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Nemo Wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland

The run-up to this Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest final in Malmo, Sweden, was unusually tense and anguished, with months of protests over Israel’s involvement in the competition, a contestant suspended just hours before the show began and confrontations between the police and pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the arena on the night.

But when the final began, the uproar swiftly disappeared. Instead of protests and outrage, there was the usual high-camp spectacle, featuring singers emoting about lost loves, near-naked dancers and, at one point, a performer climbing out of a giant egg.

At the end of the four-hour show, Nemo, representing Switzerland, won with “The Code,” a catchy track in which the nonbinary performer rapped and sang operatically about their journey to realizing their identity. “I went to hell and back / To get myself on track,” Nemo sang in the chorus: “Now, I found paradise / I broke the code.”

The performance was delivered while Nemo, whose real name is Nemo Mettler and who uses they/them pronouns, balanced on a huge spinning disc.

Nemo is Switzerland’s first Eurovision winner since Celine Dion in 1988, who represented the country despite being Canadian. They secured 591 points from music industry juries in the competition’s participating nations and viewers at home, beating Baby Lasagna, a rock act representing Croatia, who came second with 547 points.

Eden Golan, the Israeli singer who was the subject of the protests in the run-up to the event, secured 375 points to finish fifth.

On Saturday night, some audience members booed as Golan performed her song “Hurricane,” while other fans cheered to drown out the din.

Since Israel’s invasion of Gaza began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, in which Israeli officials say about 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage, cultural organizations worldwide have struggled with how artists should respond to the conflict from their stages, although Eurovision has found it a particular challenge.

Pro-Palestinian groups and many Eurovision fans spent months trying in vain to get the contest’s organizers, the European Broadcasting Union, to ban Israel from taking part because of its actions in Gaza, which authorities there say have killed more than 34,000 people and displaced over 1.7 million. Activists said there was a precedent: In 2022, Eurovision banned Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

The European Broadcasting Union, repeatedly dismissed those calls, saying that the show is a contest between singers, not nations.

Although Israel is not part of Europe, it is a member of the European Broadcasting Union, and the country has competed in Eurovision since 1973, winning four times. Other non-European countries, including Australia, also compete in the show, whose final attracts a live TV audience in the tens of millions.

In Malmo this week, the controversy around Israel’s participation was ever-present, and not just at the pro-Palestinian marches. Eurovision organizers had banned the display of slogans or symbols that they said could stir up dissent, including Palestinian flags. During one of the rehearsals this week, two audience members waved the banned flags, but security staff quickly removed the items.

Slimane, a pop singer representing France, also stopped singing during that rehearsal to call for peace. “Sorry I don’t speak English very well,” he said: “Every artist here wants to sing about love and sing about peace.”

In the final itself, pro-Palestinian demonstrations onstage consisted of small gestures. Iolanda, a singer representing Portugal, performed while wearing fake nails printed with a checkered pattern resembling that seen on kaffiyeh, the scarf that is a symbol of the Palestinian cause.

The uproar around Israel’s involvement was not the only crisis surrounding the contest this week. Just hours before Saturday’s final, organizers banned the Netherlands’ entry, Joost Klein, from taking part. That morning, the Swedish police said in a statement that a man was “suspected of unlawful threats” toward a Eurovision employee and officers had passed a file to prosecutors to consider charges. Eurovision organizers said in a statement that Klein was the man under investigation, and “it would not be appropriate” for him to compete in the final.

AVROTROS, the Dutch public broadcaster that picked Klein to represent the Netherlands, objected to his disqualification. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the broadcaster said that the organizers’ action was “disproportionate” The statement said that Klein had made “a threatening movement” toward a female camera operator, who was filming him without his consent, but had not actually touched her.

Before Saturday’s final, some fans in the arena sang Klein’s song to protest his absence.

But when the votes were counted and the winner crowned, the evening ended on an optimistic note. After accepting the winner’s trophy, Nemo, crying, said, “I hope this contest can live up to its promise, and continue to stand for peace and dignity for every person in this world.”

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