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No matter what, it’s important when a country wins Eurovision, but I think some Eurovision victors (and entries) are more significant than others and significant in different ways. ABBA is, of course, an incredibly important Eurovision winner because the group changed pop music around the world. But I would argue that Conchita and Dana International are perhaps the two most significant and meaningful Eurovision victors because of their role in promoting social issues.
Dana International and Conchita – Two Iconic Winners
Dana International was born in 1969 and came out as a trans woman when she was 13 (so around 1982). She had sex reassignment surgery in 1993 and was selected to represent Israel at Eurovision in 1998 with the song Diva. As you can probably imagine, many people did not welcome Dana International’s selection. Conservatives were angry that she would represent Israel and attempted (unsuccessfully) to block her from participating. She won the contest and became known internationally, with the single of her winning song, Diva, selling over 400,000 copies worldwide. In response to her critics she is quoted as saying, “My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.”
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Much like with Dana International, many people were – and still are – upset with Conchita’s victory. Russia has decided to start its own contest because of it and there were men shaving their beards in protest. Nonetheless, Conchita has become internationally known and her song was quite successful after Eurovision – Rise Like a Phoenix even topped Russia’s iTunes! Also like Dana International, Conchita offered a message of acceptance; after winning she said, “This is a night dedicated to everyone who believes in the future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable.”
The Importance of Dana International and Conchita
The country of origin matters more some years than others in determining the winner and the same goes for the singer, performance, or song. Neither Austria nor Israel is a voting bloc, and while in both cases the song and performance were great, I would argue that the singer mattered the most for both victories. That’s incredible. For me, it’s most important that both singers won the televote because it means that across Europe people supported them because of who they are.
I don’t mean to lessen their victories by saying that they won because of who they are. To the contrary, it makes them more significant. When an entry wins because it’s catchy or the most popular song, the impact of the victory is more short-lived because there will always be more catchy songs on the radio; and when an entry wins because of the country the victory remains important for that country, although probably not in other places. But with Conchita and Dana International, their victory is lasting because they represent a cause and they won because of the cause they represent. Their participation matters on a deeply personal level to so many people, which is a connection that is stronger and more universal than when an entry wins because of the song or country.
This is not to say that other entries are meaningless or superficial or that all entries should promote some type of social cause – because I don’t believe either of those is true. I do believe that, unlike most Eurovision winners, the manner in which Dana International and Conchita won allowed them to leverage their win to support a wider cause, which they both have done (and many other performers support these and other important causes as well). Ideally one day we’ll be in a place where their participation and victories aren’t controversial, but I don’t think we can get there without participants like Conchita or Dana International.
Conchita and Dana International’s victories are meaningful in a way that others are not. I would also argue that Paul Oscar’s performance for Iceland in 1997, t.A.T.u.’s performance for Russia in 2003, and Marija Šerifović’s victory in 2007 had similar effects. Their victories signify not just a tolerant society, but also a supportive one – especially given that they both won the televote – and it matters not just for them but for everyone who believes in their cause. Eurovision is more than a song contest, and these two women proved that because their victories were more than a song – they were a statement.