A nail-biting conclusion to the Eurovision Song Contest (RTÉ One 8pm) has seen Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra crowned winner with their track Stefania. Their victory arrives at the end of a marathon broadcast from Turin, where they are pushed all the way by the UK’s Sam Ryder.
But a huge public vote propels Ukraine to the top of the leaderboard, ahead of a chasing pack that also includes Spain and Sweden.
Ukraine’s victory will warm hearts across Europe. But with Ireland’s Brooke Scullion eliminated in the second semi-final, on Thursday, this is obviously a bittersweet evening for Irish viewers. How long ago the 1990s and our famous streak of triumphs now feel. Look at us now: the faded giants of Eurovision, yesterday’s champion reduced to applauding in the wings.
It obviously doesn’t help the songs we have sent to Eurovision have been of wildly varying standards. And yet it is worth acknowledging Scullion’s pleasant bopper, That’s Rich, would have felt perfectly at home amidst this year’s 25 finalists – and is objectively of higher quality than several which made the cut.
Still, even in her absence, the grand decider ticks all the boxes, ranging from the dewy-eyed interstellar pop of Sam Ryder and his tune Space Man to the barking mad Euro-house cranked out by Norway’s Subwoolfers (two men in wolf outfits, plus a DJ in a space-suit –a routine so crazy it’s almost like watching Irish children’s television from the 1980s).
Wacky and sincere have long been the twin poles between which Eurovision has swung – and that juxtaposition continues in Turin. Along with Subwoolfers, the bonkers quotient is ticked by Moldova’s Zdob si Zdub & Advahov Brothers, whose Trenuletul is only moderately less wigged out than Dustin the Turkey’s Irelande Douze Points from 2008 (a gobbling travesty economists now agree triggered the banking crisis and the collapse of the Irish economy).
The obvious difference is that Dustin was booed. Whereas the 15,000 PalaOlimpico laps up Moldova’s mix of Cotton Eyed Joe and Edvard Munch’s The Scream. You do have to wonder if our record seven victories has turned us into pop pariahs at some level.
Also striving to crank up the out of body factor are Norway’s Subwoolfer – they’re still dressed as yellow lycanthropes and still singing “give that wolf a banana” – and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who washes her hand while name-dropping Meghan Markle and wins big in the public vote (having scored poorly with national juries).
Her entry is about Serbian health insurance – and given that it made the final, perhaps there is a lesson for Ireland. Next year we need to send a song about turf cutting controversy (we could call it the Peat Goes On).
On the serious side of the aisle, winners Kalush Orchestra top off an impassioned Stefania – it’s the traditional Ukrainian flute solo that makes it, along with the body-popping – with a plea to the world.
“Please help Ukraine… please help Mariupol … right now,” they say. Eurovision has rules against crossing the streams of pop and politics. Understandably – and having already chucked out Russia – the organisers make an exception.
Lashings of emotion are meanwhile served up with weepy turns from Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs, who delivers a compelling mix of Abba and The Cardigans. And by Poland’s Ochman with River, a hairdryer ballad so gushing you could use it use it to power-wash your front drive. And there is a memorable intermission performance from Mika, one of the trio of presenters, who puts on his pop star hat to race though his greatest hits.
It’s all good, clean euro fun. And then there is voice from Marty Whelan, who, after France’s rave-influenced number, claims to experience a flash-back to his rave-going days. “I remember my time in Sonar in Barcelona when I’d be setting in my tent listening to music like that,” he says (do they have tents at Sonar?)
From free wheelin’ Whelan to fireworks and a stage with its own waterfall, this an evening with everything (except Brooke Scullion, obviously). All topped off with victory for Kalush, who have been a frontrunner from the start. And, in front of a global audience of 180 million they deservedly soak up their moment in the spotlight.