By Joe Slowinski
On Saturday night, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the 66th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest as the national audience vote totals catapulted them from 4th place to a dominating win over the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Spain. Ukraine was also victorious in the 2004 and 2016 events.
Support for Ukraine was evident as the broadcast opened with scores of musicians performing John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance. Throughout the evening, many contestants and audience members held Ukrainian flags or made gestures and statements supporting the Ukrainian people.
Kalush Orchestra’s song entry, Stefania, pairs traditional folk music with hip hop dance and rap. During their final performance, founding member Oleh Psiuk adorned a pink Kanga-like bucket hat and sequined folk vest as he rapped out a tribute to his mother as Vlad Kurochka (aka MC Kilimmen) break danced on stage and Ihor Didenchuk played a traditional Ukrainian flute in their catchy winning tune.
The Eurovision Song Contest is best described as a conflation of national pride, eclectic musical artistry, kitsch choreography, and over-the-top costume designs paired intermittently with more familiar pop songs and ballads. As a spectacle, its popularity has surpassed a Europe audience and has led to the annual contest becoming a global sensation.
More than 183 million viewers watched Italian rock band Måneskin win the 65th Eurovision Song Contest last May. According to Neilsen, to illustrate the scope and size, Super Bowl LV drew 92 million viewers in 46.1 million households in the United States. This year’s contest likely surpassed 200 million viewers worldwide, potentially yielding its highest viewership numbers ever. In 2016, 204 million viewers watched Ukraine entry Jamala win the title at the Globen Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
After starting as a small event, in Lugano, Switzerland, featuring just 7 nations, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown into a global phenomenon launching the careers of many global superstars. Sweden’s Abba was victorious in 1974. Canadian Céline Dion, representing Switzerland, won in 1988. Grease star Olivia Newton-John represented the United Kingdom in 1974. The largest-selling Latin music artist, Julio Iglesias represented Spain in 1970. Katrina and the Waves, representing the United Kingdom, walked on sunshine with their win in 1997.
The climax of the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final evening is the post-performance anticipation that is fostered as the sharing of 40 national panels and televoting results are revealed to the live audience, one by one. Each nation’s votes convert to 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 point totals for the top 10. Fifty percent of each nation’s vote comes from a national jury of musical professionals. The other half comes from the televote. After the national panels voting reveals, the United Kingdom led Sweden 293-258, with Spain at 231 points.
To maintain the suspense, after the national panel voting results are shared, the televote ranking points are revealed one by one in reverse order. Accordingly, each participating nation could earn a maximum of 480 points from the audience vote. When Ukraine earned a televote of 439 points, it was clear the residents of 39 European countries and Australia were sending a symbolic message of love and support to residents of Ukraine.
My first exposure to Eurovision was accidental one decade ago. I stumbled upon the Grande Final flipping through channels in May 2012. In my hotel room, in the Black Sea town of Constanța, Romania, I became enthralled with the entire experience as I watched Sweden’s Loreen win at the Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan. After moving back to the United States, I missed watching and was eager to have the opportunity to experience a Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final again.
NBC attempted to adapt a show for a USA audience with Snoop Dog and Kelly Clarkson hosting The American Song Contest. The show featured “live original musical performances, representing all 50 states, five U.S. territories and our nation’s capital, competing to win the country’s vote for the Best Original Song.” Stringing out the show over eight weeks diluted its potential. For their Grand Final show, on May 10th, a meager 1.97 million viewers watched K-Pop Singer AleXa, representing Oklahoma, take the first-ever title.
Disappointed with The American Song Contest, I was so happy that Peacock would be broadcasting the Eurovision Song Contest semis and final for a second consecutive year. To view all the performances and experience the extravaganza, stream the Grand Final on Peacock or view each individual performance on YouTube or Spotify.