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Ukraine takes the Eurovision Track Contest highlight because the weirdest present on earth returns

London CNN  — 

It tells you a lot in regards to the Eurovision Track Contest that Norway’s contributors – two grown males in wolf costumes who sing about bananas and the upcoming consumption of their grandparents – are flying comparatively beneath the radar this yr.

The continent’s garish and much-loved singing competitors returns in Turin, Italy on Saturday, however just one group is commanding the highlight within the build-up: Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra.

The folks-rap group are runaway favorites within the betting markets and their presence on the event has captured the creativeness of followers from each competing nation.

“As we communicate, our nation and our tradition is beneath menace. However we wish to present that we’re alive, Ukrainian tradition is alive, it’s distinctive, various, and exquisite,” Oleg Psyuk, the band’s entrance man, instructed CNN.

Kalush Orchestra performing during rehearsals.

“That is our technique to be helpful to our nation,” he mentioned.

At first sight, the six-piece group appear to fit in comfortably with dozens of their extra eccentric Eurovision brethren.

Most members put on elaborate nationwide gown, with rapper Psyuk additionally sporting a pink bucket hat. One member is so submerged by patterned embroidery that solely his mouth is seen, whereas the group’s double bassist comes dressed as a ball of yarn.

However getting Kalush Orchestra to the Eurovision stage took some doing, and their journey is deeply interwoven with the battle at residence.

The band initially completed second in Ukraine’s nationwide choice competitors, however they had been elevated after it emerged the winner had beforehand traveled to Russian-annexed Crimea. They had been unveiled because the nation’s entry on February 22, two days earlier than Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

“All members of the group are in some way concerned within the protection of the nation,” Psyuk instructed CNN by way of e-mail.

A member of the crew’s media crew joined the territorial protection and is combating on the entrance line, leaving the group shorthanded in Turin. Psyuk, in the meantime, volunteers to seek out internally displaced Ukrainians shelter and organizes the transportation of meals and medicines.

The backdrop of battle difficult preparations for Eurovision. The group had been pressured to rehearse just about till they had been lastly in a position to meet in Lviv after weeks of battle.

And their track has taken on new that means. “Stefania,” sung in Ukrainian, is a tribute to Psyuk’s mom, who nonetheless lives within the western metropolis of Kalush from which the band takes its identify. “On some days there are rockets flying over individuals’s homes and it is sort of a lottery – nobody is aware of the place it’s going to hit,” Psyuk instructed CNN.

Organizers banned Russia from the competition in February, 24 hours after an preliminary, extensively criticized choice to permit it to participate. The European Broadcasting Union concluded that the nation’s presence “would convey the competitors into disrepute.”

Belarus, which aided Moscow’s invasion, had already been suspended because of the suppression of media freedom within the nation.

Kalush, in the meantime, sailed via Tuesday’s semifinal and elicited wild cheers from the gang once they got here onstage. Eurovision is notoriously troublesome to foretell, given its level system depends each on jury verdicts and public voting from dozens of nations, however Kalush appear a secure wager to take this yr’s crown.

A Ukrainian victory would imply the nation had the proper to host subsequent yr’s contest – however it’s removed from sure that such an occasion can be attainable in Ukraine subsequent Could.

Psyuk, although, is optimistic. “We imagine in our track … it has develop into a track in regards to the motherland,” he mentioned.

“If it seems that we’ll win, Eurovision 2023 might be held in Ukraine. In a brand new, integral Ukraine … a rebuilt, affluent, completely satisfied nation.”

Norway's electro duo Subwoolfer will be facing off with Ukraine and dozens of other hopefuls.

The frontrunners

Kalush Orchestra are becoming a member of a sometimes ragtag group of nationwide rivals at this yr’s contest, and whereas they’re the clear favorites to triumph, quite a few different artists have managed to get Europe speaking within the build-up.

Italy may clinch the crown for a second consecutive yr if hometown heroes Mahmood and Blanco ship. Each are profitable artists within the nation; now they’re becoming a member of forces to emulate Maneskin, the punk rockers who gained in an upset final yr.

Subwoolfer, Norway’s enigmatic electro duo, have additionally attracted buzz with their entry “Give That Wolf a Banana.”

The pair declare they had been fashioned on the moon 4.5 billion years in the past and by no means take away their yellow canine masks. They most intently resemble a TikTok-ified Daft Punk, had the legendary French pair employed David Lynch as their inventive director and hit the youngsters’ events circuit.

Much less “on the market” are entries from Sweden, Poland and Greece – all three have introduced ballads to the desk which can be positive to curiosity the nationwide juries.

And listed here are some phrases this seasoned Eurovision reporter by no means thought he’d kind: The UK may win this yr.

Sam Ryder, pictured here rehearsing in Turin, represents the UK's best chance of winning the contest in a generation.

That’s proper – the nation that has, prior to now decade, despatched what stays of Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck to compete with Europe’s up-and-comers has reluctantly accepted that modernity isn’t just a passing fad, turning to a TikTok sensation in a play for Europe’s under-65 demographic.

Sam Ryder’s “Area Man” is an unusually sturdy British entry that takes inspiration from Elton John and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, and a few bookmakers give solely Ukraine higher odds to win.

However the observe depends closely on the exceptional vocal acrobatics that helped Ryder go viral throughout the early days of the pandemic – so he can’t afford an off-night if he’s to interrupt the UK’s 25-year Eurovision curse.

The perfect (and worst) of the remaining

Italy is hoping to placed on a present on Saturday evening, to mark the primary post-Covid Eurovision in entrance of a full viewers. The 2020 version was canceled, and final yr’s happened with crowd restrictions.

That competitors marked the discharge of two years’ value of suppressed weirdness, and the tone of this contest is considerably extra conventional by comparability. However that is nonetheless Eurovision, and it’s nonetheless bizarre – so informal viewers tuning in solely to shake their heads and tut gained’t be let down.

Already eradicated are Latvia, whose environmentally aware anthem “Eat Your Salad” started with the road “I don’t eat meat, I eat veggies and p*ssy.” Organizers unsurprisingly requested them to skip over the feline allusions, and in doing so wiped away the track’s solely attention-grabbing characteristic.

Konstrakta opines on the importance of hydration to the hair of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Serbia’s Konstrakta begins her entry, “In Corpore Sano,” with the query protecting us all up at evening: “What could possibly be the key of Meghan Markle’s wholesome hair?” Then she form of simply … retains going with that theme. “What may it’s?” Konstrakta sings in her native tongue. “I believe it’s all in regards to the deep hydration.”

Final yr, the landlocked micronation of San Marino inexplicably included Flo Rida of their track, after which pressured the bemused rapper to take a seat and watch because the individuals of Europe successively shrugged at his waning star energy, dumping the nation to a fourth-from-bottom end.

This yr, Achille Lauro – a person who takes his stage identify from a famously hijacked cruise ship – picks up the mantle for the smallest nation within the competitors. With a tattooed, androgynous aesthetic and lyrics that liken his coronary heart to a intercourse toy, Lauro might be the dangerous boy of Eurovision 2022. (Although he’s nonetheless bought a technique to go to beat final yr’s winners, who had been finally cleared of taking cocaine on air following a viral video that sparked an investigation by organizers.)

Different lengthy pictures value your time embrace Stefan, Estonia’s reply to Johnny Money. He’s performed up the Western theme in his music video, and although his Eastwoodian credentials prolong about so far as having the ability to put on a poncho and stare somberly into the center distance, his throaty vocals and catchy refrain may hassle the frontrunners.

Albanian entrant Ronela Hajati arrives for the contest's opening ceremony.

After which there are party-crashers Australia. Initially invited in 2015 to mark the present’s 60th anniversary, Australia proceed to rock up every year, boxed wine in hand, awkwardly laughing alongside at Europe’s inside jokes and hoping to clinch a victory for the hardcore followers who get up within the early hours to observe the present again residence.

To be honest to Australia, they offer it their all – and this yr’s competitor Sheldon Riley’s aptly named observe “Not the Identical” is anticipated to show in a decent end.

And the recognition of Eurovision within the southern hemisphere is testomony to its rising energy, even in its seventh decade.

A US knock-off – one thing known as the “American Track Contest,” which Europeans take a look at with the identical suspicious scowl they put on when dealing with own-brand mayonnaise in a reduction retailer – not too long ago concluded stateside, and a 2020 Netflix movie starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams launched new demographics to the feverishly adopted competitors.

Eurovision, for all its oddities, maintains a particular place within the cultural calendar. However successful can be uniquely important for Kalush Orchestra, and it’s onerous to think about a extra standard victor within the event’s historical past.

“For us, the victory would imply appreciation of Ukrainian music, its uniqueness and sweetness,” Psyuk instructed CNN. “The victory would additionally carry the spirit of Ukrainian individuals, who (have) not had any break (for) pleasure for greater than two months.”

Eurovision airs at 9 p.m. native time (three p.m. ET) on Saturday, and it’s accessible on Peacock for US viewers.

CNN’s Xiaofei Xu contributed reporting.

This story has been corrected to mirror that Slavik Gnatenko, a member of Kalush Orchestra’s social media crew, has joined the Ukrainian territorial protection power. Dancer Vlad Kurochka is with the group in Italy.

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