The European continent – and Australia, for some reason – are preparing to crown the winner on Saturday of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, a pop song extravaganza invented as an alternative to World War III.
The Song Contest brings together dozens of countries who each send an original song to be judged and ranked by both a host of expert judges and evaluated by popular vote. The hours-long broadcast consists of the artists performing each country’s song followed by a prolonged point-conferring ceremony in which every country hands out its scores: 12 for its top choice, ten for number two, and various breakdowns of one to eight points. The country with the top score wins and gets to host next year.
Like the equally geopolitically relevant United Nations Security Council, the Eurovision Song Contest finals have five permanent seats – reserved for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is notoriously bad at the contest, often coming in last, but not all of the “Big 5” take their positions for granted.
Italy, for example, is this year’s host after winning the 2021 contest with a glam rock entry that made band Maneskin internationally successful.
2021 was a unique year in that the contest was canceled the year before due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, so countries had two years to prepare – greatly increasing the quality. The return of the contest was also more universally seen as a celebratory event, meaning countries sent actual fun songs instead of the usual barrage of morose, forgettable ballads that many phone it in with.
The ballads are most definitely back this year, and so are the blatant violations of the “no politics” rule – some countries choosing to violate it by condemning hypochondriac coronavirus culture, others by berating the world about climate change. Russia, perennially the villain of Eurovision, was outright banned this year in response to its latest invasion of Ukraine (Russia got to participate in 2015, however, when Ukraine did not send in a song due to getting invaded by Russia).
Compiled below are the best and worst of this year’s contest: the likely winners, the should-be winners, and the so-bad-you’ll-enjoy-hating them entries that will likely leave audiences baffled.
Will Win: Ukraine – Kalush Orchestra, “Stefania”
Eurovision’s “no politics” rule bans countries from submitting songs with explicitly political lyrics, but it certainly does nothing to prevent political voting. In 2005, Greece won with a fairly mediocre entry because the debt crisis had galvanized European sentiment against Germany and towards fiscally challenged Athens. In 2004, Russia invaded Ukraine, leading directly to the 2005 Kyiv Eurovision Song Contest. Nothing of major historical significance really happened to Ukraine in 2017, but it submitted a stealth anti-Russian song, so Europe crowned it the winner that year.
Ukraine’s phenomenal 2021 entry should have won that contest, but oddsmakers fully expect that its entry this year will make up for it. It is a bit of a shame, because GoA’s “Shum” – complete with a video filmed in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – would likely have won during any other year that didn’t feature a band popular enough to perform at Coachella, and this year the Ukrainian’s decided to submit… “folk-rap.”
Rap at Eurovision is always a mistake, there’s a Jamiroquai hat involved in this performance, and the geometric patterns are a bit seizure-inducing, but it’s a catchy enough beat when they stop trying to rap on it and maybe Ukraine can have this guy host next year, so it wouldn’t be a particularly lamentable result if the country won.
Should Win: Serbia – Konstrakta, “In Corpore Sano”
Serbia is pretty clearly in violation of the “no politics” rule with this one, but who cares, it’s about time someone made fun of coronavirus-induced hygiene fanaticism. The chorus of the song is simply, “to be healthy,” and it concludes, “a sick mind in a healthy body/a sad soul in a healthy body/a desperate mind in a healthy body/a frightened mind in a healthy body/What now?”
Konstrakta, the stage name of performer Ana Đurić, has more or less stated that the point of the song is to question how much mental health and spiritual damage humanity can be expected to take to avoid a coronavirus infection. The Meghan Markle reference appears to be a mockery of mainstream European center-left culture, as is the fact that she spends the entirety of her performance of the song washing her hands.
Rest of the Best
Moldova – Zdob şi Zdub & Advahov Brothers, “Trenulețul”
Zdob şi Zdub are Eurovision veterans and perfectly encompass the goofy, shameless, slightly but not especially committed traditional/folk spirit of the event. The song’s concept is, apparently, a dance party on a train from Moldova to Romania, featuring some indigenous outfits and a lot of accordions. This song does not care if you laugh at it – the smiling is the point – and that should be the goal of a Eurovision song.
Spain – Chanel, “SloMo”
Spain is typically terrible at Eurovision – lots of generic ballads or truly horrendous attempts at having a sense of humor – but this year they cheated (I kid, it’s not actually against the rules) and sent a Cuban contestant, so the song is actually pretty good. It doesn’t have a European sound at all, instead invoking the reggaeton dance beats popularized by Puerto Rico, but “SloMo” has the advantage of sounding like a song produced and promoted by a major record label and would be right at home on, say, New York Spanish-language radio. Bonus points for the song being in the country’s native language, Chanel’s obvious Caribbean accent aside.
Czech Republic – We Are Domi, “Lights Off”
These entries that attempt to sound like major record label hits are a double-edged sword, but when they work, they work. Maneskin won last year’s Eurovision Song Contest because they clearly sounded like a band that would have become famous independently. We Are Domi are bringing that energy – the entry has some clear Calvin Harris influence but is original, uplifting, and fun. The music video has an actual plot, which makes it fun and not cringe to watch.
Italy – Mahmood & BLANCO, “Brividi”
In the interest of not being too discriminatory against ballads – which, for the record, should simply be banned from Eurovision (this is supposed to be a party!) – this is the best ballad of the bunch. Highlighting same-sex relationships is a tired Eurovision trope at this point, eight years after a bearded drag queen took the trophy, but independent of the video, the Italians know how to write and perform a heart-wrenching love song.
Norway – Subwoolfer, “Give That Wolf a Banana”
You might think this is a quirky fun dance song, why does it deserve last place over more forgettable ballads?
Because we as a planet did this already. It was called “The Fox” by Ylvis, it was awful, and it should stay in 2013 where it belongs.
Rest of the Worst
UK – Sam Ryder, “Space Man”
The U.K. is a permanent member of the Sec– the Eurovision “Big 5,” so they don’t have to bother to come up with anything actually tolerable. To be fair, the chorus of the song is not terrible, but the “If I was an astronaut” falsetto is truly unfortunate. And then there are the profound lyrics, like: “I’m up in space, man/Up in space, man” and “There’s nothing but space, man, no/Oh, I’m in the wrong place, man/Nothing but, nothing but, nothing but space, man Nothing but, nothing but, nothing but space, man.”
You know you could just send nothing, right Britain? You could just not send a song?
France –Alvan & Ahez, “Fulenn”
A completely shameless ripoff of Ukraine’s spectacular 2021 entry “Shum,” down to using the same neon green color tones and post-apocalyptic, The 100–style outfits. The reason “Shum” worked is because it was based on a Ukrainian folk song and the video was recorded in an actual post-apocalyptic wasteland. Eurovision desperately needs a “no plagiarism” rule.
Iceland – Systur, “Með Hækkandi Sól”
Iceland often misses the memo and sends extremely boring, barely melodic sad songs to Eurovision. Last year was an exception – even Iceland sent a happy song, that’s how you know it was a good year! – but they seem to be back to their usual snoozefest. This song works as atmospheric background noise for the dramatic montage in a prestige television drama, but not so much as the inspirational anthem a Eurovision winner is supposed to be.
What Did I Just Watch? Honorable Mention
Georgia didn’t make it to the final, and I wouldn’t call this “good,” but my life is better for having watched it. Thank you, Georgia.