‘They Are So Triggered by Me’: Conchita Wurst’s 10-Year Roller-Coaster Ride

Looking back at the last decade, Tom Neuwirth is amazed by how far his 2014 Eurovision win as the drag queen Conchita Wurst has reverberated.

“I think this moment, the win, happened to all of us,” Neuwirth said in a recent interview at his team’s offices in Vienna. Dressed in pink corduroys, a black hoodie and white sneakers, he was charming and sweet, jokey one second and quietly reflective the next. “People will tell me where they were and how their life took a turn from then on,” he said. “There are always big stories and emotions.”

That May, 10 years ago, 195 million people watched Conchita Wurst belt out the power ballad “Rise Like a Phoenix,” representing Austria in the finale of the Eurovision Song Contest. The annual show is Europe’s longest-running talent competition, in which singers representing their countries perform for a huge TV audience that votes for its favorite act.

This year’s Eurovision final takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on Saturday. The event, which has been referred to “the queer Olympics” or “gay Christmas,” has long been popular with L.G.B.T.Q. people. By 2014, the competition had already seen a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual participants, as well as several drag acts, and a trans winner as early as 1998.

Yet none of those performers received as explosive a reception as Conchita Wurst, whose victory arrived amid widespread advancements in L.G.B.T.Q. rights in Western Europe that included a wave of legalization for same-sex marriage. The singer became a worldwide symbol of the divisions between liberals and conservatives, with some calling her performance a high-profile victory for queer representation, and others seeing it as a sign of the degradation of traditional Western values.

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