The 66th Annual Eurovision Song Contest is underway in Turin, Italy, and bookies are already calling Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra the clear favourite to win.
This year’s song contest however is shaping up to be the most controversial in years.
It is the first time Russia hasn’t competed since 1994 due to their invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus has been banned due to a mix of pro-government anthems and its political ties to Russia.
Perth-based member of Eurovision Song Contest Fans of Australia Network, Organisation Générale des Amateurs de l’Eurovision Kingsley Dawes says Ukraine winning is almost an inevitable outcome, according to fans.
“Ukraine’s been a sentimental favourite for quite a few years, and they almost always end up in the top 10 but this year they’re a very short-prized favourite to win,” he says.
“It’s a great song too; I mean there’s nothing like a bit of ethnic flute, some Ukrainian rapping, and a break dancer. It’s high-level Eurovision.”
The last time Ukraine won Eurovision in 2016 was also marred in controversy due to world politics.
“They won in 2016 with ‘1944’ by Jamala, and that was literally 18 months after they were invaded by Russia,” Mr Dawes says.
“A lot of people think that that song shouldn’t have won.”
Eurovision has strict rules that ban song entries containing lyrics about government, war, or political issues, and many believe that Ukraine’s winning 2016 entry stretched these rules.
“It’s quite a political song. It wasn’t about the current conflict but it was about how the Russians invaded Crimean Tatar in 1944 during the Second World War and pushed all the Crimean Tatars out of the Crimean Peninsula,” Mr Dawes says.
Some fans, such as Mr Dawes, are questioning whether Ukraine’s popularity is that of a ‘sympathy vote’.
“Ukraine did get a bit of a sympathy vote. And that song is really a conflict-war song, which officially they’re not allowed in Eurovision. That’s why Belarus wasn’t allowed to go last year because their song was basically pro-Belarusian government,” he says.
The controversy also extends to after the song contest ends.
The rules state that whoever wins the Eurovision Song Contest will be the host nation of the following year’s ceremony.
Many predict if Ukraine wins, allies in what are called the ‘Big Five’ nations — France, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Spain — will take the reins of hosting the 2023 contest.
Writer for The West Australian and one of many local Eurovision experts Carly Laden says even though Ukraine is tipped to win, there is still stiff competition.
“I know that the bookies are saying Ukraine is the favourite to win this year and they do have a very good song with ‘Stefania’; while it is one of my favourites. I feel The Big Five have really stepped up to the plate this year,” she says.
“I’m really loving France, as well. They’re not performing in French, they’re using Breton. I think it’s the first time in God knows how many years that a country is performing a song in that particular language.”
The finals are live this weekend.