest, which was stripped of the rights to air Eurovision after attempting to censor it.
Bilal Hassani, Roi (France 2019)
At the age of just 19, it takes a lot to step out on a stage and sing in front of millions of people.
But Bilal Hassani, who is queer and was born to a Muslim family, did so after facing months of homophobic and racist abuse online.
The groundbreaking artist’s track “Roi”, meaning “King” in French, sent a powerful message of self-acceptance — featured deaf and plus-size dancers.
It ended with the message: “We are all queens.”
While it may have ended up in 16th place, sometimes being yourself unapologetically is victory enough.
Dana International again, ‘Just The Way You Are’ (Interval 2019)
One of the joys of Eurovision is that some of the best-loved stars come back again and again, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Dana International made an appearance on home turf in Tel Aviv, 21 years later, to deliver a beautiful tribute to queer identity.
Reflecting on her role in Eurovision’s LGBT+ history, the contest’s host Assi Azar explained: “In 1998, I was 20 years old, deep in the closet, a closet I thought I’d never come out of.
“But then, Dana International, a young singer from Israel with an amazing voice and an unbelievable voice and changed everything. Her victory helped millions of people around the world including me to feel comfortable with who they are.”
As she covered Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are”, the camera panned across dozens of couples dancing together in the audience, earning Dana International her second spot on the list.