…but I simply can’t not write this blog post.
For once, this year’s Eurovision had a number of strong entries. And by this, I mean musically sound songs, lyrics that made sense, performances that had class. It wasn’t just a mix of the usual trite, stale, pop ballads, though there were those too.
The winning entry was certainly not one of those, with its unusual musical arrangement and its very strong political message.
Was it the best entry? Well, clearly that is subjective. In my books, no, perhaps not. I probably would have preferred Australia, Cyprus or Italy to win, the first because the song is great (although predictable) and her voice impeccable, the second because I loved the song and come on, rock at Eurovision – fun! And Italy, well what to say, pure class. There were also other middle of the road entries to consider, such as Hungary, Armenia and The Netherlands.
But – Ukraine’s song was certainly ONE OF the best. And the fact that it had such a strong, personal, political message gave it more gravitas. Jamala’s 1944 speaks about the horrors of war from a very personal point of view. The lyrics read:
when strangers are coming,
they come to your house,
they kill you all and say
‘we’re not guilty, not guilty’
The song harks back to her great-grandmother’s deportation from Crimea under the orders of Joseph Stalin during World War II, finally recognised in November 2015 by the Ukrainian Parliament as a genocide. But as Jamala herself said in one of the Eurovision press conferences, it is a reflection on horror, war, and suffering in general. And what better time for such a song, when the world is becoming more and more divisive, when the frightening likes of Donald Trump are on the horizon, when the European dream is shattering, when the far right continues to gain ground and sow seeds of fear. A perfect winner for this year’s theme – Come Together.
But over and above this, there are other reasons for backing this song:
- Jamala wrote the song herself – not some conglomerate of songwriters trying to come up with a perfect Eurovision formula, but rather a song which is personal, meaningful.
- She also managed to combine a mix of styles, including a jazz/soul vibe with operatic tones.
- It had non-English lyrics, Crimean Tatar to be exact. One of only a handful of entries this year not to use English (even France sang in English!)
Will I be downloading Jamala’s song on iTunes? Probably not – though I can see the entries from Australia, Cyprus and The Netherlands finding a place on my iPod.
But that’s not what art is about, is it? Art isn’t meant to be comfortable, it’s meant to reflect on life, to provoke us into thought, to cause discomfort while entertaining us. A tall order indeed, but that is precisely what Jamala managed to achieve. And thankfully, the European audiences felt that, and voted for that. Not so much the Maltese, it seems, who are decrying the win all over social media. Comments like “I suggest that the song contest has to be about the [sic] entertainment” or ” It’s a song contest for Heaven’s [sic] sake. Can’t we put politics aside for once?” They fail to see the most fundamental thing of all, that politics (in the big sense) underpins EVERYTHING. And that a true artist will be inspired by the reality they find themselves in and reflect that. But of course, even in this, a petty song contest, we have to allow our insularity to shine. Our ‘jury’ showed this off to a frighteningly perfect degree when they awarded 12 points to the UK entry – perhaps one of the worst in the whole contest, banal to the extreme (point of interest: the UK ranked 24 out of 26).
Bow your heads, eat some humble pie and try to listen to the message Europe is sending. Too much to hope for? Possibly. But they say hope is the last to die.
Oh and on a final note – anyone who can stick it to Putin… douze points!