Eurovision 2019: Kate Miller-Heidke soars from depression to the global stage

Australian song Zero Gravity takes its place in the annual celebration of camp that this year is set against conflict

It’s a difficult image to shake: Kate Miller-Heidke swaying on a two-storey pole, sparkling in a three-metre tulle-and-crystal dress, her famous three-octave voice soaring as she sings about postpartum depression.

The epitome of light and shade, the song – which she will perform at the grand final on Sunday, as Australia’s contestant in the 2019 Eurovision contest – is a neat fit for the contradictions of the televised event itself: a celebration of camp set against one of the most contentious ongoing political conflicts in the world.

Who is Kate Miller-Heidke?

A classically trained opera singer, Miller-Heidke began her acclaimed career performing with Opera Queensland and Opera Australia, before releasing her debut pop record, Little Eve, through Sony in 2007.

Her follow-up, Curiouser, went platinum, and since then she’s moved onto varied endeavours: writing a five-star opera based on John Marsden’s book The Rabbits; scoring the musical version of Muriel’s Wedding with her partner Keir Nuttall; and taking up a position as the musical director of the Apra Amcos awards, a ceremony recognising songwriters.

In the midst of this, the musician gave birth to her first child – a day-long labour which ended in an emergency caesarean and five days in the neonatal intensive care unit for her son Ernie. “[I was in] a fog mentally, physically,” Miller-Heidke told the ABC’s Australian Story on Monday, of the postpartum depression she experienced afterwards. “It was like moving through this kind of darkness.”

With its heart-racing europop drums and soaring chorus, Miller-Heidke’s Eurovision entry, Zero Gravity, describes her recovery. “It was trying to capture that feeling where you have somehow managed to escape depression.”

Miller-Heidke is already one of Australia’s most respected creatives, but Eurovision represents a new frontier for high-level performers – an estimated 180 million viewers is the kind of audience many aspiring pop stars only dream of. If even 10% of them streamed an entrant’s song once, it would amount to a significant payday.

Miller-Heidke has a decent shot at success too; in 2016, Australia’s Dami Im was first runner-up, and betting site Sportsbet has Australia an $11 chance to win.

But the boon to her career comes with one significant caveat: this year’s Eurovision has become a flashpoint for debate around cultural relations with Israel, with activists calling on all participants not to perform there.

Miller-Heidke vs BDS: ‘I am glad I am here’

In previous years, Eurovision has generally been seen as a kitschy and harmless PR opportunity for the countries involved, championed as a festival of bringing-people-together, regardless of where they come from.

But this year, it’s being hosted by Tel Aviv, Israel, and as a result has been targeted by activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement: a non-violent, Palestinian-led movement that seeks to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. BDS argues that Eurovision is an instance of Israel using music and cultural spectacle to “whitewash” its treatment of Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, where deadly fighting is frequent and Palestinian freedom of movement is severely restricted.

Israel has hosted the competition twice before – in Jerusalem in 1979 and 1999 – but this is the first time since the birth of the BDS movement in 2005. The organisation aims to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine through, in part, a cultural boycott of the country which includes actively petitioning musicians who add Israel to their tour schedules. It has had increasing success picketing pop stars over the past few years – Lorde and Lana Del Rey being some of the more high-profile names to call off concerts in Israel as a result.

Have you no shame, @kmillerheidke? Complaining about pressure of “Twitter extremism” while participating in Eurovision in an apartheid state which killed 2 Palestinian babies & 2 pregnant women last week. How’s that “open dialogue” working out for them?

— Shane Bazzi (@shanebazzi) May 14, 2019

Monday night’s Eurovision opening ceremony was protested by activists wearing “Free Palestine” T-shirts, who were reportedly moved along by Israeli police. Israeli authorities have confirmed that they will be cracking down on protesters in an attempt to “make sure that no one comes [to the show] in order to disturb and destroy”.

Despite taking a strong stance on human rights issues, including the offshore detention of asylum seekers, Miller-Heidke has defended her decision to perform at Eurovision 2019. “It’s difficult, but I thought deeply about the decision to come here and I stand by that decision,” she told reporters on Monday. “Eurovision was created with a spirit of togetherness, the spirit of breaking down barriers between people and using the power of music and art to come together and be open. I am glad I am here.”

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has released a video telling the singer: “You, if you go to Tel Aviv and sing, will be used by the Israeli government to whitewash the occupation and it’s gone on too long.”

Kate Miller-Heidke will perform in the Eurovision grand final, first broadcast on SBS at 5am Sunday 19 May


Shaad D'Souza

The GuardianTramp

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