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Eurovision Tel Aviv 2019: Why the song contest is bigger than ever

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Eurovision entrantsImage copyright
Eurovision

“It’s every artist’s dream to perform on this stage,” explains 16-year-old singer Zena.

As this year’s youngest Eurovision Song Contest contestant she can’t hide her excitement at taking part in the “most popular contest in the world”.

She’s representing Belarus at the competition – held in Tel Aviv, Israel, this year – and is one of the many acts helping transform Eurovision’s image, which is sometimes seen as a bit of a joke in the UK.

Other countries have spent years developing a formula hoping to win – and host it the following year – by sending some of their most popular and critically acclaimed acts.

The show is the world’s biggest live music event and is hugely popular with younger viewers.

Eurovision says in 42 markets, the contest was four times more popular with 15-24-year-olds than the average show.

Most acts taking part in this year’s contest are under the age of 30, but Switzerland’s Luca Hanni jokes he feels old at 24.

“It’s amazing to see all young people competing,” he says.

Eurovision is a week-long event with a red carpet, two semi-finals, a grand final and this year, a performance from Madonna.

But the build-up goes on for months and people like 18-year-old Gemma Lee see it as a “legitimate place to find new music”.

Gemma and her mates started a Eurovision society at Bristol University to discuss what her friend Luke Hardwick calls “the World Cup of music”.

“This year there’s a real mix of genres,” Gemma says. “It’s a refreshing thing that anyone can watch Eurovision and there’s going to be something for them.”

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Paul Bellaart

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Duncan Laurence is a fairly unknown artist in the Netherlands but is currently one of the favourites to win with his song Arcade

On a Saturday night in April, 5,000 fans packed into an arena in Amsterdam for the first big Eurovision party of the season.

Most of this year’s 41 acts performed to a crowd waving flags and glow sticks, headlined by the Dutch entry Duncan Laurence – one of this year’s favourites.

“I think tonight comes as close as it can to Tel Aviv,” the 25-year-old tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“Eurovision is a big stage for me, especially as a new artist,” he says. “I see it as a chance to show myself and let people hear my music.”

Backstage, contestants are meeting each other for the first time, eyeing up the competition and making friends.

Just before speaking to Newsbeat, Spain’s Miki Nunez, 23, is overheard championing Belarus’ Zena.

He congratulates her, gives her a hug and tells us that young people “have a lot of things to say about society” and the contest is a “good opportunity for us to express ourselves”.

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José Irún

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Spain’s representative Miki is part of the so-called “big five” who don’t need to qualify for the final along with France, Germany, Italy and the UK

A week later, 18 of the acts arrive in the UK for the London Eurovision Party at the city’s Cafe De Paris.

The UK’s entry Michael Rice is chatting about his Amsterdam experience.

“My mates think it’s crazy that I’m going to all these different countries,” he says. “They’re just seeing bits on Instagram and all the fans.”

He thinks it’s a good thing the UK doesn’t send joke acts and “it’s about time” it took the contest seriously.

Standing next to Michael is one of this year’s most talked about participants – France’s 19-year-old entry Bilal Hassaini.

He describes himself as a gay, queer man who performs in drag – and says he gets “a lot of hate and backlash” because of it.

“I’ve been struggling with my identity for a long time and I’ve finally found the strength to ignore others.”

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Dorothée Murail

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Bilal has been a huge Eurovision fan for years and says he wants to help young people in countries who don’t have someone like him on TV

Embracing diversity is a sentiment that resonates with LGBT fans, who make up such a large part of the Eurovision community.

Notable moments in the contest’s 64-year-history include drag queen Conchita’s win in 2014 and Dana International, a transgender singer, winning for Israel in 1999 with her song Diva.

Last year, Ireland’s performance included two men dancing as a couple, which led to censorship in China.

Controversy this year could come from Iceland’s entry Hatari, with their BDSM-inspired outfits of leather, spikes and PVC – and their claim that “every act needs a gimp”.

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Lilja Jóns

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Hatari’s song translates as Hate Will Prevail but they insist their participation isn’t a joke, as Eurovision is a “dead-serious medium”

Eurovision rules say acts need to be strictly non-political during their performances, but Tel Aviv is proving a controversial host because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some stars have called for the contest to be moved from Israel, while others want countries and contestants to pull out completely.

Hatari, who say they entered the competition because they want to shed light on political aspects of Israel, admit their stance “is a contradictory one”.

“A contest like Eurovision was founded in the spirit of peace and unity,” singer Matthias Haraldsson tells Newsbeat.

“We find it absurd to host it in a country marred by conflict and disunity. Allowing that narrative to go on unchallenged would be a shame.”

The band insist they’ll stick to the strict Eurovision rules by not making any political statement during their performance.

Kobi Marimi – the Israeli entrant – believes the contest “celebrates music and love” and Greece’s Katerine Duska says she “performs for people, not governments”.

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Ronen Akerman

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Israel’s entrant Kobi Marimi will be performing a song called Home

One country which isn’t sending an act to Tel Aviv is Ukraine, after its entry Maruv pulled out of the contest.

She was challenged on Ukrainian TV about her views on Crimea – a disputed area of Ukraine that Russia seized in March 2014.

Ukraine’s state broadcaster then asked her to cancel gigs in Russia as one of the conditions of her being its Eurovision entry.

After a dispute, she quit the contest.

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Getty Images

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Maruv believes her track Siren Song would have won the contest – or “at least be top five” – as it was “100% one of the best songs”

Speaking to Newsbeat she explains: “It was my dream to represent my country at the competition but I’m in a song contest, not a political arena.

“I was sad and upset to pull out as I wanted to have the experience but I won’t compete again.”

Referring to her decision, co-host of the BBC’s Eurovision Calling podcast Jayde Adams said it shows “Eurovision is not just about a singing competition – it’s more than that – it’s about the world and how people fit in it.”

Last year around 186m tuned in to watch Israel’s Netta win with Toy – a song about female empowerment.

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Getty Images

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Since winning the contest in 2018 Netta says she’s been able to go from a struggling musician to being someone who can help others “accept their differences”

Of all the countries in Eurovision, Sweden takes its selection the most seriously – and is rewarded with consistent top ten finishes.

Arguably, Loreen’s win for Sweden in 2012 was a turning point in the transformation of Eurovision.

Her anthem Euphoria won by a mile, going to number one in 17 countries and reaching number three in the UK charts.

This year John Lundvik is representing Sweden and describes Eurovision as “the holy grail” of music.

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Getty Images

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John Lundvik won Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – the national competition to select its Eurovision entry – watched by a huge percentage of its population

He admits the contest used to be “corny” but says it’s evolved into a “super-fashion-hit-song, super-artist-thing that’s now cool to be a part of”.

Also an early favourite with his song Soldi, Italy’s Mahmood tells Newsbeat that less is more when it comes to the performance.

“If you do something minimal and cool and unique then I think it’s a beautiful chance to show how a country can do something modern and interesting.”

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Attilio Cusani

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Mahmood says Eurovision is “a great opportunity for a country to promote its art” because it’s such a huge show

UK entry Michael Rice agrees with John (who also co-wrote the UK’s entry) and Mahmood, saying many people see Eurovision as a “gimmick” but in reality “you’re never going to get a platform like this again”.

In recent years, the UK has consistently appeared in the bottom half of the Eurovision leaderboard but that’s not the focus for Michael.

“It’s so surreal and a huge honour to be representing my country. It’s a great achievement for me as I’m only 21 years old,” he explains.

“It’s going to be something I can look back on and think ‘I did Eurovision’.

“I just want to make everyone proud.”

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BBC/Joe Giacomet

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Michael won the BBC’s All Together Now show in 2018 – putting most of his £50,000 winnings towards a crepe shop for his mum in Hartlepool

The Eurovision final takes place on Saturday, May 18 at 20:00 BST and is on BBC One, BBC Radio 2 and BBC iPlayer.

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.





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Hitchhiker’s actor Stephen Moore dies aged 81

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Stephen Moore in the Student Prince

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Stephen Moore was described as the “most sweet, charming and affable of men”

Stephen Moore – known as the voice of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s Marvin the Paranoid Android – has died aged 81.

He also played Adrian Mole’s father on TV, and the dad to Harry Enfield’s grumpy teenager Kevin.

Hitchhiker’s producer and director Dirk Maggs said Moore was the “most sweet, charming and affable of men”.

He paid tribute to “an amazing, varied career”, adding that he was best known for the role of Marvin.

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Moore was the voice of Marvin for five series of Hitchhiker’s on radio, and the 1980s TV adaptation

The first series of Hitchhiker’s appeared on Radio 4 in 1978, and after being adapted for TV in the 1980s, it returned to the airwaves in 2003.

In it Marvin is a failed prototype robot with “genuine people personalities”, which has led him to struggle with severe depression.

Maggs said: “That was the thing that won the hearts of people, Marvin is the most miserable character but people seem to love him.

“It was Stephen’s voice that made that happen.”

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PA Media

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The prolific actor also played teenage diarist Adrian Mole’s father George on TV

Alongside the paranoid android, Moore had a successful career on stage, TV and in film.

He was Major Robert Steele in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far.

He played teenage diarist Adrian Mole’s father George on TV, and the dad of Melody and Harmony Parker on children’s show The Queen’s Nose.

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He also played the dad of grumpy teenager Kevin in Harry Enfield sketches

Maggs said: “I’ll always remember the story of him getting locked in a mic cupboard in the Paris studio at the BBC, and they forgot he was in there and went out to lunch.

“He was an infinitely professional actor, would put up with any discomfort and waited to play his part.

“And then outside the working situation he was the most sweet, charming and affable of men.”

Actor Ben Barnes – who worked with Moore in a West End production of The History Boys – wrote on Twitter that “he was a sensitive, brilliant actor and a funny, lovely man”.



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Robert Forster: Jackie Brown star dies aged 78

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Actor Robert Forster, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, has died in Los Angeles aged 78.

The actor, born in Rochester, New York state, died on Friday of brain cancer.

It happened on the same day that El Camino, a film in which he had a role and which is based on the TV series Breaking Bad was broadcast on Netflix.

Forster also appeared in the Breaking Bad TV series as well as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks.

He was best known for his roles in the latter part of his career following his appearance in Jackie Brown.

  • Quentin Tarantino’s ‘brilliant’ Hollywood return

Starring alongside Samuel L Jackson, Pam Grier and Robert De Niro, his performance was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.

The award eventually went to Robin Williams for his role in Good Will Hunting.

Forster is survived by his partner Denise Grayson. children Bobby, Elizabeth, Kate and Maeghen and four grandchildren.

Jackie Brown co-stars Samuel L Jackson and Pam Grier were among those to pay tribute.





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Angelina Jolie: Strong women are ‘shaped by men around them’

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Angelina Jolie, pictured at the London premiere of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil on Wednesday

Angelina Jolie has championed the role men can play in shaping the personalities of young girls.

The actress, who stars in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, also said female characters in films should not have to be portrayed as physically tough in order to be considered strong.

“I think that, so often, when a story’s told which says ‘this is a strong woman’, she has to beat the man, or she has to be like the man, or she has to somehow not need the man,” Jolie told journalists at the film’s launch.

Referring to her own character in the film and Princess Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, Jolie said: “We both very much need and love and learn from the men.

“And so I think that’s also an important message for young girls, to find their own power, but to respect and learn from the men around them.”

She added: “We have strong women, but the character that is wrong in the film and has to be taken out is also a woman. We show very diverse types of women, between our characters, but also we have extraordinary men in the film, and I really want to press that point.”

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the sequel to 2014’s Maleficent, is released in the UK later this month and also stars Ed Skrein, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Disney

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Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer also star in the film, which is the sequel to 2014’s Maleficent

Fanning, who reprises her role of Princess Aurora in the film, echoed Jolie’s comments and said her character’s strength is not necessarily physical, unlike many princesses in children’s films.

“Aurora’s strength is her kindness, and she stays very true to herself, which is something I wanted to keep in the film. She is soft and feminine and wants to be a wife and have babies, and that’s a beautiful, strong thing that isn’t portrayed a lot on screen.

“A lot of the princesses are like ‘we’re gonna make her a strong princess! And make her tough, so we’re gonna make her fight!’ And it’s like, is that what being a strong woman means? Like, we just have to have a sword and have armour on and go fight? Aurora can do that in a different way, in a pink dress, and it’s beautiful that she keeps her softness and vulnerabilities.”

‘How to use that power’

Many of the female leads in action or children’s films focus on the character’s physical strength. Wonder Woman, for example, or Merida in the Disney’s 2012 film Brave. Indeed, one of Jolie’s previous roles was playing action hero Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.

Explaining the premise of the Maleficent sequel, Fanning said: “Five years have passed in her life, and she’s now Queen of the Moors, and she has this new responsibility, and she’s trying to figure out who she is as a ruler and how to use that power.”

The movie’s plot sees Jolie’s Maleficent conflicted over her maternal feelings towards Aurora, and facing competition from the neighbouring Queen Ingrith (played by Michelle Pfeiffer).

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Disney

Queen Ingrith causes a rift between Maleficent and Aurora, when her son Prince Phillip proposes to the princess. Ingrith intends to use the marriage to divide humans and fairies, and it falls to Maleficent to stop the impending war.

Official reviews are still under embargo, but critics who attended early screenings of the film have been allowed to share their first impressions on Twitter.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is like Pirates of the Caribbean; there’s lots of convolution and contrivance, but has star power,” said Courtney Howard, who reviews films for Variety and Awards Circuit. “Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning are a holy trinity with bumpy arcs.”

Scott Menzel, the editor of We Live Entertainment, described it as “a visually spectacular sequel that proves once again that Angelina Jolie was born to play the title character. [It’s] a modern day fairytale where badass women take centre stage. The battle sequences are epic and the costumes are stunning.”

“Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer having a sass-off in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is every bit as good as you’d hope,” said Digital Spy. “The movie needs more of it, but it’s still a visually bold, fun and superior sequel.”

The film received its London premiere on Wednesday.

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PA Media

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Elle Fanning and Angelina Jolie both say physical strength are not what should make female characters strong

Fanning said: “I definitely felt a real responsibility to do the second film, the first film was the first film I’d ever done of that scale, and so many young kids saw the film, and especially young girls would come up to me, and they’d look at me as the character.

“So hearing that we’d be doing the sequel, I felt a responsibility to those girls for sure, and just to get to show Aurora as a young woman growing up. Obviously in the first film, I was 14 when I did that, and Aurora still has the qualities that she does of kindness, innocence and sweetness that she embodies, but it was so fun to come back.

“The three of us [Fanning, Jolie and Pfeiffer], we were there in the beginning, our relationships have changed and grown, I’m 21 now, so I wasn’t the kid on set anymore. I really felt accepted on set in a way. Especially with Michelle and Angelina, I felt like they included me as if I was one of their peers.”

Jolie says the films have come to reflect the life cycle of a woman – something that wasn’t necessarily the intention when the first movie was conceived.

“One of the interesting things is, without realising, we’ve hit the chapters of the growth of a woman,” she said. “Her birth, her christening, to being a little girl, a teenage girl, to now being a wife. And so in a way the chapters are following a few things, but one of them is how a woman grows and evolves.”

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