Content warnings: This article discusses sex, sex work, sex worker stigma/whorephobia and domestic violence. All things are referenced but do not include explicit detail.
There are few things in this world that I’m more passionate about than Eurovision, but sex workers’ rights is one of them. The overlap between the two of these things is minimal, but not non-existent. In the last two years, we’ve seen three songs touching on sex work, or sex workers, in the contest. Before then, we have to head back to 1976 to see explicit references to known sex workers in songs (there may be more – stay tuned!). However, we see a few others scattered about in national finals and artist discographies.
In this article, I want to look at the small, but hopefully interesting, intersections between Eurovision and sex work. How do each of these songs portray sex work and sex workers? How can these contribute to cultural narratives about individuals, experiences, history and power? Despite the very small sample size of this article, the range of songs about sex work in the Eurovision sphere presents three distinct narratives surrounding sex work which hold up a mirror to broader social ideas on what sex work is, what it looks like, who does it, what their motivations are, and how it impacts their lives.
Setting The Scene
For those unfamiliar with sex work as a concept, or who might struggle to define it, the parameters most commonly used in the sex workers’ rights movement include the exchange of sex or sexual services for money, or for other material resources (such as food or housing). This includes things such as street-based sex work; escorting; prodomming and prosubbing; camming; porn performance; stripping, and more. Sex workers are therefore a diverse group, incorporating people of all genders, races, dis/abilities, sexualities, migration statuses and backgrounds.
Sex work narratives in popular culture are often dominated by two, seemingly-opposite portrayals: one who is forced, and a victim, and the other who makes a choice to engage in sex work and is empowered by it. This is an extremely simplified dichotomy, and ignores the wider social settings and struggles in which sex work takes place, as well as the freedom gained through financial independence and resource security. Other narratives serve to conflate sex work with trafficking, something which is harmful both for sex workers and for trafficking victims. I can talk for hours on this, but you’re here for Eurovision content. Just keep these ideas in mind as we go throughout this article.
The Sex Worker Mythologised
Two of our four Eurovision entries which clearly explore sex work are based around a single historical figure: Mata Hari. Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, Mata Hari was an exotic dancer and courtesan from The Netherlands, who found fame amongst the Paris dance scene before being accused of spying during the First World War, and being executed as a result in 1917. Her image in our cultural imagination is one that is undeniably exciting – a seductress spy, playing in the realms of danger, concealment and a daring sexuality. It is therefore no surprise that her historical memory has inspired two Eurovision songs – Anne-Karine Strøm’s entry for Norway in 1976, and Efendi’s entry for Azerbaijan in 2021.
Both entries play heavily into the characterisation of Mata Hari as a seductress, and make clear references to her beauty, sexuality and danger. In both songs, Mata Hari is seen as powerful, as a woman to idolize, and as someone who has the ability to control men through her sexuality.
In Strøm’s entry, this idolisation is clear and literal. The lyrics, in first person, involve someone near-praying to the figure of Mata Hari, asking her to bestow “all [her] magic and wonder” upon the singer.
Mata Hari, any man would pay the price of sweet surrender
Mata Hari, for the promise in your eyes – it was so tender
Those you conquered with your dance never did have a chance
You walked away laughing and left them alone with their shamediggiloo
In these lyrics, Strøm’s narrator expresses an admiration for Mata Hari. She is depicted as almost a deity, worshipped explicitly for the power in her sexuality. Strøm also explicitly references Mata Hari as a sex worker, with men “pay[ing] the price” for the fantasy she is selling. Ultimately, the fantasy is not real, as she “walked away laughing and left them alone with their shame.”
Efendi’s entry is more elusive around confronting the sex work element of Mata Hari’s story, instead focusing on her seduction and espionage. All of our three more modern entries exploring sex work directly speak from the sex worker’s perspective in first person. Efendi’s Mata Hari describes herself as “a godless spy”, “a liar” and “a dangerous lover”. No direct references are made to Mata Hari as a sex worker in any way, though perhaps a subtle one can be seen here:
Moving my hips, you are trying
You can’t resist try to fight itgenius
While both Strøm and Efendi present Mata Hari as a sexually-liberated and empowered person, doing so perhaps erases some of the real Mata Hari’s history. Her exotic-dancer-turned-spy narrative is a tantalising one, but one which only accounts for a small portion of Mata Hari’s life. The real Margaretha Zelle was married at 18 to a wealthy captain, and separated from him 7 years later following an abusive marriage. While he agreed to pay child support for their surviving daughter, he never followed through on this. It was only following this that she began her work as a dancer.
Removed from romanticisation, much of Zelle’s story may be reflected over a century later in the circumstances faced by sex workers today, where sex work is a way for people (particularly women) to earn money to support themselves and their dependents in times of financial hardship and crisis. Sex workers today balance financial freedom with the constraints of their circumstances: sex work is not the ideal option, but for many, it is the best available to them.
There are also two other entries which refer to a possible sex worker historical figure – Austria’s 1993 entry by Tony Wegas and Croatia’s 1999 entry by Doris Dragović both call out to one woman also: Mary Magdalene. A biblical figure, and possibly the most notable female follower of Jesus in the New Testament, Magdalene’s profession is not clear. Her portrayal as a sex worker is said to have emerged in 591 as the result of a sermon given by Pope Gregory I, and while this interpretation is now generally refuted by the Catholic Church, it continues to remain prevalent in popular culture. While Magdalene’s representation as a sex worker is contested, it is generally agreed by secular historians that she did exist and was likely present during Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection.
With this in mind, these entries cannot be considered to erase a person’s sex worker identity in the same way as both of Mata Hari’s portrayals. However, hints of this can still be seen in both songs. Dragović’s interpretation makes references to Magdalene as a sinful woman purified, the same clues used by Pope Gregory I used to deem her a sex worker in the first place:
Vodila me noć, svud po svijetu
I rekla sam joj: “Stoj!” ah… “dalje neću”
Night was leading me around the whole world
And i told her (night): “stop”, “i won’t anymore” [sic]ivanken, lyricstranslate.com
Wegas’ interpretation is a little less clear. It reads as a devotion – perhaps of a man to a goddess-like figure, or perhaps to a lover. Other lines of the song may more explicitly reference the temporariness of a sexual transaction:
Maria Magdalena – gib mir deine Macht
Für immer und nicht nur für eine Nacht
Maria Magdalena – give me your might
Forever and not just for one nightdiggiloo
Much like Strøm’s Mata Hari, Wegas’ Magdalene is portrayed as powerful, though not explicitly sexual. While Dragović refers to her Magdalene as purified, Wegas seems unbothered by her potential “sinfulness.”
Himmel oder Hölle
Wo du herkommst ist mir gleich
Beides in dir, Gut und Böse
Macht mich arm und reich
Heaven or hell
Where you come from is all the same to me
Both inside of you, good and evil
It makes me poor and richdiggiloo
The final line may also suggest a sexual transaction – the poverty and richness being literal as well as metaphorical or moral.
Magdalene is further tied into mythology in Wegas’ song through other lyrics, referencing Odysseus and the sirens from Homer’s Odyssey. She is presented as unreal, otherworldly – a far cry from her likely biblical reality, sex worker or not. Wegas’ Magdalene is a figure to be worshipped, adored, to wholly give oneself to, but also an abstract idea rather than a fully-formed human being. Her sex work isn’t erased, but does rely on knowledge and interpretation rather than being made explicit. However, if we are to read Wegas’ Magdalene as a sex worker, she is treated in a way that feels reverential and full of awe from the narrator, despite acknowledging that the power he sees in her may be morally ambiguous.
Ultimately, most of these songs represent their historical figures as idols. Both Strøm and Wegas present explicit devotions to Mata Hari and Mary Magdalene, with the focus of their song being on their power and presence. Dragović ignores Magdalene’s sex worker image, but portrays her as a God-devoted woman, who is herself to be respected. Efendi places us into the mind of Mata Hari, focusing heavily on her sexuality and her weaponisation of this. Ultimately, all of these songs fold their figures into two-dimensional characters, rather than realising them as fully-formed people, and erasing vital aspects of their stories as a result. This is not to say that they aren’t good songs – more that they simplify complex (real) people and experiences with a framing or narrative where they must fill a particular role.
The Sex Worker Victimised
Alongside Mata Hari, we saw another entry explore sex work in 2021. Love Is On My Side, performed by The Black Mamba and representing Portugal, explicitly addresses sex work throughout its lyrics, and perhaps a little more subtly through its staging.
Tatanka, lead singer and songwriter, was clear about the song’s inspiration throughout the 2021 season. The band’s album, Another Night In Amsterdam, reflects the stories of individuals the band met during their time in the Dutch capital on tour. Love Is On My Side depicts a woman they met in the city’s famous red light district, who began working as a sex worker after migrating to The Netherlands from Eastern Europe and developing a substance addiction. The band notes, “she told us that she never gave up and that she believes that Love was with her all the time.”
(Tatanka typically referred to his muse as a “prostitute” throughout interviews during the season, and while this can be explained by his knowledge of English as a non-native speaker, it is a term typically considered to be a slur by the sex work community, though is in some cases being reclaimed.)
Love Is On My Side falls firmly into victimhood tropes surrounding sex work. The song alludes to themes of addiction, homelessness, poverty and precarity, but directly references sex work as the narrator confesses that she “sold [her] body on a dirty cold floor.” The idea of “selling your body” as a sex worker is a common one, but one which is strongly refuted by the sex worker community in two ways. In the literal sense, our bodies still remain ours, even throughout a sexual transaction. They are not possessed by anyone else at any time; if they were to belong to another, then a sex workers’ ability to consent (and to say yes as much as to say no) is considered non-existent. In the metaphorical sense, if “selling your body” equates to the physical labour of sex as work, then do other workers also not “sell their bodies” as they undertake (difficult, damaging, dangerous) work for others? The notion of “selling bodies” is used to exceptionalise sex work as uniquely exploitative, in ways which ignore the experiences of sex workers themselves and instead to bolster harmful laws, policies and practices such as criminalisation, forced rescue and denial of support. When sex workers are seen as so disempowered and debased that they are unable to speak for themselves, then harmful voices are able to speak over the top of us.
Love Is On My Side is written in such a way as to make sex work seem perhaps the lowest thing a person could do, and the lyrics serve to make it sound as unpleasant as possible. This isn’t to argue that sex work isn’t shit at times; it is. But it fails to account for the complexity of sex work experiences. When the alternatives to engaging in sex work are poverty, withdrawal, homelessness, hunger, need, then it is easy to see why people make the choice to do so. Don’t get me wrong here – the fact that these are the options people are being forced to choose between is abhorrent, and a failure of our society to support people’s most basic needs. However, the portrayal of sex work as the lowest level to which a person can stoop is simply not the reality for many of us who engage in it.
We do not know how Tatanka’s muse responded to the song. The band has said that they would like to find her again and share the song with her. Dutch newspaper Het Parool even launched a search to find her. It may be that she sees the song as an accurate reflection of her experiences. It is therefore only a shame that once again, a platform is given to media which perpetuates simplified and harmful narratives using non-sex workers as a mouthpiece rather than providing space for her to talk. The band themselves acknowledge that “this is her story.” Why not leave it to her to tell it?
The Sex Worker Empowered
Achille Lauro’s Sammarinese entry for 2022 brings another dimension to the sex worker narrative: the sex worker empowered. Like much of Lauro’s other music, the song is full to the brim of cultural references, subverted narratives and highly-stylised stage performances. The title of the song, “Stripper,” is the first to place a direct reference to sex work front-and-centre, and this continues as the song itself opens.
È una stripper, sì
Questo amore è un strip club, yeah
She’s a stripper, yes
This love is a strip club, yeahgenius
The lyrics of the song also switch perspectives, moving between third-person and first-person. Reddit user Mission-Might731 has written an extensive post on how they interpret the song, including the observation that Lauro “seems to occupy both the role of stripper and patron, blending the two voices into one leaving the audience unsure as to which he is.” This fits with the ways that Lauro has described the song as “a track based on the duality of man and woman, I would call it a feminist anthem. It’s about feeling like a woman and not worrying about outside judgement.” The theme of non-judgement runs throughout the song:
Ma guarda che donna che sono
Nessuno mi può giudicare
Look at the woman I am
No one can judge megenius
The theme of duality is also clear, with Lauro (who has regularly played with fluid gender presentations, if not necessarily identifying publicly as anything other than a cis man), embodying a narrative voice that identifies themselves as a woman. This is consistent with his history of performances, including this quote from him following his participation in Sanremo in 2020 with Me Ne Frego:
“Sono allergico ai modi maschili, ignoranti con cui sono cresciuto. Allora indossare capi di abbigliamento femminili, oltre che il trucco, la confusione di generi è il mio modo di dissentire e ribadire il mio anarchismo, di rifiutare le convenzioni da cui poi si genera discriminazione e violenza.
Sono fatto così mi metto quel che voglio e mi piace: la pelliccia, la pochette, gli occhiali glitterati sono da femmina? Allora sono una femmina.”
“I’m allergic to the masculine, ignorant ways I grew up with. So wearing women’s clothing, as well as make-up, gender confusion is my way of dissenting and reaffirming my anarchism, rejecting the conventions from which discrimination and violence are generatied.
I’m made so, I wear what I want and I like it: the fur, the clutch, the glittery glasses are female? So I’m a female.”@AchilleIdol on Instagram, translation by Federica Crisci
The lyrics of Stripper, much like Lauro himself, embody the duality of gender. (In researching this article, I came across this great paper from Federica Crisci, which discusses Lauro’s history of genderfuckery.) While the lyrics, blending the titular stripper and her observer, are arguably a little confusing, this feels somewhat the point. Blending the two perspectives blends the two binary genders, and serves to create an overall effect that is not quite either.
We see the stripper through her patron’s eyes, and he, like Wegas to Mary Magdalene, appears to be deeply devoted to her. He describes her reverentially, to the point where even things associated with her are to be just as highly worshipped.
È una Barbie, ha 600 cavalli, ah, uh
Il suo beagle
È il mio Personal Jesus
She is a Barbie, she has 600 horsеpower, ah, uh
Is my Personal Jesusgenius
This devotion does not appear to be echoed by the performer, who thrives on adoration and confidence, and who doesn’t seem to hold the same affections for her client.
Madonna, che donna che sono
Nessuno mi può giudicare
Ti fidi di me?
Che stupido uomo
Oh my goodness, what a woman I am
No one can judge me
Do you trust me?
What a stupid mangenius
Throughout the song, Lauro references sexual and radical figures and media. He mentions London Calling, an album by The Clash which is full of themes surrounding poverty, marginalisation, gentrification and inequalities. Whether intentional or not, similar themes remain just as pertinent to sex workers today, with safe and managed zones for sex work to take place in the UK being closed down to make way for new developments and “cleaner” areas. He also references Britney (Spears) and Madonna, both artists known for provocative, sexy performances throughout their careers. Furthermore, his reference to Madonna is particularly in the context of her nude appearance in Playboy, perhaps the most well-known sex-orientated piece of media in the world. Upon the publication of these pictures in 1985, she made headlines around the world, proclaiming, “I’m not ashamed.”
As scandalous as the publication of these pictures may have been, the headlines again do not tell the whole story. The pictures published in 1985 had been taken seven years previously, during which time she had worked as an artists’ model when she was in need of money. She was allegedly paid as little as $25 per session for these images, which were ultimately sold for up to $100,000. This isn’t to say that the photographs and their publication weren’t “empowering,” but that there’s more to them than merely a sexually-liberated woman sharing the image of her body with the world of her own accord.
The perspective of both the male and female voices come together in the chorus, leaning upon one of the most recognisable cultural references of the song:
I don’t know
All I need is lovegenius
The repetition of the second line calls back to The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, and provide a confluence for what both our masculine and feminine perspectives are looking for. However, what this love looks like might differ for each of our characters. The client needs his love to be reciprocated, and the performer wants instead to feel the love from the crowd and from society more broadly for being her authentic, sexually-confident, powerful self.
The stage performance of the song also clearly draws upon sex work – and particularly strip club – aesthetics. On stage, Lauro literally removes items of clothing throughout the performance. He wears a full-length mesh and rhinestone bodysuit, transparent enough almost everywhere to see his tattoos beneath. The cages housing some members of the band and the plush quilted velvet bull (with tassels for horns and tail) draw upon stereotypical strip club imagery. The dancing is undeniably sexual, with Lauro grinding upon multiple members of his band – and who can forget that kiss between him and guitarist Boss Doms?
Stripper is undeniably a groundbreaking song for Eurovision in many ways. Sexual performances are hardly new – a legacy which owes a huge debt to Paul Oscar and Minn hinsti dans, another song about the joys of hedonism. However, the performance of Stripper is the first (disclaimer: in my memory) to draw so heavily upon sex worker imagery, presenting a performance that is undeniably erotic and featuring the first centred male/male kiss between two performers. The lyrics of the song are a refreshing change, too, and clearly subvert many of the sex worker narratives that we have historically seen presented at the contest. It isn’t perfect – the references don’t always land, and the lyric “sono a letto col killer” (I’m in bed with the killer) feels extremely misplaced given the high vulnerability to violence that sex workers face. However, the positivity and joy expressed in the lyrics, the exploration of gender, and the clear references to sex work explicitly throughout combine to provide a new perspective on sex work in the contest, as well as pushing the boundaries of performance on the family-friendly stage.
A similar narrative can be seen recently in Erika Vikman’s Cicciolina, which placed second in UMK 2020. Also taking inspiration from a historical figure – pornography performer turned politician Ilona Staller – Cicciolina is a song full of empowerment and positivity. Vikman sings with glee and two dancing bears about the joys of sexual freedom, and the double standards applied to men and women. Much like both songs based around Mary Magdalene, Vikman confronts the notion of “sin,” and echoes some of the sentiments of Stripper in their disregard for others’ opinions of the narrator and their attitude/behaviour:
Turha opettaa mua ristiin jalkojani laittaa
Synnyin syntiseksi, sori jos se sua haittaa
Don’t bother teaching me how to cross my legs
I was born a sinner, sorry if it bothers youGagaTheWanted, lyricstranslate.com
Cicciolina takes Strøm’s approach to Mata Hari and dials it up to 11. Both view their sex worker figures as idols, as people with a strength, power and sexuality that is idealised and to be emulated. However, while Strøm’s lyrics are centered around her prayer to Mata Hari to provide her with this strength, Vikman needs no assistance with this. Cicciolina is presented less as a goddess and more as a role model – she is not asked to bestow power upon the narrator, more for the narrator to claim that power for herself.
Vikman has said that she was inspired to write the song after seeing a documentary about Staller. It is clear to see why – Staller’s history is fascinating. Her influence crosses through the European porn industry of the 1970s through to Italian politics in the 1990s, where she served as a representative for Partito Radicale, a left-wing, radical party. She has since continued to campaign for same-gender marriage legislation, workers’ rights and sex workers’ rights. And that’s not to even start on her music career or the fact that she’s an accomplished chess player!
Cicciolina is another song that does not make explicit references to sex work within the lyrics. However, there are multiple references to sex, pleasure and power throughout.
Joo, sytyn huomiosta, mun ei tarvii sitä peittää
Kaunista on olla vapaa sekä rietas
Yeah, I get turned on by attention and I don’t have to hide it
It’s beautiful to be free and wildGagaTheWanted, lyricstranslate.com
Vikman’s stage performance also incorporates hints of sex worker culture. Her catsuit, in pink mesh and PVC, is reminiscent of a prodomme (much like her lyrics – “Ja halutessani meet mun eessä polvilleen / You’ll kneel for me if I want to“), and the Pleasers she wears are a staple of stripperdom. Cicciolina-the-person becomes the embodiment of the values Vikman preaches: an unashamed femininity, an embrace of sexuality, the freedom of self-knowledge, the value of pleasure. It can at times stray into mythologisation territory. However, Cicciolina’s focus is ultimately on the realisation of empowerment, rather than the request for it; the empowerment of sex, femininity and self-confidence.
Both Stripper and Cicciolina are songs that are in name about sex work, but also in many ways are not about sex work at all. Both Lauro and Vikman have described their songs as being more reflective of gender and gender roles. The sex workers in the songs become the embodiments of gender – in both cases, femininity – and while both remain positive about sex and sex work, they do not ultimately focus on them. Despite this, both songs perpetuate the narrative of sex (work) as empowerment. Cicciolina is thoroughly celebratory. Whether this is an appropriate portrayal of Staller’s experiences is another question – there is nothing in public knowledge to suggest that it isn’t, and Staller’s continuing advocacy for sexual freedom and sex workers’ rights demonstrates no attempt to distance herself from that identity. Stripper, too, is centred on pleasure, sex and power.
The empowerment narrative, while significantly more positive than the victimhood narrative, is not without its problems. In particular, the idea of the “happy hooker” is often used to deny sex workers’ experiences of harm. At the same time, the presentation of sex work as a pinnacle of female empowerment more broadly in both Stripper and Cicciolina is questionable, and again fails to take into account sex workers’ experiences. Having said this, from a personal perspective, it is still refreshing every time to hear media by non-sex workers that portrays sex work in more positive ways; seeing media be too idealistic, too positive about sex work is still infinitely preferable to the continuation of tired victimhood narratives that maintain our disempowerment.
From Fantasy to Reality
Empowerment and victimhood both exist within sex work, and are often both present in the experiences of most sex workers, but often not in the ways that people might expect.
Victimhood is not often inherent to sex work itself, but more often is the result of the contexts in which sex work takes place. Across Europe, sex workers are forced to work under legal systems that penalise and punish them for working safely, or for working at all. They are denied access to workers’ rights, regulated workplaces, justice and support. When sex workers report crimes against them to the police, they are taken less seriously, and this makes them even more vulnerable to being targeted by perpetrators of violence. Furthermore, sex workers are often people who face additional marginalisations even before becoming sex workers, and the social pressures of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism and other unequal power structures create systems which push people into sex work in the first place.
At the same time, empowerment permeates sex work, but often is not tied to sexual liberation. Instead, the empowerment in sex work lies within the ability for people to meet their financial needs and goals, to escape exploitative and poorly-paid labour and work in ways that are best-suited to their needs. It’s a way for people in poverty to make money, a way for people with disabilities to work in accordance with their needs, a way for trans people to fund their transitions. Financial need and freedom is central to many – I’d hazard a guess at most – sex workers’ motivations, and thus while some may experience additional empowerment by engaging in sex work, most empowerment in sex work comes via financial means and greater autonomy over their labour and work practices. Much like victimhood, this empowerment exists within the broader structures that cause people who are marginalised to experience additional financial barriers and needs, and which makes it harder for people to meet these.
While some sex workers’ experiences may be accurately reflected in the narratives of victimhood or empowerment seen in Love Is On My Side, Stripper or Cicciolina, the vast majority will fall somewhere in the middle. Like any other job, there’s good bits, and bad bits, and we enjoy the good parts, and put up with (most of) the bad parts to return home with a wage in our pockets.
So Where Next?
We see sex workers everywhere in popular culture. Their stories run through the veins of our musical history – from Roxanne by The Police to The A Team by Ed Sheeran, from She Was Poor But She Was Honest to Il cielo in una stanza by Mina. Our cultural heritage is bound up in the stories of Pretty Women, Hustlers, Harlots. Their stories are mythologised, their experiences filtered through the lens of empowerment or victimhood, and these narratives perpetuated in ways that not only lack complexity, but reinforce stigma and discrimination. While one of these portrayals alone may not have a significant amount of power, when they are placed in a context that fails to present any other alternatives, they contribute to the perpetuation of ideas which ultimately lead to harm.
Recently, we have started to see authentic sex worker voices emerge in the music industry, though this is limited. Some of the new wave of female rap artists such as Cardi B and FKA Twigs have been open about their histories of sex work, and this is immortalised in songs such as WAP. The precarity of arts-based industries leads to a prevalence of sex work within them (see earlier in this article about Madonna), although we do not necessarily see this. When so much of our media about sex workers fails to accurately reflect or represent them, we miss opportunities for greater understanding, knowledge and liberation in favour of easy cookie-cutter characters – the victim who lacks all autonomy and needs to be rescued or the woman liberated and beyond vulnerability – and we are all worse off for that.
Don’t get me wrong here – this is not a call for artists to out themselves without them feeling wholly prepared for the stigma they will experience as a result. The discrimination experienced by sex workers is significant – from individuals and institutions. It is dangerous, damaging, and deadly.
This is also not intended to recommend gatekeeping sex workers’ experiences. Instead, this is a call to artists who are not sex workers to think beyond stereotypes, myths, romance and victimhood. It is also a call to us as an audience to do the same. Art about sex workers by non-sex workers has the ability to be powerful, transformative, subversive and challenging, tackling reductive narratives and stigma. It can forge understanding, reveal new insights, or simply serve to humanise those who are so often reduced to mythological figures or stereotypes.
There is a call amongst sex worker communities – “nothing about us without us.” While this is typically intended to apply to law, policy and charity, it can just as much be applied to art and media which intends to portray sex worker experiences. To move beyond the myths and stereotypes that perpetuate stigma and maintain sex workers’ disempowerment, it is perhaps an ethical responsibility of artists to question whether stories about sex work are their stories to tell, and to consider how sex workers themselves can inform and shape those stories so as not to cause or perpetuate harm.
Eurovision has always been a place for people from marginalised backgrounds to share their experiences, their cultures, their identities. It’s one of the things that makes it so special. It’s a stage that has hosted queer performers, trans performers, performers from indigenous, marginalised or colonised cultures, performers from a huge diversity of ethnic backgrounds, neurodivergent performers, performers with disabilities – sharing their stories and perspectives and lives. There may come a day when an artist performs on the Eurovision stage and talks about their experiences of sex work, and I hope that we as a fan community welcome them when they do. In the meantime, we can take a moment or two to question what stories our songs are trying to tell, and who it is that’s getting to tell them.
I would like to thank not only the amazing team at That Eurovision Site for their help in writing this piece, but also to Costa from ESCXtra who encouraged me to write it during a late night wander through Turin, the lovely Euroflans for all my linguistic questions, and my fellow SWs from the group chat (you know who you are) for being the best sounding board and wonderful community I could ask for.
News Source: That Eurovision Site
Photo Credit: EBU/Nathan Reinds