Ukraine’s victory in Eurovision on Saturday, came on a wave of massive public support following the Russian invasion in February, with the Kalush Orchestra lying in fifth place after the jury vote before winning 431 out of a maximum 468 points in the public vote. Every country except Serbia placed Ukraine in their Top Three. It is impossible to estimate the role sympathy and goodwill played in this victory, but what cannot be underplayed is the strength and merit of the song itself.
In a competition renowned or even infamous for its bizarre excesses, ‘Stefania’ was a confident – but not brash – entry. The first ever hip-hop winner, it showcased the diversity of music that has continued to expand with each Contest, whilst remaining true to its roots of Ukrainian folk music, as did Ukraine’s psychedelic electronica entry last year which also proved popular. Its ‘favourite’ status predated the Russian invasion, and as continental circumstances evolved, it made its worthy victory a formality.
Not that MIKA’s bad jokes could downplay the excitement of a prospective British victory. Sam Ryder’s entry evoked many musical buzzwords: ‘Power-pop’. ‘Zeitgeist’. ‘Banger’. His live performance was excellent, and the lyrical simplicity of ‘Space Man’ left both room for interpretation, and an earworm to fester in the forthcoming days. To finally not feel grumpy towards a continent at-large over the course of an evening was revelatory. Who knew that the rest of the competing countries felt this level of adrenaline each year?
Eurovision exists as a perennial oddity, often tied up in minor controversy and swaying far beyond what could be considered popular music despite the efforts of many entrants. 2022 was the year of the ballad, with numerous ill-fated Måneskin tribute acts consigned at the semi-final stage. Personal highlights included the Netherlands, Lithuania and Moldova, each presenting diametrically opposing visions of what Eurovision exists to be. One a simple ballad with a tremendous vocal, the second an enchanting ‘spooky disco’. The third seemed to embody European Americana, a performance of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ with zoot suits and an accordion, only the lyrics concerned a simple train ride.
I don’t know of any Brit capable of enjoying Eurovision unironically, though the state of the British psyche in general can support such a conclusion towards anything. But it is precisely the naffness and oddities that can charm the most Eurosceptic of cynics. We cheer every year when Cyprus awards their twelve points to Greece, we drink when a mildly amused national announcer proudly proclaims a ‘good evening’ to Europe and a ‘good morning’ to Australia. Fundamentally, we relax into a world of wackiness and love, a liberalised bastion of kitsch embodied in the bizarre music of our neighbours.
To varying degrees, Eurovision exists as entertainment, an escape from the pain and injustice of the real world. This year, that pain was somewhat inescapable, with the Kalush Orchestra unable to bring all their members, and the Ukrainian commentator covering the event remotely from an undisclosed bomb shelter. Reality can never be truly escaped from, only moulded and adapted to what we can strive to achieve.
On Saturday, the painful reality of war made Ukraine’s victory all the more euphoric, and Britain’s second place all the more honourable. Eurovision served to act as a triumphant release, felt by millions across the continent, though none more acutely than in the sovereign independent state that won over twice as many ears as it did hearts. And it was truly deserved.
Image courtesy of ‘Jlechuga86’ on Wikimedia Commons