Though it may not sound like much in the U.S., Eurovision is a huge deal to participating nations. You take the nationalism from the Olympics and blend it with the passion of American Idol, then add a dash of Vegas showmanship, and you’ve got Eurovision.
The whole thing is pretty overtly gay, too, which presents something of a dilemma for nations with less-than-stellar track records when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion — especially since the winning nation always hosts the following year’s finals, with all the attention, money and gay fans that come with it.
This year, Russia really wanted the top honor, so much so that they were willing to downplay the awful attitude its government has taken against its queer citizens.
What they didn’t expect, though, was their prized slab-of-beef entrant, Sergey Lazarev, to make the impression he did.
Lazarev, who was a favorite to win (he did not ultimately win), told Newsbeat leading up to the competition, “Gay life exists in Russia,” adding, “There is more talk and rumors about problems than exist. I just want you to come and see everything yourself.”
Oh, like that “rumor” that made it illegal to tell kids being gay is OK?
Well the propaganda machine wound up blowing up in the Kremlin’s face after a revealing photo Lazarev made the rounds:
The photo has been described as part of a kinky adult film shoot from Lazarev’s past — one that the Russian government paid to try and have wiped from the internet. And we all know how well wiping things off the internet always goes.
Once the cat was out of the bag, the Kremlin tried another approach to downplay the damage, saying the image was intended to provoke thoughtful dialogue about domestic abuse.
That’s almost as creative as Lazarev’s performance in the competition, which you can watch below: