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Music

Dutch Contestant Kicked Out of Eurovision Hours before Tension-Plagued Song Contest Final

MALMO, Sweden (AP) — The Netherlands’ contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest was dramatically expelled from competition hours before Saturday’s final over a backstage incident that is being investigated by police.

Organizer of the European Broadcasting Union said Swedish police were investigating “a complaint made by a female member of the production crew” and it would not be appropriate for Klein to participate while the legal process was underway.

Klein had failed to perform at two dress rehearsals on Friday, and the contest organizer said it was investigating an “incident.”

Though rumors had been flying the incident was connected to Israel’s delegation, organizers said the incident “did not involve any other performer or delegation member.”

Dutch broadcaster AVROTOS, one of dozens of public broadcasters that collectively fund and broadcast the contest, said it “finds the disqualification disproportionate and is shocked by the decision.”

“We deeply regret this and will come back to this later,” AVROTOS said in a statement.

Though the contest’s motto is “united by music,” this year’s event has proven exceptionally divisive.

The competition that pits nations against one another for pop music glory is reaching its conclusion in the Swedish city of Malmo, with Israel at the center of a political storm. It has attracted large pro-Palestinian demonstrations, with protesters saying Israel should be excluded because of its conduct in the war in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of people are expected to march for the second time this week through Sweden’s third-largest city, which has a large Muslim population, to demand a boycott of Israel and a cease-fire in the seven-month war. In Finland, a group of about 40 protesters stormed the headquarters of public broadcaster YLE on Saturday morning, demanding it withdraw from the song contest because of Israel’s participation.

Several miles (kilometers) from central Malmo at the Malmo Arena, 25 acts — narrowed from 37 entrants by two semi-final runoffs — are due to perform three-minute songs in front of a live audience of thousands and an estimated 180 million viewers around the world.

It all makes for a messy climax to an event that draws both adoration and derision with its campy, kitschy ethos and passion for pop.

This year’s entries range from emotional to eccentric. They include the goofy 1990s nostalgia of Finland’s Windows95man, who emerges from a giant onstage egg wearing very little clothing. Ireland’s Bambie Thug has summoned witchy spirits onstage and brought a scream coach to Malmo, while Spain’s Nebulossa boldly reclaims a term used as a slur on women in “Zorra.”

The favorites include Swiss singer Nemo — who would be the first nonbinary Eurovision winner if their operatic song “The Code” tops the voting — and Croatia’s Baby Lasagna. His song “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” is a rollicking rock number that tackles the issue of young Croatians leaving the country in search of a better life.

Dean Vuletic, an expert on the history of the contest, said that despite the contest’s reputation for disposable bubblegum pop, Eurovision often tackles “political and social issues such as feminism, European integration, gender identity.”

“And I think they’re the very interesting songs to look out for, especially because they’re the most highly ranked by the bookies,” he said.

Sometimes, though, songs run afoul of the contest’s ban on openly “political” statements. Eurovision organizers told Israel to change the original title of its song, “October Rain” — an apparent reference to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and triggered the Gaza war.

Israeli singer Eden Golan has shot up the odds since performing the power ballad, now titled “Hurricane,” in Thursday’s semifinal. Golan faced some booing at dress rehearsals, but was voted into the final by viewers around the world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised 20-year-old Golan for performing despite “contending with an ugly wave of anti-Semitism.”

Protesters argue that Israel should not be allowed to take part amid a war that has killed almost 35,000 Palestinians.

“I don’t think they should be a part of it at all because they are committing crimes against humanity,” said local resident Lorenzo Mayr, who attended a demonstration on Thursday.

The competing musicians are feeling the pressure, inundated with messages and abuse on social media and unable to speak out because of the contest rules. Italy’s contestant, Angelina Mango, made a statement by walking into the Eurovision media center on Friday and performing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as dozens of journalists gathered around her.

Swedish singer Loreen, last year’s Eurovision champion — and one of only two performers to win the contest twice — urged people not to shut down the “community of love” that is Eurovision.

“What is happening in the world today and in different places is distorting and traumatizing all of us,” she told The Associated Press.

“What heals trauma …. Does trauma heal trauma? Does negativity heal negativity? It doesn’t work like that. The only thing that heals trauma for real — this is science — is love.”

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By JILL LAWLESS Associated Press

Associated Press writers Hilary Fox in Malmo, Sweden, Jari Tanner in Helsinki and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.

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