The role of Eurovision in a time of war is always a fraught one. During its half-century of existence, Eurovision’s participants have been involved in any number of conflicts that have cast a shadow over a festival which fundamentally celebrates togetherness and shared values, as well as being one of the few bastions of visibly progressive politics around gender and sexuality. The Contest has always brought together artists from countries where tensions exist, and has offered opportunity to both comment on those conflicts and also to represent solidarity across nations, despite what political leaders might be trying to do. In 2022, as Russia (excluded from this edition) continued to bombard Ukraine (whose commentator reported from a bomb shelter), such solidarity was felt more strongly than ever.
The absence of Russia – and thus the opportunity to actively boo its entrant – helped create a festive atmosphere in Turin. From the start, as the entire crowd sang along with a pre-recorded mass performance of ‘Give Peace a Chance’, Ukrainian flags flew all around the auditorium. The bookies’ favourites, this was always to be Ukraine’s night, a chance for a Europe that is largely not actively fighting this war to show that it stood alongside the besieged country. The members of Kalush Orchestra, Ukraine’s representatives, would apparently be returning to combat after the contest. It helped that their song, ‘Stefania’, was a massive banger, a mix of hip-hop and folk music that included everything from rap to jazz flute, thoroughly encapsulating the bonkers potential that makes Eurovision such a rich, camp, kitsch, unpredictable event. But the swell of emotion that accompanied Ukraine’s win was truly uplifting – for the first time, a winner about which no-one could feel in any way sore.
Indeed, in many ways, this Contest felt like a moment of healing after years if not decades of European tensions, a year in which everyone present truly wanted to tell political leaders to get out of the way and share community along liberal, inclusive values. Iceland took to the stage carrying trans pride flags. Romania’s entrant, Wrs, danced with both his male and his female backing dancers. The biggest sexual energy of the night came from the home nation Italy, as Mahmood and Blanco gave an intense same-sex duet for the uber-popular ‘Brividi’. And in perhaps the biggest hint at a desire to be inclusive, the UK not only got more than nil points, but actually won the jury vote and came second overall. Sam Ryder’s impressive falsetto and widdly guitar on ‘Spaceman’, coupled with a winningly nice-guy attitude and a clearly unfeigned enthusiasm as he had the best night of his life, suggested that the rest of Europe doesn’t hate Britain; it hates our politicians. This version of Britain, this could stay.
This was a night to be flamboyant, the tone epitomised by co-host Mika in his own act during the voting, as he entertained the crowds with a lavishly staged medley of his best tracks. The headlines, of course, were about Norway’s endlessly photographable Subwoolfer, whose ‘Give That Wolf a Banana’ had a surprisingly middle-table finish, but whose big beats, amazing cardboard costumes, and spot-on dance moves comprised the night’s most fun event. They were matched by Serbia – who did appallingly in the jury vote, but shot up the leaderboard after the public vote. The political ‘In corpore sano’, remarking on Serbia’s public health service, saw Konstrakta elaborately washing her hands in a basin while accompanied by backing dancers, her severity contributing to the song’s humour and impact. Elsewhere, Spain’s representative, Chanel, nearly won the event with an impressive dance routine designed to show off her arse as thoroughly as possible in a family-friendly-ish setting, while Armenia’s Rosa Linn turned up in a whole bedroom set made out of paper, which she tore off to reveal slogans before finally bursting out to meet the audience.
There was also a strong theme of men singing about their feelings. Switzerland’s disastrous Marius Bear, with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, was the weakest of these, a mawkish song about crying alone in your bedroom which did well with the jurors but got not a single vote from the televoting (though even here, the extra ovation he got from the Turin crowd was surprisingly moving). Germany’s Malik Harris came an unjust last with a song that was actually pretty decent, sung alone by himself moving between several different instruments. Azerbaijan’s Nadir Rustamli, on the other hand, with a fun staging that saw him and a single dancer moving around two stacks of moving bleachers, was much more popular with voters. There were also several women-led ballads, from the epic ‘Hold Me Closer’ from Sweden (which came fourth), to Maro’s sweet entry for Portugal which saw six singers standing in a circle and singing to one another, to the adorably sweet S10 from the Netherlands. But as Graham Norton put it, no-one wanted this many ballads, and the arrival of Moldova with a batshit stomper brought the house down.
Eurovision comes in and out of fashion – or, perhaps more properly, it is always deliberately out of fashion, or setting fashions. But in the 2022 edition, it seemed to strike an ideal balance. Almost all the songs were decent tunes, with great, game performances and high production values. The show saw a mix of established acts (The Rasmus! Mika!) and songs that are already big hits, but everyone seemed to be making an effort. And in the voting, a story for the ages, with a genuinely tense battle among the jury vote that baffled all assumptions about political voting as the UK got 12 points after 12 points – before a public vote according Ukraine an unsurpassable 400-odd votes took the contest’s outcome beyond all doubt. Winning Eurovision won’t solve global conflict, but for a moment, Turin recaptured something of what many of us wish and hope Europe might still be.