Oleh Psiuk hits his heart three times. The rapper has just finished the performance of his band Kalush Orchestra in the ESC final in Turin with the words “I beg of you all: Help Ukraine, Mariupol, Azovstal” – and thus created the moment that marked the extreme divergence of European realities demonstrated most clearly this evening: unlike the other 24 finalists, the Kalush Orchestra comes from a war zone.
The six men of draft age needed a special permit to be able to travel at all. Of course they got the license to sing, because every performance of Ukrainian musicians is currently also a support mission for the country under attack from Russia.
Oleh Psiuk, who always appears with his pink bucket hat, put it this way after the semifinals: “We are here to show that Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian music exist. You are alive.” And how! Kalush Orchestra wins the competition with their song “Stefania”, which is sung and rapped entirely in Ukrainian.
It is a real heart-stopping finale, because after the national expert juries have cast their votes, Ukraine is still in fourth place behind Great Britain, Sweden and Spain. But then the votes of the television viewers* (in Germany 7.3 people watch the final) are announced and Ukraine receives a sensational 439 points, which catapults them into uncatchable first place.
These are by no means just points of sympathy for a country under bombs, because “Stefania” is a strong song that cleverly combines traditional elements such as the Telinka flute with rap and a beat reminiscent of the nineties. The song dedicated to Oleh Psiuk’s mother immediately catches your ear and gets your legs moving.
You really can’t say that about many of the songs that are performed during the two-hour part of the show. There’s a lot of solid dance pop, for example from Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Norway, but none of it will determine the sound of this year beyond the ESC. The closest thing to a European hit is Sam Ryder’s “Space Man”. With the piece inspired by Queen and David Bowie, the Briton comes in second place and ends his country’s long ESC misery.
For the ballads, the competition features some emotionally pumped songs that hardly ever go to the heart. Poland, Azerbaijan, Italy and Portugal fall into this category, with the notable exception of the Netherlands with S10’s “De Diepte”. The 21-year-old singer pours so much warmth into the simple “UhhhhAhhh” chorus that it’s hard to resist – it peaks at number 11.
Sheldon Riley from the ESC honorary member country Australia also provides a ray of light in the ballad field with “Not The Same”. The openly gay singer, who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, soars in his misfit anthem to haunting heights. With his meter-long white train and a glittering star mask, Riley also sets a fashionable accent. Which ultimately earned him 15th place.
Germany will bring up the rear again. Malik Harris doesn’t get a single jury point for “Rockstars” and only six from the audience, which seems a bit harsh considering his nice Lorde-meets-Eminem song. However, the 24-year-old, who appears alone in his gray shirt, seems a little lost between all the instruments. Even the almost non-existent light show doesn’t really make his appearance an eye-catcher.
Konstrakta’s lecture on “In corpore sano”, staged almost like an art performance, is completely different: The Serbian singer, who also works as an architect, sits in the middle of the stage throughout the song and washes her hands in a white bowl, in between reaching out to her from the circle of the five people standing around, someone handed a towel again and again. Konstrakta claps along with the refrain lines “Umetnica mora biti zdrava/ Biti zdrava, biti zdrava/ Biti zdrava, biti-biti-biti-biti zdrava” (The artist must be healthy/ Be healthy, be healthy).
In doing so, she not only criticizes society’s obsession with health and the associated compulsion to consume, but also quotes a performance by the Serbian artist Marina Abramović, who intensively combed her hair for 14 minutes during a performance in 1975 and said “Art must be beautiful… Artist must be beautiful… said. Konstrakta’s homage is a highlight of the evening – and ends up in fifth place.
The trend towards English-language songs has been broken at the ESC for several years. This time, eleven of the 25 performers will perform their pieces entirely or for the most part in their national languages, with Alvan
Moldovan Romanian sing about Zdob și Zdub
The dominant feeling at the end of the more than four-hour show is joy at Ukraine’s victory, which wins the microphone glass trophy for the third time after 2004 and 2016. “Next year Ukraine will host the Eurovision!” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram during the night. Europe and all ESC fans hope with him that this promise will come true.