And Finally Artist News Media

Ukraine wins Eurovision Song Contest, UK comes second

By | Published on Monday 16 May 2022

Ukraine win Eurovision 2022

Following a rollercoaster voting section this year, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with their song ‘Stefania’. The UK’s Sam Ryder followed in second place with ‘Space Man’, in a dramatic turnaround from last year’s nul points disaster.

Already one of the favourites to win the competition, it became widely expected that Ukraine would be Eurovision champions this year following the Russian invasion of the country in February.

Of course, following those events, it had not been a given that Ukraine would be able to perform at this year’s contest at all. First there was the logistical question of whether Kalush Orchestra would be able to travel to this year’s host city, Turin in Italy. And then there was the political dimension, with Eurovision famously having a strict no politics rule, which is always hard to enforce when there is an ongoing political and/or military conflict between two countries competing in the contest

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has impacted on Eurovision before, of course, in particular following the former’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Back in 2016, Russia complained that Ukraine’s entry that year – Jamala’s ‘1944’ – was clearly political because its lyrics were about military action in Crimea. EBU had banned overtly political songs in the past, the Russian delegation said, and should stop ‘1944’ from being performed too.

But Ukraine countered that the song was about completely different military action – one led by Joseph Stalin in 1944 – and not the annexation of the region by Russia in 2014, so no rules had been broken. The EBU allowed the song to be entered despite Russia’s protestations, and it then went on to win.

That created another round of political problems when the 2017 Contest was staged in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Ukraine threatened to arrest Russian performer Julia Samoilova if she entered the country, as she appeared on a blacklist of artists who had recently performed in Crimea. In the end, Ukraine banned her from entering Ukraine for three years instead, while made performing in Kyiv impossible. So the EBU proposed that their performer that year take part via video link, but in the end Russia pulled out entirely.

The Russia/Ukraine conflict had also already directly impacted on this year’s Contest, even before February’s invasion. Ukraine’s first choice to compete in this year’s Contest, Alina Pash, was dropped after it emerged that she had travelled to Crimea in 2015, a year after Russia had seized control of the area and in violation of the strict rules that had been placed on how Ukrainians may enter the region.

Then, following the February invasion, the EBU initially said that – despite the military conflict and because of its no politics rule – it was “planning to welcome artists from both [Russia and Ukraine] to perform”. However, following criticism from broadcasters across Europe about the EBU’s stance – including Ukraine’s state broadcaster, UA:PBC – it was subsequently announced that Russia would be barred from entering the competition.

With Ukraine still welcome, it was then the logistical questions that came back to the fore. Initially the Kalush Orchestra announced that – unless the war was over by May – they would instead send a pre-recorded performance from “a safe place” in Ukraine. However, ultimately they were able to travel to Italy to appear live at the first semi-final and grand final last week.

During the show itself Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleg Psyuk managed to insert one last bit of politics into the proceedings, shouting from the stage at the end of the band’s performance, “Save Mariupol, save Azovstal right now!” That arguably broke the no politics rule, though the EBU said in a statement that it had decided that Psyuk had in fact made a “humanitarian” gesture.

“We understand the deep feelings around Ukraine at this moment and believe the comments of the Kalush Orchestra and other artists expressing support for the Ukrainian people to be humanitarian rather than political in nature”, the organisation said.

So, officially at least, there were no politics on the Eurovision stage this year. Though politics certainly impacted on the voting. While ‘Stefania’ does seem like a deserving winner, regardless of Ukraine’s current situation, it would be hard to say that the Russian invasion had not galvanised feeling around supporting the country.

Ukraine’s Eurovision win this year was delivered thanks to massive support in the public vote – so large that they would have come third even if they’d received nothing from the 40 voting nations’ juries in the first round of voting. On the jury vote, they came fourth, 91 points behind the UK’s entry, which was comfortably in the lead at that point.

Once the public vote was added to their total, it was clear that Ukraine would be unstoppable. The country scored 631 points from both the jury and public votes, well ahead of the UK’s 466.

Commenting on their win, Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleg Psyuk said: “We haven’t really celebrated yet. We will probably have a big celebration after the war because victory is great, winning Eurovision is fantastic, but there is just so much stuff going on. People are getting killed in the war or they fight in the war or lose their jobs in Ukraine, it is not really the best backdrop for celebrations”.

Kalush Orchestra’s victory also raised another logistical query: where will Eurovision 2023 be hosted? The winning country usually hosts the following year’s event, of course, but will Ukraine be in a position to do that next May. Many suggested that the UK could take on the hosting duties given its second place in the rankings, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has insisted that the event will take place in the winning country as normal in 2023.

In a statement posted on Instagram, he said: “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe! Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! For the third time in its history. And I believe not the last. We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt! Thank you for winning [Kalush Orchestra] and everyone who voted for us! I am sure that our victorious chord in the battle with the enemy is not far off”.

So, it was an eventful Eurovision. And what about that second place ranking for the UK? Although pushed out of the winning slot by the public vote, that result was nevertheless a massive achievement for this year’s UK team. It’s the first time in years that the UK has made any great impression on the leader board – the last time we came top ten being in Moscow in 2009, with Jade Ewen’s ‘It’s My Time’. Since then, we’ve mostly become well acquainted with the bottom of the list.

Last year James Newman and his song ‘Embers’ reached a new low in the UK’s fortunes when he received no points whatsoever from the jury or public votes. Many claimed that that was some sort of punishment for Brexit, although it seemed more likely that it was down to a lack of any real effort on the part of the UK to compete in a competition where standards both musically and performance-wise have risen dramatically over the last two decades.

For this year’s contest, artist management company TaP Music took over the work of selecting the UK entry from BMG. In March, it was announced that TikTok star and committed Eurovision fan Sam Ryder would be heading to Turin with his song ‘Space Man’.

Co-written by Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge, it seemed to embrace the spirit of Eurovision without trying to (incorrectly) second guess what the Eurovision audience wants, while Ryder and his team fully threw themselves into the process and the performance.

“I think it’s just a flip in attitude”, Wadge told the BBC of the reverse in fortunes. “For a long time we, as Brits, built this thing up of, ‘Well, we’re just going to lose’. But this year the thinking was, ‘How about we don’t do that, and we look at it with the sort of respect that other countries do?”

Tweeting his appreciation after the event, Ryder said: “Still up in space, man! Thank you all for blazing with love, positivity and kindness throughout this wild and euphoric experience. We completely felt your support and we so deeply appreciated it”.

Of course, another reason for an artist like Ryder being more willing to put themselves forward for Eurovision this year may have been the incredible success of Italian rock band Måneskin enjoyed following their win last year. They returned as one of this year’s interval acts, performing their new single ‘Supermodel’ and a cover of ‘If I Can Dream’, which will feature in new Baz Luhrmann film ‘Elvis’.

Whether Ryder can match the boost that Måneskin received remains to be seen, but he does already have a European tour booked for the autumn, along with the release of his debut album – ‘There’s Nothing But Space, Man!’ on 14 Oct – from which ‘Space Man’ is the first single.

Yesterday, Kalush Orchestra released the powerful official video for ‘Stefania’, shot in war-torn cities around the Kyiv Oblast. Watch that here: