Backlash came from Germany’s most popular newspaper, Bild, as well as German politicos and an anti-racist organization, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. On Twitter, Social Democrat Johannes Kahrs, a member of the German parliament aligned with German chancellor Angela Merkel, called the decision “unspeakable and embarrassing.”
Germany’s public broadcaster, ARD, announced that Naidoo, 44, would be representing the country in Stockholm Thursday night. Friday, Bild splashed the singer across its front page, asking “Is Xavier Naidoo the right one for the ESC [Eurovision Song Contest]?”
Anetta Kahane, a spokeswoman for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, told Britain’s Telegraph that she found Naidoo’s nomination “problematic.”
Had the decision stuck, Naidoo, who is of Indian and African heritage, would have had an automatic berth in the Eurovision final. Germany is one of seven countries that’s allowed to skip through the winnowing process of semi-final voting rounds because they contribute the most money to the European Broadcasting Union.
“Xavier Naidoo is a wonderful singer who isn’t racist or homophobic in my view,” ARD executive Thomas Schreiber said in a statement to Reuters. “It was clear that he is someone who polarizes but the ferocity of the reactions surprised us. We misjudged.”
In American English, “schmuck” is simply synonymous with “jerk,” and is innocuous enough that it made it into the title of the 2010 Jay Roach film “Dinner for Schmucks.” However, when deployed in a Yiddish context, it’s considered highly offensive. Naidoo has previously come under pressure to distance himself from an organization called the Reichsbuerger group. Reich citizenship laws were used to strip Jews of German citizenship during World War II. The Reichsbuerger group advocates for pre-WWII German borders that would include land that now belongs to Poland and former Soviet republics. Naidoo has said that he does not agree with the Reichsbuerger group despite delivering a speech at a Reichsbuerger rally last year on German Unity Day, which commemorates Germany’s reunification in 1990.
“With all my being I stand for a cosmopolitan and hospitable Germany and a respectful and peaceful interaction with each other,” Naidoo said, according to Bild.
The Naidoo controversy appears to be the first major one of Eurovision 2016, still months away. Germany tied for last place with Austria in 2015, with both countries receiving zero points. Naidoo made a particularly curious choice given the center stage that gay rights have taken at Eurovision, a competition that is basically a political expo dressed as a song contest nestled within a giant festival of camp.
If backlash over a Eurovision representative’s homophobic remarks sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Earlier this year, when Måns Zelmerlöw was named Sweden’s choice for Eurovision, some protested because Zelmerlöw made homophobic statements during a 2014 appearance on a celebrity cooking show, “Pluras kök.” According to the Eurovision site Wiwibloggs:
“Måns found himself in a debate about homosexuality. He explained that ‘it isn’t equally natural for men to want to sleep with one another’ and called homosexuality an ‘avvikelse,’ which can best be translated as an abnormality. He proceeded to explain that ‘there isn’t anything wrong with it at all, but the more natural thing of course is that men and women make children together.”
The difference between Zelmerlöw and Naidoo? Not only did Zelmerlöw go on to compete, he ultimately won the whole contest. In March, the editor of Wiwibloggs added a note to his original report assuring readers that “after spending time with Måns in Stockholm, we can confirm he is very comfortable with members of the LGBT community.”
Of course, Zelmerlöw beat out Russia’s Polina Gagarina, who didn’t have much of a chance after a Russian conservative politician recommended the country boycott Eurovision after Conchita Wurst won in 2014. Russian president Vladimir Putin called Wurst, a drag queen who is openly gay, an “abomination.” Austria, the host country for the 2015 ESC, responded by installing pedestrian traffic lights that featured same-sex couples. It’s worth noting that many Eurovision voters were none too happy with Gagarina singing a sweeping ballad about peace called “A Million Voices” during a year when Russian-supported separatists battled for control of Eastern Ukraine.
When Zelmerlöw won, he acknowledged the anti-gay controversy in his acceptance speech. “We are all heroes, no matter who we love,” the Swedish singer said.