Bilal Hassani will represent France during the Eurovision Song Contest, and the 19-year-old singer, YouTuber and queer icon is one of the most high-profile performers put forward by the country in years.
This is owed mainly to his strong artistic identity, one million-strong YouTube following, and the messages of self-love and acceptance he promotes through his songs and videos.
Born on 9 September, 1999, Hassani first stepped into the limelight as a teenager in 2015, when he participated in The Voice Kids – France’s junior equivalent of the talent show. He earned his spot on the programme by singing “Rise Like a Phoenix” by (who else?) 2014 Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.
Hassani later gained fame on YouTube, where his videos have now earned almost 100m views. His channel, which remains active to this day, is comprised of music videos as well as more traditional YouTube offerings, such as vlogs, storytime videos related to his personal life, and other updates.
The singer secured his spot as France’s Eurovision contestant by taking part in the TV programme Destination Eurovision in January 2019, during which he competed during three live shows in front of a jury. Hassani was selected for his song “Roi”, which he will sing in Tel Aviv during Saturday’s final. The tune was co-written with French duo Madame Monsieur, France’s Eurovision contestants in 2018.
Hassani, who is openly gay, has received “thousands” of hateful messages since emerging as a potential contestant for this year’s Eurovision, as his lawyer told the French magazine Nouvel Obs in January. That month, the singer filed a complaint with French authorities alleging ”insults, incitation to hate and violence, and homophobic threats”.
Back in 2018, too, Hassani was exposed to homophobic hate, especially after he began wearing wigs in his YouTube videos.
“The hate went like this,” he told the French magazine Marie-Claire shortly after qualifying for the Destination Eurovision final, miming exponential growth.
“It was a crazy increase, very fast. And luckily, I was prepared for it, having experienced it for a year on a small scale. I just adapted my reflexes to a larger scale.”
Hassani’s Eurovision song, “Roi”, celebrates self-acceptance and the freedom to express one’s identity.
“I am me and I know I will always be / I am free yes I make up my life / And don’t ask me who I am / I am / I’ve loved myself since I was a child,” Hassani sings in the tune, which alternates between English and his native French.
France came in 13th position last year with Madame Monsieur’s tune “Mercy”. The country currently isn’t one of the top favourites as far as Eurovision odds are concerned, but whether Hassani’s performance will convince other countries to award him enough points to win remains to be seen.
The Eurovision final is happening on Saturday, 18 May in Tel Aviv. It will air on BBC One at 8pm in the UK, and can be watched on YouTube from 3pm EST / 12pm PST.