How the Eurovision Censors Helped Make Eden Golan a Star

In trying to take references to October 7 out of the Israeli singer’s now-famous song “Hurricane,” the competition both accidentally improved it and made her a cause célèbre.

Eden Golan performing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 Grand Final on May 11, 2024 in Malmo, Sweden. Martin Sylvest Andersen/Getty Images.
Eden Golan performing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2024 Grand Final on May 11, 2024 in Malmo, Sweden. Martin Sylvest Andersen/Getty Images.
May 16 2024
About Philologos

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

Banish the rain and you’ll get the hurricane: such is the moral of the 2024 Eurovision song competition whose Grand Final was held in the Swedish city of Malmö last Saturday night. The winning entry was Switzerland’s. Upstaging it, however, was an Israeli song called “Hurricane,” which stole the show. Although many thought it deserved to finish first, its fifth-place showing among 37 competitors was itself no small achievement given the months in which it was threatened with being banned, and the days of massive protest demonstrations, crowd abuse, and anti-Israel prejudice that led up to its final performance.

The Eurovision competition, sponsored by the European Broadcasting Union and held annually to much fanfare since 1956, is not well-known to Americans—deservedly so, one might say, since its musical level is not high. With rare exceptions, the songs performed in it, each by a group representing a different country, are imitative, kitschy, and designed to please rather than express genuine feeling. Elaborately costumed and choreographed, they are generally sung to English lyrics in an international pop style that can leave one guessing whether the performers are Norwegian or Romanian. Winners are chosen by a complicated system combining a panel of judges from the participating countries with a vote of television viewers who phone or text in their preferences, and Israel has won four times since its first appearance in 1973—in 1978, 1979, 1998, and 2018.

Which brings us to this year’s competition. The Eurovision’s rules require each country to submit its entry for review and approval several months in advance and forbid “lyrics [or] gestures of a political or similar nature.” Although applied in the past on only a few occasions (the most recent was in 2009, following the Russian seizure of South Ossetia from Georgia, when a Georgian song titled “We Don’t Wanna Put In” was disqualified because of its alleged reference to Vladimir Putin), the no-politics clause was invoked this year when, in February, the Israeli government-owned Television Channel 11, which manages Israel’s participation in the event, submitted the lyrics of a song called “October Rain.”

Composed and written by a team of songwriters and performed by the-twenty-year-old Israeli vocalist Eden Golan, “October Rain” began with the words, “Writers of history,/ stand with me,/ look into my eyes/ and see,/ people go away/ but never say goodbye,” and ended:

Dancing in the storm,
we got nothing to hide.
Take me home
and leave the world behind,
and I promise you that never again.
I’m still wet from this
October rain, October rain, October rain.

In between were lyrics like, “Someone stole the moon tonight,/ took my light, everything is black and white./ Who’s the fool who told you boys don’t cry?” and “Living in a fantasy,/ ecstasy,/ everything’s meant to be,/ we shall pass but love will never die,” as well as “Hours and hours and flowers,/ life is no game for the cowards./ Why does time go wild?/ Every day I’m losing my mind,/ holding on in this mysterious ride.” As a postscript, there were four Hebrew lines translatable as, “There’s no air left to breathe,/ there’s no room,/ there’s no more me from day to day./ They were all good children, one by one.”

October rain? Clearly, the European Broadcasting Union ruled, this referred to the Hamas attack of October 7. Moreover, the closing Hebrew stanza seemed an allusion to the shelters in which Israelis, many of them children, had tried hiding from their attackers, often unsuccessfully. This made the song, the EBU informed Channel 11 “of a political nature,” and it would have to be changed to be accepted.

The EBU’s ruling was both right and absurd. “October Rain” indeed was, at least in part, about the events of October 7, including several allusions to the use of consciousness-enhancing drugs at the Nova Dance Festival on the night of October 6, hundreds of whose participants died at Hamas’s hands. Yet what exactly was “political” about it? There wasn’t a line expressing a political opinion or point of view in the entire song, which was about a national trauma, not the politics surrounding it. If anyone was being political, it could be argued, it was the EBU, which was trying to censor an Israeli cry of pain for no other reason than that it was Israeli.

Channel 11 debated. There were those who were for pulling out of the competition, as did the Georgians in 2009. In the end, though, the view prevailed that showing up was more important than standing on principle. “October Rain” was renamed “Hurricane”; “I’m still wet from” was changed to “I’m still broken from”; the final Hebrew lines were rewritten, and “Hurricane” was resubmitted as a song about private rather than national grief—an unhappy love affair perhaps, or a marital blow-up, or whatever.

The EBU censors, however, were not born yesterday. Leave it to them not to be taken in by a ruse! “Writers of history,” for example: since when is a personal crisis a subject for historians? And wasn’t “take me home” a reference to the Israeli hostages in Gaza? And who was the “we” of “We got nothing to hide” if “Hurricane” was about an individual problem? And “Never again”—come on, now! Who didn’t know what that hinted at?

And so more changes were made. “Writers of history” became “Writers of my symphony.” “Take me home” was altered to “Take it all.” The “we” of “nothing to hide” was replaced by “I,” “And I promise you that never again” by “Baby, promise me you’ll hold me again.” Still other lines that the EBU objected to were changed, too. If the new ones didn’t make much sense, well, who said that song lyrics have to? To tell the truth, not all of the original version of “October Rain” made perfect sense, either.

And so “Hurricane” was re-resubmitted, this time to EBU approval, and breezed through the Malmö semi-finals on the basis of a magnificent performance by Eden Golan, whose voice grew stronger and more powerful with every boo and catcall from the audience, and who was backed by an imaginatively choreographed group of dancers. Receiving strong TV viewer support, “Hurricane” might actually have triumphed in the Grand Final had not some of the judges had clear instructions from their delegation heads to award it no points at all on a 0-12 scale. (Other judges gave it all 12 points—an all-but-unimaginable discrepancy in a competition of any kind.) Yet under the circumstances, fifth place, too, was a triumph and an Independence Day gift to a grateful Israel that badly needed to believe that not all the world was against it.

The irony in all this is that the EBU’s attempts at censorship only worked to Israel’s advantage. In the first place, they made “October Rain/Hurricane” a cause célèbre that it would otherwise never have become. And secondly, they actually strengthened its title and most memorable line. October rains, occurring at the start of the rainy season and almost never developing into major storms, are common in Israel; hurricanes are not. As a weather phenomenon, in fact, they are unknown—and yet a hurricane is what October 7 was. When Eden Golan sang, “I’m still broken from this hurricane,” she was accurately describing Israel’s mood in the wake of October 7 as “I’m still wet from this October rain” failed to do. Getting wet, after all, is not a catastrophe. One can thank the censors of the EBU for making the correction.

More about: Eurovision, Gaza War 2023, Israel & Zionism