Eurovision is known for exposing the strengths and weakness of pan-European geopolitics, but Albania’s 2022 entry has brought to the surface a whole range of issues to do with sex, sexuality, and art.
Albania, an EU membership hopeful is home to 2.7 million people. After centuries of Ottoman rule, they flirted with governments and monarchy before being plunged into nearly 50 years of communist authoritarian rule which banned anything western, including music and clothing.
Thirty years later, while some of the old mentality prevails, the youth are keen to adopt more western styles of dress and music.
Eurovision has always been important to Albania and the Festivali i Kenges, which selects that year’s entry, is one of the biggest events in the entertainment calendar. This year’s entry was Ronela Hajati, a well-know singer, songwriter and dancer from Tirana.
Her entry ‘Sekret’, failed to make it past the semi-final round but won approval for its “sex positive” message. But home in Albania, she has been widely criticised for bringing “shame” and displaying “vulgarity”.
On Tuesday 10 May, she took to the stage in Turin in a silver bodysuit with a group of male dancers and one other female dancer. Switching between Albanian and English, she performed the song interspersed with a lot of hip shaking, gyrating, and simulated movements of an unmistakably sexual nature.
For Western audiences, skimpy clothing and suggestive dance routines are absolutely nothing new, but for Albania, this was a step too far.
“Soft porn, vulgarity, general visual and accoustic violence. This is how Albania has chosen to be represented this year in Eurovision,” said one feminist activist, adding that it was nothing more than a “patriarchal circus”.
She went on to say that the banality of the performance was due to a “broken socio-economic system where corruption has gained over talent and meritocracy, where education has been irreversibly destroyed, and where we cannot have spaces where art is nurtured so it can touch the minds and hearts of many.”
Other comments on social media viciously attacked her, calling her a whole range of derogatory slurs aimed at women and criticising her outfits. They also did not hold back when it came to her figure, calling for her to cover it up and lose weight.
But some were more diplomatic in their approach, yet still disapproving.
“I liked her energy, the performance, the courage, but another outfit…it was too much sexualised,” said one, while another added it was “vulgar” and a “disgusting thing” that does not represent Albanians.
One man explained that he thinks it represents the reality of today, is classless and has affected the identity of Albanian art.
A common thread amongst respondents was that she should have used the opportunity to demonstrate the richness of Albanian culture and in particular its music. Albania has a rich cultural tradition for music with each town and even village having a particular style of song and dance.
“This song does not represent Albania. What did she want to prove with this song? Enough of this,” another said.
Even in 2022, Albania is a country that still grapples with very ingrained patriarchal beliefs. Women are still underrepresented in the work place and in certain sectors, sex-based abortion still happens, virginity surgery takes place in Tirana clinics and domestic violence is at one of the highest rates in Europe.
Furthermore, the burden of unpaid domestic and care-based work that falls on women is almost a quarter of their day, while men spend just 3.7%.
But is the reaction to Ronela based on Albania’s issues with women’s role in society, or are they fair critiques?
In my view, seeing scantily clad women gyrate on television is nothing new. I grew up watching Madonna, Britney Spears, Beyoncé etc all perform in various stages of undress. I am also familiar with the explicit lyrics of many rap songs, and pop songs from over the years. The performance of Ronela was not shocking to me in that aspect because I have seen it all before, and perhaps that is the problem.
Eurovision should be a chance to showcase the unique talents of each country, in the native language and incorporating traditional or customary influences. It should be an opportunity to showcase to the world, Albanian music and musical ability. With all eyes watching, this was a missed opportunity to show off the diversity of Albanian music and culture, with a contemporary twist. Ronela is undoubtedly a talented woman with a great stage presence, but is that enough?
Sadly, I think this was missed and instead we were served something that many of us have seen 100 times before, with the exception of that epic head spin.
— BBC Three (@bbcthree) May 10, 2022