British bookies are currently offering odds of 7/18 for Ukraine to triumph at this evening’s Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, with their entry Kalush Orchestra’s distinctive blend of rap and folk music, combined with the country’s current courage in the face of Russian invasion, expected to unite voters across Europe in support.
The frontman and writer Oleh Psiuk – distinctive throughout this week in Turin with his pink hat – told the BBC before the band came through their semi-final:
“For our country it is so important to have victories in all ways. So if we win, it will be another opportunity to show Ukraine to the world, to remind people about Ukraine, and to increase morale in the whole country.”
The band’s song Stefania was originally inspired by Psiuk’s mother, but lines such as “I will always walk to you by broken roads” have become interpreted in context of the country’s current plight.
Psiuk told the BBC separately this week: “The song was originally about my mum. Not a single lyric was about war. But now for many Ukrainians, it’s become a symbol of this war. Even my perception of the song has changed.
Although the Eurovision Song Contest is officially apolitical, ever since its inception in 1956, competing artists have delighted in confounding the system by slipping political lyrics into their songs. This year sees politics playing a more overt role, with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) announcing in February that Russia would be banned from the competition, following its invasion of Ukraine.
And Kalush Orchestra were only Ukraine’s second choice in the national contest to compete, but found themselves on the path to Turin when Ukraine’s original winner Alina Pash was found to have made a trip in 2015 to Crimea, an area seized by Russia the year before, and was therefore deemed ineligible to take part.
In another turn up for the books, the UK entry for this year, Sam Ryder, is currently considered the bookies’ second favourite to win.
This represents a sea change for the UK who – despite being one of the six countries allowed to go straight through to the final without having to compete in either semi-final, due to its long-time investment in the EBU – have endured nearly more than a decade of humiliatingly low scores. Whether this reflects the UK’s political isolation around the years of Brexit – the country’s decision to quit the European Union – or whether the music on offer has been simply sub-standard, we will never know for sure.
However, this year has seen an almighty effort both creatively and in support for the artist. Songwriters for Ryder’s song Spaceman include Grammy winner Amy Wadge, who previously co-wrote Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, and Max Wolfgang, who has previously written with John Legend and others. In addition, Sam Ryder has more than 12million followers on TikTok, so he already enjoys a higher profile and bigger fanbase across Europe than many previous UK entries.
Ryder will count himself fortunate to be on the left-hand side of the board after so many failed UK entries, but the night will surely belong to Kalush Orchestra and their country.