Over the past few weeks, as I’ve had the good fortune to be zipping around Europe watching a bunch of national finals, I’ve also come be incredibly jealous of the men of Eurovision 2019.
Let’s think about the women who we saw as part of Eurovision 2018. We had four female hosts, including the divine Filomena, who was allowed to be funny AND pretty. We had Eleni and her fierce hair tosses, and Elena with her big voice and even bigger dress. We had Saara Aalto who threw a whole performance full of queer imagery in our faces. We had the sass of Lea Sirk, and the motivational joy of Jessica Mauboy, and the in-on-the-joke innuendo of Marina from DoReDos.
And of course, we had Netta, bubbly, scary, fat, and beautiful Netta, turning a cry of feminist rage into a bop to which we could all scream AND dance.
There was no right way to be a woman at Eurovision 2018. Instead, there were tons of individual and interesting performances from women at Eurovision 2018.
But Eurovision 2019 is shaping up to be a different story.
You’d think after a personality like Netta won, countries would be falling all over themselves to send charismatic and creative and unique women to Tel Aviv.
Instead, we’ve got three boxes for women at Eurovision 2019:
1. The Eleni emulators – This box is used to categorize women who are performing upbeat bangers, like Tamta (Replay) and Michaela (Chameleon) and Zena (Like It).
(Strangely, the men with upbeat bangers like Luca (She Got Me) and Chingiz (Truth) suffer from far fewer comparisons to last year’s Cypriot firecracker.)
2. The Manic Pixie Dream Girls – This box is used to categorize the women who are somehow ‘quirky’ but still conventionally attractive and unthreatening to men, like Paenda (Limits), Leonora (Love is Forever), Sarah (22) and Zala Kralj (Sebi). Even Tulia, with their DGAF attitude, can fall into this category due to their traditional dress that’s slightly weird but ultimately reflective of local culture.
3. The big ladies with big dresses – A traditional Eurovision category, this captures all the women with power ballads, who will likely stand on stage in a ball gown and just belt it out. It’s safe, it’s expected, and we have it in spades from Serbia and Albania and North Macedonia etc. etc.
I don’t want people to think that using these categories in any way diminishes the women of Eurovision 2019 or their accomplishments, because there are a lot of great songs and great artists.
But I feel like the easy categorisation of the women’s acts in Eurovision this year is evidence of a clear missed opportunity to let women have fun, be weird, and be able to be human, rather than conforming to an expected type. Feminism is supposed to be about giving women choices, but there aren’t many choices on display in the Tel Aviv lineup.
Let me explain – There was weirdness and fun energy from women in the semifinals: Catlin Magi and Oed in Estonia, Tse Sho in Ukraine, that woman with a beret in Moldova, Anna Kumoji in Norway, Surma in Portugal, Malou Pritz in Sweden – but none of them made it through to the finals.
So the men get to have all the fun. Hatari get to bring the queer imagery to the stage this year. Conan Osiris gets to wear spoons on his face and a shaggy caftan. Lake Malawi get to be the indie rock heartthrobs. Fred from KEIINO gets to rock out with his joik out. Bilal gets to play with gender roles. Mahmood brings the cool to the contest. Miki gets to whip the arena into a frenzy with his party anthem.
None of them are expected to conform to a type. None of them are expected to play it safe.
And what makes me sad is that the acts I love, the acts I stan, the acts that I want to be when I grow up – all those acts this year are men.*
I don’t see myself represented anywhere in the female Eurovision acts this year. I don’t see a Netta, or a Dihaj, or an Ace Wilder, or an Ida Maria. I don’t see anyone that’s going to make the little girls watching this year think they can grow up and be something other than a sexpot bop producer, or a quirky songstress there to inspire men, or a woman who has to sing ballads beautifully.
That’s a real loss, especially in a year when the Eurovision theme is Dare to Dream. But what are we telling women they can dream of?
*As always, with the exception of the DGAF attitude of Tulia. I’ll let them keep the flower crowns, however,