German Eurovision preliminary marked by war in Ukraine

6 Mar

Malik Harris will represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy in May. Six acts took part in the broadcast, which included a particularly compelling guest performance by Ukrainian singer Jamala.

It was supposed to be a prominent day for the six acts vying for German representation at the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). But German TV broadcasters switched gears, turning Friday evening programming into a solidarity and donation rally for Ukraine , with the German preliminary round for the ESC titled "Germany 12 Points" embedded into it.

The competition served up 24-year-old Malik Harris from Bavaria, who showcased his song "Rockstars" — a pop ditty with a rap section that was reminiscent of US rapper Eminem. "Rockstars" is a song that is close to his heart, said the newly crowned German ESC participant Harris.

"It offers a glimmer of hope, especially in these difficult times for all of us worldwide, and at the same time should show that we're all in the same boat," he said. But the emotional highlight of the evening was the performance by Ukrainian singer Jamala .

Jamala surprisingly won the ESC 2016 in Stockholm with the song "1944," which was embroiled in controversy even before the competition. The song addresses the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. It was part of the singer's own family history — which is now repeating itself. Jamala fled Ukraine this past week with her two young children to live with her sister in Istanbul, shortly after the Russian attack began on February 24. Her husband has stayed in Ukraine.

Jamala holding a microphone and trophy at ESC in Stockholm in 2016.

Compelling performance by Jamala

While Jamala was singing her song "1944" as the show's guest of honor, tears welled up in the eyes of many people in the audience. A standing ovation for the Ukrainian singer followed. In the run-up to the performance, Jamala said she was singing for Ukrainian women and children. "I want the whole world to hear our voices, to hear of our pain and of our suffering. I will shout so that the whole world hears that it must not be like this," she said.

Jamala's 2016 ESC win brought the 2017 competition to Kyiv. Friday night's performance was a painful reminder for those who were able to enjoy that joyous music festival in the Ukrainian capital back then.

Ukraine is currently the ESC favorite

Before the Russian attacks on Ukraine, the stars were not aligned well for the 2022 Ukrainian preselection. Alina Pash, who was initially considered the clear favorite, withdrew her participation because she had apparently traveled to Crimea with forged papers in 2015. Now, the group Kalush Orchestra will be making its way to Turin, Italy for the ESC in May — with its own blend of hip-hop and folklore. They already had a large fan base ahead of the war, and are now considered the favorites for the competition.

Ukraine has been taking part in the ESC since 2003, with Ruslana winning the title for the country with "Wild Dance" directly in the second year. The ESC cult hit "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" with pop artist Verka Serduchka took second place in 2009.

German candidate faces stiff competition

This year's ESC candidate for Germany, Malik Harris, was selected Friday evening, partly by German public radio stations, but also by the TV audience voters. Together, they chose the personable musician with his catchy pop rap song. In the coming weeks, he will likely be fine-tuning his performance for Turin.

There, Harris will have to compete with 39 other acts, some of them quite strong — more than half have already been confirmed. Among them are the Finnish rock band The Rasmus, who had a worldwide hit in 2004 with "In the Shadows." Norway is sending the group Subwoolfer, but who is behind it all is still a mystery.

Italy is also among the favorites, with its ballad "Brividi," sung among others by Mahmood, who finished second in Tel Aviv in 2019. Spain also has good chances, with a brilliant dance number sung by Chanel. Norway's contribution to Eurovision 2022: People in suits wearing wearing yellow masks and sunglasses.

Former Russian ESC participant in shock 

Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, 81 prominent Russians signed a statement calling the war a "disgrace." The appeal continued: "We do not believe Vladimir Putin's claim that the Ukrainian people are under 'Nazi' rule and need to be 'liberated.'" Russian superstar Sergey Lazarev was among the signatories. The singer, a leading figure in Russia's pop scene, was twice a highly favored contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest. He was recently forced to close his Instagram account after publishing an anti-war post that included the words "All of us only have one life." The post drew countless hateful comments.

Ivan Urgant, one of the most famous Russian TV presenters and host of the 2009 ESC in Moscow, wrote on Instagram only: "Fear and pain. NO to war". Sergey Lazarev performing on stage with image of huge bird wings and clouds behind him. Emotions have naturally been high among Ukrainian artists, including top singer and former ESC contestant, Svetlana Loboda, who tearfully condemned the war in a video that she shared with her more than 14 million Instagram followers, including many Russians. The space under her profile photo, normally used for a short bio, featured the words "STOP War in Ukraine" and a Ukrainian flag. 

Following the Russian invasion, the European Broadcasting Union, which broadcasts the ESC, announced that Russia would not be permitted to participate in the competition. Russia had not yet selected its candidate for the final in Turin. The final — with the theme "The Sound of Beauty" — is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 14 at 9 p.m. local time in the PalaOlimpico arena. The two semifinals are scheduled for May 10 and 12, also at 9 p.m.

Author Silke Wünsch    

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