Ukraine wins Eurovision with political and powerful song

Australia tops the jury vote but televoting swings contest to Jamala’s ‘1944’

"If you sing about the truth, it can really touch people" says Jamala at a press conference following her Eurovision win on behalf of Ukraine. Her song '1944' tells the story of the expulsion of the Tartars from Crimea by Stalinist forces.

 

The winner of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest is Ukraine with a surprisingly powerful and political song.

‘1944’ was sung and written by Jamala, a woman of Crimean Tatar heritage, and it tells the story of the expulsion of the Tatars from Crimea by Stalinist forces. If you spotted some contemporary resonances there, I think you might be onto something.

Australia came second having won the jury vote, but the televoting swung the contest away from them. Russia came third.

At a press conference after her win, Jamala appeared to struggle with tears when she talked about a close relative that the song was about. “I would prefer that all these terrible things did not happen at all to my great-grandmother and I would even prefer this song not to exist,” she said.

Sadly, Ireland was not even in the final. Ireland’s performer Nicky Byrne flew back home this morning, disappointed and surprised that he didn’t make it through Thursday’s semi-final.

Earlier on Saturday evening crowds amassed near the huge golf ball that is the Globe Arena from early in the evening. Eurovision songs were piped through speakers, flags and tickets were bought and sold.

A Brazilian man called Tiago (“like Santiago but just the second bit”) was wandering around draped in the Austrian flag and holding a sign saying “Free Hugs”. “Would you like a hug?” Tiago asked. I did want a hug. “Come here man,” he said and nearly crushed me. “I have given three or four hundred hugs today,” he added proudly.

In the crowd I counted three Waterloo-era Abbas, three Conchita Wursts and one Jedward. I saw a lion, a tin man and a scarecrow. Two men in kilts chanted “No to Brexit! Yes, to Eurovision!” (every single British person I met this week mentions Brexit). Six middle-aged men with blue wigs, glasses and short pants sang the German Eurovision entry then embraced a glamorous woman in a dress made from European flags.

Like everything I’ve experienced at this year’s Eurovision it was lovely. Two young Swedish women walked by singing Lipstick by Jedward (seriously). They were on their way the nearby Tele 2 arena for a massive Eurovision watching party. “This is our Christmas,” says Julia Moersman Hellmann who has glitter on her face and the names of her favourite acts – Belgium, Australia, Bulgaria – written on her arm in marker. Hannah Hellstrom has French singer Amir’s name on her arm “because I’m in love with him. But Russia’s going to win.”

The event was another solid, typically mind-bending, gently self-parodying Swedish production ably hosted by Petra Med and Måns Zelmerlöw. Suspense was retained by revealing the jury votes first and then only combining these with the televote towards the end of the night (and the tension in Stockholm was something to behold). And Justin Timberlake was here to deliver a fine performance and, presumably, to scout out new territories for the avaricious American music industry.

Notable non-winning acts included: Belgian Laura Tesora and her awesome pop funk (my favourite song). The Hiberno-Czech entry (co-written by Limerick man Aidan O’Connor). Hungarian Freddie and his backing whistlers.

Israel’s Hovi Star who sang We Are Made of Stars and was also made by Stars (if his parents are Mr and Mrs Star). Bulgarian Poli Genova who taught us all about road safety with her cycling reflectors while singing my fourth favourite song (after Belgium, Australia and The Netherlands).

Swedish Justin Bieber. French Don Johnson. Polish Captain Jack Sparrow. A show of Russian strength disguised as a pop production. The brilliant Dami Im and her glittery monolith. That awful indie band your friend was into in the 1990s (the Georgian entry). And precocious UK reality show infants Joe and Jake.

But seemingly none of them impressed the voting European people and their juries as much as Ukraine.

Next year’s Ukrainian Eurovision could be very interesting indeed.

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