Given the devastating impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, anything that lifts the spirits of the beleaguered Ukrainian people is more than welcome. And some mild relief could be on the cards next month at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, where Ukraine’s entry is one of the favorites to lift the title.
The six-piece rap group Kalush Orchestra is named after the founding member of Kalush’s hometown in western Ukraine. The band was on a national tour when the Russians invaded, and they got dangerously close to some of the bombings. In the aftermath of the attacks, one member even joined the territorial forces defending kyiv. And the band’s lead singer, Oleh Psiuk, has formed a volunteer organization to help people find shelter, medicine and transportation.
Ukrainians of military age are prohibited from leaving the country. But ahead of the song contest, the band members, who are all eligible for a military call-up, received special permission to travel overseas to join other Eurovision contestants for a promotional performance in Tel Aviv, in Israel.
The show was the Kalush Orchestra’s first international performance since the Russian invasion. During the visit, the band also had the chance to perform their Eurovision song, “Stefania,” to an audience of Ukrainian immigrants and refugees in Jerusalem.
The lyrics to “Stefania” are an ode to motherhood written sometime before the Russian invasion. However, in the current crisis, it has been reinvented by the band and their fans as a metaphor for their love for their country.
While in Israel, Kalush Orchestra also filmed their Eurovision postcard, which is the intro video shown before each act on the night of the contest. Candidates usually film their postcards in their home country, but this was not possible for Ukrainians because of the war.
Russia have been banned from entering this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after the European Broadcasting Union ruled their inclusion would damage the contest’s reputation. Russia had been part of the competition since 1994 and won the iconic Eurovision glass microphone trophy in 2008.
The absence of the Russians deprives them of a place at the biggest live music event in the world. The Eurovision Song Contest was first held in 1956. It was won by legendary Swedish supergroup ABBA in 1974 with a song called “Waterloo”. And this victory became the springboard for a long and brilliant international pop career.
Last year, the 65th edition of the contest was watched by 183 million viewers in 36 markets. Once derided as ridiculously corny and unrepresentative of modern music, the made-for-TV extravaganza has enjoyed a major renaissance in recent years, capturing the zeitgeist with its clear message of inclusion and diversity. As a result, it’s now a guilty pleasure that you can shamelessly enjoy. It even spawned an American imitation when the American Song Contest was launched this year.
In line with its rise, the Eurovision Song Contest audience is younger than ever. Organizers say more than half of 15-24 year olds watching TV on last year’s show had listened to Eurovision. Online, Eurovision content attracted more than 50 million unique viewers in 234 countries during the week of the event. Two-thirds of the online audience were in the 18-34 age bracket. And unsurprisingly, the Twitter demographic posted almost 5 million tweets about Eurovision on the night of last year’s final.
This year, Ukraine will be among 17 domestic acts in the first semi-final on May 10. The second semi-final will follow two days later. And the grand finale is scheduled for May 14 at the Pala Olimpico, Italy’s largest indoor sports arena.
Ukraine have already won the competition twice, in 2004 and 2016. Obviously, Kalush Orchestra would love to score a hat-trick. But a victory for the group would mean much more than gold. And the group understands that victory would not only showcase modern Ukrainian culture, but would also be a source of national pride, which would hopefully result in a boost in morale at home.
But even if the Kalush Orchestra is on a bad note, the fact that a Ukrainian group is in competition is a small miracle in itself. Yeah, it’s just a singing contest. But maybe it can remind Ukrainians that normality still exists somewhere there.
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Humanity, USA Today