— Eurovision (@Eurovision) January 26, 2019
A handout picture fromFrance television shows Bilal Hassani performing on stage on Saturday in Paris during Destination Eurovision France television's broadcast. Photo: GILLES SCARELLA / FRANCE TELEVI
An internet sensation, Hassani beat better-known singers to clinch Saturday night's public vote to represent France in the glitter-soaked competition in Israel in May.
Born to a Moroccan family, the Beyonce fan has delighted in proving wrong critics who laughed at the singer they dismissed as an “Arab in a wig”.
“I've been a Eurovision addict since I was nine, as much for the artistry as for what it symbolises — all the cultures and differences that are brought together by music,” he said on Instagram.
With a penchant for wigs — each of which has a pet name, including a blonde called “Paris” and a brunette called “Gila” — Hassani is unapologetic about what he stands for.
“I am me, and I know I will always be. I am free,” he sings in “Roi” (“King”), the song he is hoping will become France's first victorious Eurovision entry since 1977.
Hassani is vocal about his sexuality and rejection of old ideas about masculinity, delighting in a gender-bending wardrobe. Heavily made up a la Kim Kardashian — albeit far less curvy — his success owes much to his big personality, flaunting what he calls his “fabulousness”.
Encouraging messages flooded in on Hassani's YouTube channel after he was picked for Eurovision on Saturday.
“I wanted to thank you — even if you don't read this comment, it's thanks to you that I've managed to have confidence in myself,” wrote one fan.
1,500 hateful tweets
But beyond the tide of support, Hassani has also had to grapple with a violent online hate campaign from homophobes and racists. Campaign group Urgence Homophobie said it had already identified “more than 1,500 insulting, discriminatory or threatening tweets linked to his sexual orientation and/or appearance”.
The NGO has joined forces with another group, Stop Homophobie, to take to court “every person who has insulted, threatened, or discriminated against” Hassani.
The young singer has tried to take it in his stride, telling reporters that winning “the votes of so many French people” on Saturday was “the best response to the haters”.
Hassani has taken singing and dance classes since his early years, appearing on children's talent show “The Voice Kids” at the age of 15. For his audition, he opted to perform a song by one of his idols — Conchita Wurst, the Austrian bearded diva who won Eurovision in 2014.
He became a YouTuber shortly after and has since won nearly 800,000 subscribers, with videos — often humorous — that start with him belting out a tuneful “Bonsoir, Paris!”
With titles like “The time I fell in love with a straight guy!”, some videos are confessional, while others feature make-up tutorials or covers of songs by stars such as Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande.
His Eurovision entry, co-written with last year's French contenders Madame Monsieur, has already racked up nearly six million views online.
In any case, Hassani is already looking beyond the competition in Tel Aviv: his debut album is due out this spring, under the French label Low Wood.
By AFP's Aurélie Mayembo