For the first time since Lordi, all eyes – beyond the flag-painted faithful – are on Eurovision. The 2021 ceremony elevated this once corny song contest to the standing of genuine international star-maker – whereas previous champions have generally had limited long-term success, and even Abba struggled for two years to escape the stigma of “Waterloo”, Italy’s glam- rockers Maneskin have enjoyed an instant and unprecedented global cut-through for ‘Vision winners. Come 2022, the event’s significance rises again, to a statement of Europe-wide unity. Going in, only the most delusional Euro-Cyrus believes they have a chance of beating Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, no matter how many vocal cords they rupture in the trying. Eurovision’s supposedly non-political stance is, the bookies insist, for the dogs; even the waterfall festooned stage at the Turin PalaOlympico itself, seemingly in a perpetual state of flooding, could be constructed as a subliminal protest against climate change.
Competitive aspect supposedly removed, Eurovision 2022 becomes a great chance to objectively assess the continent’s abilities to successfully merge their regional music with mainstream pop. Frankly, a lot of them appear to have cracked it. Sensing fresh opportunity, many countries opt to field their most celebrated and angst-ridden Adeles. Portugal’s Maro, boasting a voice like a woodland well, sings her de ella lovelorn de ella “Saudade, Saudade” in a support group circle of backing singers. The Netherlands’ S10 goes for a Florence Welsh bellow on “De Diepte” and Armenia’s Rosa Linn, sat in a bedroom made of Post-It notes, forgets she’s playing her acoustic folk lament “Snap” thirty seconds in and starts ripping down the wallpaper like a grief-deranged Lawrence Lewellyn Bowen.
Lithuanian Masked Singer judge Monika Liu manages a touch of Liza Minelli razzle-dazzle, but her “Sentimentai” is too heavy on over-egged sentiment and (‘Vision crime number one) forgettable. Of the bunch, Greek Covid nurse Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord looks like the best long-term prospect; half acapella, “Die Together” grows into an impressive piece of portable bombast balladry, performed on a stage full of knackered chairs like Lorde in a landslip.
The contest also now acts as a de facto The Voice Champion Of Champions. Belgium, Azerbaijan, Poland and (checks atlas, quizzically) Australia all enter their regional winners in the hope of international recognition, all proving that sounding like a mildly electronic Sam Smith is the way to get those judges’ chairs spinning. Australia’s Sheldon Riley, in a fluffy ballgown and jeweled veil, upstages the rest with an affecting track called “Not The Same” – ostensibly about growing up with Aspergers but a song for all outsiders. Kudos to Estonia’s Masked Singer alumni Stefan for bravely chancing a wild west George Ezra route instead, while the Germans have a special word for their rap-pop balladeer Malik Harris, making loose with his loop pedal on piano, drum pad and acoustic guitar: Fakensheeran.
Amid the emoting, variety emerges. Fanning away fireworks, Spain’s Chanel makes a fine fist of being the flamenco J-Lo, but misses the subtlety and suggestion of the greatest pop inuendo: “SloMo” pretty flagrantly invites us to film her backside in slow motion while she offers to “sweeten your face in mango juice”. Finland up the stakes by sending one of their biggest ever musical exports in arena rockers The Rasmus, creepily togged out like the balloon-toting child from Item and singing of waking up bruised and shackled after a violent night of passion with some lusty “Jezebel”. Serbia’s Konstrakta, meanwhile, presents arguably the most bizarre performance in Eurovision history. Sat on a chair in surgical whites like Lady Gaga scrubbing up for very glamorous surgery, she sings an arthouse pop number called “In Corpore Sano” about Megan Markle’s hair, the downsides of health insurance systems and how to spot early signs of liver and spleen disease. Delirium may have set in by this point.
Missing the memo, several countries are still honoring Eurovision’s proud history of naff. On their third attempt, Moldova’s Wonder Stuff Zdob şi Zdub go at “Trenulețul” like Devo covering the Ramones with fiddles. And Norway, the country sensitive enough to formulate one of the best pandemic responses in the world, present to us a bunch of yellow Wolves In Black called Subwoolfer raving out a Euro-EDM banger about feeding bananas to a wolf called Keith. International reputation trashed with a single howl of “I want your grandma, yum yum!” Good.
Ultimately Eurovision 2022 provides a rich seam of talent. The home nation’s Mahmood and Blanco offer “Brividi”, a chill-inducing duet racked with drama and only mildly lost in translation. “I dreamt of flying with you on a diamond bike,” Mahmood croons as the pair almost come to blows over which of them most hates their Medusa of a muse, who sounds fresh from a night with The Rasmus. “I would pay to leave,” wails one, of this “opposite of an angel” with “viper eyes”; “for an ‘I love you’ I mixed drugs and tears” raps the other charmer, standing on a sci-fi piano. Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs brings emotional drama to “Hold Me Closer” and our own Sam Ryder charms the continent with a “Brexit? What Brexit? attitude and high-orbit vocals on “Space Man”, performed in a geometric launchpad of lights while dressed like 1968’s idea of a sci-fi guru. Hopes Fizz eternal.
While returning heroes Maneskin torch all of their hard-earned credibility with a preview of a dreadful new song cannibalizing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, voting begins. In the room a tangible unity prevails as Kalush Orchestra body-pop around in pink hats wielding arm-length pipes, an unpolished underdog winning through, but the regional juries favor our boy. In the end it comes down to the public vote to win it for Ukraine against the strongest UK showing for decades, serving up a decent portion of humble pie for this writer. “Everybody wants peace and music is peace,” declares presenter Laura Pausini, and for the first time in living memory, Eurovision speaks for us all.