Netherlands singer Duncan Laurence wins Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv

TEL AVIV, Israel – The Netherlands won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv Saturday, with Duncan Laurence’s doleful piano ballad “Arcade” crowned champion of Europe’s annual music extravaganza.

The 25-year-old was tapped as an early front-runner before the Grand Final but was only ranked third after the vote of professional juries from the 41 participating countries, trailing Sweden and North Macedonia. He surged ahead thanks to the fan vote, securing The Netherlands its fifth win ever in the competition. Italy finished second, followed by Russia, Switzerland and Norway.

“This is to dreaming big. This is to music first, always,” Laurence said, as he was handed the trophy by last year’s winner, Israel’s Netta Barzilai.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, talked to Laurence after the competition to congratulate him and hailed in a tweet his “sublime and powerful performance.”

Dutch singer Duncan Laurence is welcomed by fans at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands after winning the 64th annual Eurovision Song Contest with the song 'Arcade.' (Photo: ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN, EPA-EFE)

The Netherlands’ king and queen have said “we are proud of Duncan Laurence, who conquered Europe with musical class.”

Some 200 million people around the world were believed to have watched the annual campy contest with 26 nations battling in the Grand Final of the 64th Eurovision.

Madonna was the star attraction, performing her hit staple “Like a Prayer,” marking 30 years since its release, and new song “Future” from her forthcoming album, “Madame X.” She took the stage after participants wrapped up their performances, when the elaborate voting process got underway across Europe.

To maximize onscreen tension, performers are ranked by a mix of fan votes and professional juries. Spectators could not vote for their own country, but like-minded nations tend to fall into blocs that back their regional favorites, with politics meshing into art.

Madonna performing at the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv on May 19, 2019. (Photo: ORIT PNINI, AFP/Getty Images)

The Eurovision debuted in the wake of World War II to heal a divided continent. Over the years, the earnest show of European unity has ballooned into an over-the-top, gay-friendly spectacle that brings together acts from across the continent, and now includes those with little or no connection to Europe, such as Australia.

Israel earned the right to host the show after Barzilai won last year’s competition with her catchy pop anthem “Toy.”

The ostensibly nonpolitical affair has tried to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has largely succeeded, despite swirling threats of controversy. Calls for performers to boycott the show failed to generate much momentum.

Madonna herself had faced calls from a Palestinian-led campaign to avoid performing at the event. But the Queen of Pop rejected the boycott motions, saying she will “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda.” Still, two of her embracing dancers sported the flags of Israel and the Palestinians on their backs.

Laurence’s victory means the Netherlands will host next year’s edition.

Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands celebrates winning the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest for the song "Arcade." Last year's winner, Netta Barzilai of Israel, presented the trophy. (Photo: Sebastian Scheiner, AP)

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