The Friday Mixtape – Eurovision 2012 Edition

This weekend marks the only time of the year I let myself watch anything even close to a reality show: It’s Eurovision time!

For the uninitiated, here’s the gist of it: on Saturday, finalists from 26 countries will take part in what could be best described as a cross between American Idol, the World Cup and a political caucus: the winner is chosen by viewer voting, by phone, in real-time, across the continent. You can’t vote for your own country, and scores are added up on a sliding scale, so things can turn around quickly, if you impress people in enough nations. About 100 million people are expected to tune in, and that’s not counting the 39,000 people who will be watching live in and around the host site, the Baku Crystal Hall in Azerbaijan.

But there’s a whole host of stories around the event this year, including a couple of controversies that we were tipped off to by some readers, involving two particular finalists this year. Let’s start with the Ukrainian representative, Gaitana:

Gaitana, who was born in Kiev to a Ukrainian mother and a Congolese father, Gaitana has lived in Ukraine for most of her life, and almost swept her way to a Eurovision berth: not only was she the winner of the fan voting, but she was the NTU network’s second choice for the spot. So no worries, right?

Not according to Yuri Syrotyuk, a member of the country’s Freedom Party, a right-wing group. As the BBC’s Oleg Karpyak reports:

“Millions of people who will be watching will see that Ukraine is represented by a person who does not belong to our race,” said Yuri Syrotyuk, whose party is preparing to contest the parliamentary elections later this year.

“The vision of Ukraine as a country located somewhere in remote Africa will take root,” he added.

A right-wing politician who’s a xenophobe? Wow, American democracy really is spreading around the globe! On the brightside, Time’s William Lee Adams says Gaitana’s compatriots seem to have her back:

The response from Gaitana’s fellow celebrities and musicians has been swift, as has the response from the public. A number of NGOs have suggested publicly that Gaitana has recourse to laws that criminalize hate speech, though the chances of Syrotyuk being successfully prosecuted are slim. “We do have legislation on racism and xenophobia,” Yana Salakhova of the International Organization for Migration told EuroNews. “But it is not being used to sentence those who are guilty and to develop a culture where people are held responsible for their actions and their words.”

Syrotyuk’s ultranationalist invective seems even more vulgar when Gaitana speaks of the pride she feels in being Ukrainian. “In my childhood I played table tennis professionally,” she remembers. “I represented Ukraine together with an Asian girl at different competitions. Nobody told us that we shouldn’t represent this country. People always rejoiced at our victories. All my achievements both in music and in sport are devoted to my beloved motherland – Ukraine!”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s representative, Cam Bonomo, is also caught in a controversy he didn’t create. Bonomo will be the first Turkish Jew to represent the country at the event, something he’s downplaying to the public:

“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the “Aksam” news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

Prior to his appearance on “Aksam,” radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.

It didn’t help matters that Bonomo wasn’t selected via a popular vote; the TRT made the pick unilaterally. Our reader Kat, who sent the tip in, says Bonomo’s selection also caused an uproar because it was seen as a political message to Israel, following the killing of Turkish activists by Israeli troops two years ago.

But for his part, Bonomo is keeping it positive, appearing with both his country’s flag and that of the host nation at a press conference following the first semifinal round.

In the near-miss department, the Netherlands’ non-Native American Joan Franka was eliminated in the second semifinal round … and that’s a good thing, judging by her choice of wardrobe. Apparently, the headdress represents her playing “Indians” with a boyfriend. Oooookay, then.

Not to be outdone, Kat told ESCInsight that Austria’s Trackshittaz – that’s their name, I Shittaz you not – dropped this lyric in the middle of their entry, “Woki Mit Deim Popo”: “We are hipster party Indians with feathers on our head”. You can see one of the dudez doing a “feathers” motion around 28 seconds into their performance:

There’s also an activist presence around the competition: protestors are using Eurovision as a platform on which to draw attention to human rights violations in the country under President Ilham Aliyev:

When Mr Aliyev took the presidency nine years ago, there were hopes that he would erode the personality cult that had grown around his father, Heydar.

Azerbaijan’s economy has boomed as it exploits vast reserves of hydrocarbons in the Caspian seabed. Baku’s old town of caravanserais and the exquisite, tapering Maiden’s Tower, built of stone in the 12th century, is overlooked by huge neo-classical apartment blocks and a trio of brash skyscrapers shaped like flames

Last week, workers were scrubbing stucco and trimming flowerbeds in anticipation of thousands of foreign Eurovision fans descending on the city. Hundreds of purple London-style cabs – dubbed “aubergines” – have been commissioned to ferry the guests around town.

Yet the polished city is a facade. Aliyev Junior turned out to be even more of a hardliner than his father. Nepotism is rife, parliament is neutered and opposition politicians are prosecuted on trumped-up charges.

Poverty is widespread and neighbourhoods of Baku have been razed for new construction and oil development, in a sometimes ruthless process.

So there’s a lot to keep an eye out for this year, not just in the Crystal Hall but out. There also seems to be an increase in star power: Britain is sending Englebert Humperdinck(!) into the fray, while Ireland is redeploying the peculiar phenomenon known as Jedward. Me, I find it impossible to root against these ladies:

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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  • Anonymous

    I wanted to point out something about Joan Franka: Her non-stage name is Ayten Kalan, she is Turkish Dutch. I think it’s interesting that she decided to anglicize her name, assuming that a Turkish name would be a disadvantage or at least that an English name would be better. I think it’s great that the Netherlands chose a Turkish Dutch woman, since there are A LOT of problems regarding racism towards the Turkish minority in the Netherlands. It’s unfortunate that she then chose to go Native Appropriation. :/

    Norway send the Persian Norwegian Touraj Keshtkar: 

  • Cocojams Jambalayah

    A number of commenters in the viewer comment thread for Gaitana’s Eurovision final performance wrote that her song “Be My Guest” sounded very much
    like David Guetta and Kelly Rowland’s song “When I Take Over”.

    I published a post with the two videos back to back so that people could hear them and decide for themselves. That post also includes links to the Wikipedia pages for Gaitana, Guetta, Rowlands, as well as a link to this racialicious article.  The link to that post is

    I admit that prior to reading your article Arturo,  I wasn’t aware of Eurovision,
    Gaitana, David Guetta, or either one of those two songs.


  • Li

    Cluisana, do you have a citation for that? All of the sources I can find say that male same-sex sexual activity was decriminalised in 2000, so both male and female homosexuality have been legal in Azerbaijan for a while now.

  • Isander Leander

    In Eurovision- winning country Sweden (one of few European countries that has excluded “race” and replaced it with “ethnicity” in the anti-discrimination legislation), Loreens contribution has started a much – needed discussion on how the concept of race might be necessary for anti-racist action. Will link if I can find a summary in English. Would be so intressted to hear what you have to say about it!

  • Art Vandelay

    “A right-wing politician who’s a xenophobe? Wow, American democracy really is spreading around the globe!”

    Right, Arturo, like Europe needs lessons in xenophobia.

  • JS

    The Trackshittaz entry “Woki mit deim Popo” still includes the line about the hipster party Indians –  just in Swiss German.

    • elis

       It’s not Swiss German, it’s Austrian German – a dialect spoken here in Austria (big surprise!)
      And yes, it’s an unbelievably stupid, embarassing song.

  • Rahnuma Hassan

    I’m so ashamed of Austria’s entry! Not only are some of the lyrics racist, but the entire song is probably one of the most sexist songs I’ve ever heard on Eurovision.