Eurovision song contest

Ukrainian singer wins with 1944

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gives medal to singer Jamala, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Ukrainian singer Jamala was declared winner after a tense vote count.
Ukrainian singer Jamala was declared winner after a tense vote count.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

STOCKHOLM • Ukrainian singer Jamala snatched victory from arch-rival Russia to win the Eurovision song contest last Saturday, adding a touch of political drama to the annual kitsch extravaganza.

After a tense vote count, during which it seemed Australia was going to run away with the crown until the audience votes came in, Jamala was declared the winner for her heart-felt performance of 1944, a song about the deportations of Crimean Tatars during World War II.

Her entry - which stirred controversy over perceived veiled criticism of Russia's recent annexation of Crimea - scored 534 points, closely followed by Australia's Dami Im with 511 points, the juries' favourite. The hotly tipped former Russian child star Sergey Lazarev came in third with 491 points.

Germany was the worst performer of the evening, with Jamie-Lee Kriewitz's Ghost scoring just 11 points, followed by the Czech Republic with 41 points.

In Moscow, public TV channel Rossiya 1's commentators congratulated Jamala on her win, without mentioning the Crimean Tatars. They said her song was "about her family members", without offering further details.

Jamala, 32, herself described the win as "amazing". "I was sure that if you sing, if you talk about truth, it really could touch people," she said.

The win capped an eventful 61st edition of the love-it-or-hate-it kitsch fest, which was expected to be the most-watched Eurovision since the event was first staged in 1956.

Scores were decided by national juries and viewers. In an attempt to give the outcome a more democratic feel this year, fans were given the final say - adding some last-minute suspense to the contest.

Among the evening's other highlights was a guest appearance by United States pop star Justin Timberlake, who sang his hit, Rock Your Body, before performing his new single, the upbeat Can't Stop The Feeling, which itself would not have sounded out of place in the Eurovision line-up.

In another sign of the contest's growing appeal, Eurovision for the first time aired live in the US on the Logo channel, which is aimed at the LGBT community. The show also live-streamed on YouTube, giving Google a piece of a pie once reserved for European public broadcasters.

"The Eurovision Song Contest is now a truly global phenomenon," producer Jon Ola Sand said, amid expectations that the show will push last year's record of 197 million viewers worldwide.

The light-hearted contest usually tries to steer clear of geopolitics, but this year was different.

Political leaders in Moscow and Crimea had initially sought to get Jamala's song disqualified, arguing that it criticised Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014. The jury approved the lyrics nonetheless.

Inspired by Jamala's great- grandmother's story, 1944 recounts the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin and she sings it partly in the Tatar language, she says, because "it's in my blood".

The song has resonance for contemporary Ukraine, where memories of that horror were revived by Russia's seizure of Crimea and Jamala's poignant lyrics tell the story of a people with a history of persecution that continues to this day.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko congratulated Jamala on her victory, tweeting: "An unbelievable performance and victory! All of Ukraine gives you its heartfelt thanks, Jamala."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Ukrainian singer wins with 1944'. Print Edition | Subscribe