Lat night in Copenhagen, Austrian performer Conchita Wurst (the drag persona of one “Tom” Neuwirth) dominated the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest with a bravado performance of Bond theme-wannabe “Rise Like A Phoenix,” resplendent in a sequined gown and a tailored dark beard reminiscent of Prince from his Graffiti Bridge/New Power Generation period some twenty years ago.
The height of kitsch, but almost since its inception, that has been most of the point of this mother of all live-telecast song competitions, and Wurst knew just what she was doing, earning 13 first place votes from a combination of Mediterranean, Scandinavian and Western European countries (including the United Kingdom) to blow away her closest competitors, the Lady Antebellum-esque Common Linnets from The Netherlands.
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More than just a triumph in the competition, Wurst’s victory was seen as a win over the forces of intolerance, and along with the drafting of the NFL’s first openly gay player in Michael Sam, will make May 10, 2014, a landmark day in the fight for gay rights. In the run-up, and during the competition itself, Wurst faced derogatory comments and threats, primarily from Eastern European sources. Early contest favorite Aram Mp3 from Armenia, who interestingly was also performing a dramatically fraught ballad, titled ‘Not Alone,’ imaginatively stated that Wurst’s lifestyle was ‘not natural’ and that she should ‘decide to be either a woman or a man’ (he later apologized).
Petitions circulated in the Belarus and Russia demanding that Wurst’s performance be cut-out of broadcasts, Belarus’ petition referred to the contest as a ‘European liberal’ ‘hotbed of sodomy,’ although their song entry, by a boy-band lead by a slavic Robin Thicke named Teo, had the gender-confusing title of ‘Cheesecake.’
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These elements combined with the ongoing geo-political tensions between Ukraine and Russia (Eastern Ukraine is unilaterally voting on a contest of their own today) produced an awkward and intense dynamic for the Grand Final. Ukraine, which won the Contest ten years ago and has now placed in the top ten six times since, led off the program with Maria Yaremchuk’s catchy disco number ‘Tick-Tock,’ the presentation of which centered on a male dancer on a treadmill. A symbol of their Sisyphean struggles?
Meanwhile, Russia’s identical blond, buxom Tolmachevy twins struck a pose alluding to the Czar’s two-headed eagle symbol while perched on a gigantic see-saw that eventually turned into a rising sun as they performed their song “Shine.” Russia was heartily booed whenever their name came up during the lengthy Eurovision voting process, their representative being nearly completely drowned out when their turn came to present their votes (Russia eventually placed 7th, just behind Ukraine).
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In the aftermath of Wurst’s victory for Austria, Russian right-wing iconoclast Vladimir Zhironovsky proclaimed it “the end of Europe,” while Wurst returned to hundreds of bearded Viennese supporters amid talk of her MC’ing next years contest.
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