After taking a year off from the contest, Ukraine returns with Jamala’s geopolitically controversial song. How will they fare against overwhelming favorite Russia?
Song Title: “1944”
Second Semi-Final: Position #15
Last year’s entry: Did not compete
The last time we saw Ukraine at the contest in 2014, they brought a hamster wheel1 and a great song from Mariya Yaremchuk. At the time, the country was in the middle of dealing with some stuff2 and decided to take a year off. They’re back, with a song … about genocide at the hands of the Soviets? Well, I guess it’s not really a contest until someone has ticked off Russia. It is any good, at least?
Much like last year’s Latvian entry, I have loved this song and its distinctiveness from the moment I heard it. Jamala is an accomplished jazz, soul, and R&B singer with an incredible voice, and this song has a number of musical elements that locate it geographically and culturally (as opposed to, for example, Switzerland, whose song is generic as can be). Dig just a little deeper, and “1944” recounts a very specific story: Jamala’s great-grandmother was one of the hundreds of thousands of Tatars deported from Crimea by Stalin near the end of World War II, a moment in history that has recently been recognized as genocide by the Ukrainian Parliament. I was sure that this would force the EBU to disqualify the song, and Russia did protest, but the EBU cleared the entry of any potential rule violations.
So, here we are, with Ukraine sitting in the top five on the bookmakers’ charts. The second semi-final is full of female-fronted acts (10 of them!), but Jamala will have no problem standing out of the crowd. Her closest competitors are shaping up to be Australia and Latvia, but with a strong performance record and Russia in the other round, Jamala should qualify as either the winner or runner-up from this semifinal. The real question here is: can Jamala, or anyone, take down Sergey Lazarev in the Grand Final? I don’t think so, but it’ll sure be fun to watch her try.