Cyprus rarely causes a splash at the Eurovision Song Contest, but controversy over ‘devil lyrics’ in its entry ‘El Diablo’ and fiery rendition by Greek singer Elena Tsagrinou is making audiences take notice.
Cyprus entered Eurovision in 1981 and holds the unenviable record for the most participations without winning.
The country’s best performance came in 2018 when Eleni Foureira finished second with ‘El Fuego’; before that, fifth was the best Cyprus had achieved in 1982, 1997 and 2004.
This year’s entry went under the radar until the Cyprus Orthodox Church and religious groups intervened, claiming the song was blasphemous.
The song is about falling in love with someone bad called El Diablo (the devil) with its lyrics — “I gave my heart to el diablo …because he tells me I’m his angel.”
The Church called for the withdrawal of the entry, arguing the song makes an “international mockery” of the country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.”
It said the song “essentially praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil’s authority” and replaced with one that “expresses our history, culture, and traditions.”
A protest was staged outside state broadcaster CyBC’s headquarters in Nicosia, calling for the song to be removed from the competition.
The government and CyBC defended the song saying it had nothing to do with devil worship while arguing freedom of expression was protected.
“It’s not about the devil. When the song goes to the end, I get out of the relationship,” Elena told website wiwibloggs last month.
“[It is about] a bad relationship with someone. I connect so much with ‘El Diablo’. That’s why I do this job, and that’s why I am singing it,” she added.
Cyprus is usually an also-ran in the Eurovision contest, and despite the furore, it is touted to be among the favourites in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
Athens-born Tsagrinou, 26, is regarded as a talented Greek pop singer, and her rehearsals in Rotterdam have garnered rave reviews, with some likening her to Lady Gaga.
She made her name as a 14-year-old in the talent show Greece Got Talent reaching the semi-final and was in the Greek pop band Other View from 2013 before going solo in 2018.
Her music videos on YouTube have millions of views, and she has garnered nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram.
Tsagrinou had a TV career as a singing coach and on the music show The Voice of Greece.
In early March, the Church opposition came a few days after a man was charged with uttering threats and causing a disturbance when barging onto the grounds of CyBC to protest about a “blasphemous” song that was an insult to Christianity.
Despite the religious backlash, many others have defended the song about a toxic love affair, and the controversy ensured the official music video racked up 3.3 million views on YouTube.
Cypriots are huge fans of Eurovision, and many will be keeping their fingers crossed that Cyprus could create a little bit of pop history with El Diablo on 22 May.