Ukraine has won the 66th Eurovision Song Contest, which was held on Saturday evening in Turin, Italy. On a tidal wave of support from the European public voting by telephone, Stefania from Kalush Orchestra finished first after strong performances from the UK, Spain and Sweden in the early voting.
“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” singer Oleh Psiuk shouted from the front of the stage after the band performed. In a video speech released ahead of the event, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he believed the Kalush Orchestra would win. “Europe, vote for Kalush Orchestra. Let’s support our compatriots! Let’s support Ukraine!” he said.
The winning song, which mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music, was originally written in honor of the group’s mothers. The group subsequently re-dedicated it to all matriarchs in Ukraine, as lines like “I will always find my way home even if all roads are destroyed” found new resonance. The six men who make up the group had to obtain special permits during the war to leave Ukraine and travel to Italy.
Sam Ryder’s UK entry, Space Man, led halfway through, after winning the jury vote from across Europe with 283 points. But after the points of the public vote were added up, it finished second.
Before the event, Ryder had said he didn’t care where he ended: “This is something that celebrates inclusivity, expression, love, peace, joy and togetherness. And so to think about the scoreboard kind of takes the shine and the magic out of the room for me.”
One of the most notable performances of the evening was the Norwegian Subwoolfer with Give That Wolf A Banana. The anonymous duo, known only by their pseudonyms Jim and Keith, performed in yellow wolf masks with the chorus begging “Before that wolf eats my grandma / Give that wolf a banana”.
Goth rock band the Rasmus, internationally known for their 2003 hit In the shadows† sung for Finland, while Australian Sheldon Riley wore the heaviest costume of the night, weighing over 40kg.
The Serbian song In Corpore San contained a veiled critique of the Serbian health care system, with performer Konstrikta washing her hands onstage as she asked, “What’s the secret to Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?”
Russia did not participate, having been banned by the organizer, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), due to the invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24.
Ewan Spence of the Eurovision Insight Podcast told the Guardian from Turin that “the singers, the broadcasters, the community have stood proudly at Kalush Orchestra and Ukraine all week. This will always be a win at Eurovision; but it means so much more. It is the greatest gesture of love for the Ukrainian people from every corner of every country in Europe and beyond.”
Ukraine first appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003 and had won it twice, with Ruslana’s Wild Dances in 2004 and Jamala’s song 1944 in 2016. The latter caused controversy as the song’s subject matter was the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. used to be. in the 1940s by the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin for alleged collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. It was sung in English and Crimean Tatar and came two years after the Russian Federation annexed Crimea following the 2014 invasion.
Also this year there was the usual controversy at the game. North Macedonia’s national broadcaster threatened to pull out after its act, Andrea, was accused of disrespecting the national flag by throwing it on the ground. She apologized and explained that she had tried to transfer it to a member of her team who was too far away to receive it.
The organizers censored the song Eat Your Salad by Latvian Citi Zēni. The protest song in favor of going green included the line, “Instead of meat, I eat veggies and pussies.” While the EBU insisted that the word “pussy” be dropped, the Eurovision audience had shouted it out loud and clear. The song failed to qualify for Tuesday’s semifinal, avoiding an awkward moment for broadcasters across the continent.
There were also complications on stage. A hi-tech element called the “kinetic sun” was supposed to rotate, allowing acts to use either a giant LED screen or a wall of light. The mechanism to switch it didn’t turn out to be fast enough, causing some acts to scramble a few days before the match to change the way they presented their songs.
Despite the UK finishing second, Ukraine’s win still gives the BBC a glimmer of hope to host the event again for the first time since 1998. Traditionally, the winner of the show will host the following year, but given the current situation in Ukraine, EBU may be cautious about planning an event in Kiev in a year. The 2023 host will most likely be chosen from one of the so-called “big five” countries that contribute most to the Eurovision coffers and have guaranteed direct entry to the final: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.