11 July 2019 (released)
11 July 2019
There is always a little controversy surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest, but in recent years there has been nowhere near the amount of furore building upto and during this year's contest. From Iceland and Madonna's Palestinian flags to Ukraine pulling out of the contest to Belarus' jury votes being annulled, 2019 was certainly memorable. However, nobody would have foreseen the debacle that followed Bilal Hassani's selection to represent France. The teenage popstar received hate mail for his sexual identity, while simultaneously receiving criticism for anti-Israel Tweets and a controversial parody video he recorded in 2018 about the attacks in France. But it didn't stop there, for the host country had already started work on a TV comedy series which centred on a gay French entrant who was secretly a terrorist. Thankfully all the chaos centred on Bilal Hassani calmed by the contest and he finished 16th with 105 points. Having released his debut album, Kingdom, we caught up with him to find out how he is doing.
Hi Bilal, firstly congratulations on an amazing Eurovision appearance. When you first entered Destination Eurovision, did you dare to dream that you would win the chance to represent France?
I never could have dreamed that I would represent my country. It was an amazing opportunity. I think one of the most unexpected moments of my life.
The initial response to your win was filled with both extreme positives and negatives. How did you cope with the negative responses?
At first it was very difficult for me. I wrote a song that is on my album actually, it is called Jaloux. It's about all the hate that I received, and all the hate that I still receive every day. It was very difficult to begin with, but I've learnt many many techniques to stay off social media as much as I can, and to always stay happy and stay concentrated on the positive.
You are no stranger to television talent competitions, how did your experience on The Voice Kids help prepare you for Eurovision?
I think both experiences are very different. They are not the same. I loved both. It's not the same, but of course The Voice Kids helped me as it was my first televised performance. It taught me how to behave on stage, how to look to the right camera and to the right angles. It's very different to a live performance you do in a room full of people.
The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the biggest musical stages in the world. As a performer, how do you prepare for that?
A lot of sport, a lot of good eating, a lot of bananas in the morning and overall, meditating a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot of work.
You worked with Madame Monsieur on Roi, did they have any good pieces of advice for you?
They mostly told me I should enjoy my time on stage. It's very important. It goes by very fast, so just have a great time.
Roi is a very personal story, but one that can be related to many listeners. How daunting was it to approach such a personal song?
Actually a year before Roi, I already started writing pieces of a song that I wanted to be about my story, who I am and everything. So when I met Madame Monsieur and we did it, they actually helped me a lot. They put words to a lot of what I thought and experienced. It's easier for someone on the outside to tell you who you are, than to face yourself in the mirror.
Your staging in the final heightened the message within the lyrics. How did you choose who to work with for the performance?
I had a lot of offers. A lot of people didn't really understand me, and who I was. They saw the wig, so immediately they thought he'd need a gown and a huge cape. He needs a spectacular themed show. Which is all great and I love all that, but for this song I wanted something different. Marika Prochet, who was the creative director for this performance brought the ideas of bringing the lyrics to life with the dancers, I was like 'wow, this is the best thing ever'. I couldn't have thought of it that way. I was very happy about it, so I just ran towards that idea.
What was the biggest lesson you personally learned from the whole Eurovision experience?
I think it was that you need to work hard to achieve what you want. I've never worked that hard and I think I grew so much with that experience.
Now the competition is over, can you reveal your personal favourite songs from the contest?
I loved all of the songs. I loved many, many, many of the songs and I still lots of them on my playlist. I love Tamta from Cyprus, Mahmood's Soldi. I love Duncan's Arcade. I love Bigger Than Us from the UK. I love a lot of songs. Miki's La Venda makes me so happy. I have a lot of the songs, also the non-qualifiers, which I just love a lot.
Is the Eurovision experience one you would consider repeating?
I don't know. I really don't know.
Your debut album is stunning, how did you approach its composition?
I didn't want to really think anything through. I just wanted to do me, and that's what I did. We didn't think and we wrote the whole thing very quickly. It was just me trying to express myself through songs, without limiting myself to a style of singing, writing or composing.
What ambitions do you have for the record?
I'm very happy to be going on tour with it. The Kingdom tour is happening all over France and hopefully I can come visit other European countries with it.
Lastly, will we see you in the UK any time soon?
I hope so. I really do.