Wow. This year’s Eurovision Song Contest played out in a dramatic and ultimately really heartening way. As the bookies had predicted, Ukraine won by a comfortable margin with ‘Stefania’, an infectious folk-rap hybrid performed with a defiant sense of national pride by Kalush Orchestra. It was a worthy winner, but also an incredibly stirring one. The grand final began with a pointed group performance of John Lennon‘s ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and ended with a Ukrainian act emerging triumphant in front of a huge global audience. The message from the 40 nations that compete and vote in Eurovision was impossible to miss: we see you, and we have your back.
For the UK, this year’s contest was all about the redemption arc. Before Sam Ryder gave us a comeback for the ages tonight, we were on a bitch of a losing streak. Last year we came bottom with a desultory nul points despite sending ‘Embers’, a solid enough dance bop from James Newman. But Ryder, an Essex-based singer-songwriter who built a massive TikTok following during the pandemic, approached the contest rather differently: with confidence, optimism and zero condescension. He and his team appreciated that Eurovision offers an enormous platform to emerging artists and needs to be treated with respect. On the night, he delivered a soaring performance of his classic-sounding pop song ‘Space Man’: his falsetto was absolutely golden and he radiated energy. But in the weeks before the contest, he had already laid the groundwork by embarking on a Europe-wide charm offensive. His reward was a stunning second-place finish: the UK’s best since 1998.
In fact, after the initial jury vote, Ryder was on top of the leaderboard: an unthinkable position given the UK’s appalling recent record. It was only the subsequent public vote that pegged him down to second place. His success with the various international juries added tension to a contest that, in all honesty, wasn’t the most fun and frothy ever. The third quarter of the running order was dominated by dour downtempo numbers ranging from the impressive (Greece’s affecting ‘Die Together’) to the retrogressive (Lithuania’s super-twee ‘Sentimentai’). Curiously, some of this year’s standout bangers including Ireland’s ‘That’s Rich’, performed with big hun energy by Brooke Scullion, didn’t progress beyond the semi-finals. This allowed the relatively few uptempo tracks in the grand final to stand out. Spain’s ‘SloMo’, a club-ready Latin pop song performed with breathtaking choreography by Chanel, finished in a thoroughly deserved third place. Noway’s ludicrous EDM tune ‘Give That Wolf A Banana’ scraped into the top ten but probably should have done a bit better.
As ever, the contest as a whole was drawn-out and speckled with awkward moments, including some from a presenting (Alessandro Cattelan, Laura Pausini and Mika) that never quite gelled. This is no reason to sneer. If any act has underlined the fact that only gammons still look down on Eurovision, it’s last year’s winners Måneskin, who have scored three UK top 20 hits since their victory in Rotterdam. The charismatic Italian rock band returned to this year’s contest as all-conquering heroes and debuted their slinky new single ‘Supermodel’, which was co-written by super-producer Max Martin. Any fears that Måneskin might be tempted to play it safe now they’re major players were assuaged on the song’s first verse, when frontman Damiano David delivered the zingy lyric: “She loves the cocaine, but cocaine don’t love her back.” David was reportedly performing with an ankle injury, but this didn’t dampen his trademark peacocking energy. Any Eurovision alum knows that the show must go on.
The interval also included a poignant performance from Eurovision legend Gigliola Cinquetti, who won the contest for Italy way back in 1964, and a spirited hits medley from Mika. Because three of the four songs came from his multi-platinum 2007 debut, ‘Life In Cartoon Motion’, it was a bit like bumping into an old school friend at a wedding disco. But, in a nice way. I know I wouldn’t be mad if Mika’s disco banger ‘Love Today’ became a retro-kitsch TikTok trend. But really, Eurovision 2022 was all about looking forward: Sam Ryder reminding us that the UK can actually win this thing, and Ukraine showing the world just how much agency it has. Yes, the contest can be silly – hello, ‘Give That Wolf A Banana’ – but it’s also strangely and fundamentally profound.