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Madonna, Icelandic goth band Hatari make controversial statements at Eurovision in Israel

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music
Iceland's Hatari hold up Palestine banner on camera at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo: Twitter)

The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, bookmakers’ favorite to win the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest with his moody alt-pop ballad “Arcade,” did just that at Saturday’s Eurovision final, which took place in Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. But it was Iceland’s anarchist performance-art collective, Hatari, that stole the show, raising (and possibly singeing) eyebrows with their pyro-filled, BDSM-themed, gothic-industrial “Hatrið mun sigra” (translation: “Hate Will Prevail”).

It might have been the raciest, wildest performance in Eurovision history. And Hatari generated even more controversy when they displayed pro-Palestinian flags while sitting in the green room at the Expo Tel Aviv complex.

While Hatari did not prevail, the leather-sheathed, gimp-masked shock-rockers — who going into the finals were predicted to have only a 4 percent chance of winning — pulled off a minor upset, making it to 10th place over safer, warmer, and fuzzier acts. They did this entirely via the people, since they received no professional jury votes but their 186 public votes were enough to propel them towards the top of leaderboard, edging out Czech Republic favorites Lake Malawi’s cheery “Friend of a Friend.” While Hatari sang in Icelandic, apparently the masses connected to the group’s dystopian message, with lyrics that translated into English as “Debauchery unconstrained/Hangover uncontained/Life’s purposeless confusion/The void will swallow all… Universal obfuscation/Unilateral execration/From gullible delusion… And Europe’s heart impale/Burn off its web of lies.”

Hatari of Iceland perform the song "Hatrio mun sigra" during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

When Hatari received their surprising 186 public votes, they celebrated by holding up Palestinian flags while the audience jeered and booed; the camera quickly cut back to the live telecast’s hosts. Commentator Graham Norton remarked during the BBC broadcast of the program that the gesture "didn't go down well in the hall,” and Twitter was divided. An Instagram video shot by band member Einar Stefánsson appears to show security personnel confiscating Hatari’s flags.

"Hatari represent a considered reflection on hope and hopelessness, power, and repression, of image, individualism, despotism, exposing the contradictions that arise when everyone is embedded within the same system and struggling to fight against it,” reads Hatari’s statement in their official Eurovision bio. "We cannot change things, but we can unveil the anomie of neoliberal society, the pointlessness of every minute spent in the futile race, and the low price for which man now sells himself ever more blatantly. We can scream at our own impotence, scream at our collective sleepwalk through routine, and implore our audience to unite, shoulder to shoulder, and dance. Dance, basically, or die.”

One might assume that famous rabble-rouser Madonna, who performed at the Eurovision ceremony amid protest, approved of Hatari’s boldness — even if she didn’t totally agree with their extreme political statement. Her more unifying medley performance of “Like a Prayer” and the new Madame X track “Future” (with Migos rapper Quavo) not only featured black leather and creepy masks, but two of her dancers wore Palestinian and Israeli flags on their backs as they embraced. During an interview before her Eurovision performance, Madonna had the audience sing her famous message, “Music makes the people come together.”

Last month, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters penned an op-ed for The Guardian titled “If you believe in human rights, Madonna, don’t play Tel Aviv.” She responded via a statement to Reuters, saying, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights, wherever in the world they may be.”

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