Colorful, campy, confounding: to the uninitiated, the Eurovision Song Contest (or ESC for short) can be all this and more.
Think New York Met Gala meets Bollywood dream song sequence, enriched by — sometimes — mindboggling lyrics, bizarre choreography, pyrotechnics and rib-tickling commentary by national broadcasters.
As one of the world's biggest song and dance extravaganzas, the ESC attracts around 200 million viewers worldwide.
The brainchild of Marcel Bezencon of the European Broadcasting Union, the ESC was originally conceived through a desire to unite European countries through cross-border television broadcasts following World War II.
Thus, Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra winning this year's trophy with their song "Stefania" proved particularly poignant, given that the country is in the midst of a war with Russia.
Nail-biting until the end
Ukraine had been the odds-on favorite to win this year's ESC, the 66th edition of the contest, held on Saturday in Turin, Italy.
Yet, the ESC's voting system that is decided both by national juries of the 40 participating countries as well as televoting by the public kept viewers guessing until the end. The national jury votes had overwhelmingly favored the United Kingdom's Sam Ryder and his impressive falsetto rendering of "Space Man."
But a whopping 439 public votes catapulted the previously fourth-placed Kalush Orchestra to top spot. After Kalush Orchestra performed their song, they addressed the millions of viewers who watched them saying, "Save Mariupol, Save Ukraine and Help Azovstal."
"Stefania," which was originally written in honor of frontman Oleh Psiuk's mother, mixes rap with elements of Ukrainian folk music. The group later rededicated it to all matriarchs in Ukraine, with the line, "I'll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed" taking on a new meaning after the war.
"We came here with a sad song and just the message that, on the contrary, we need to draw attention to ourselves. They are trying to destroy our culture right now, and we are here now to show everyone that our culture is alive," Psiuk had told DW in an interview on May 13, explaining why the band chose to participate in the contest despite the war.
"Our music is alive and very interesting, it has something unique, its own identity and a very beautiful signature," he added.
Of wolves and grandmas and Meghan Markle's hair
Twenty-five countries had made it to the finals, which started off dramatically with footage of Rockin' 1000 — a rock band comprising 1,000 musicians — playing an instrumental version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."
However, in true Eurovision style, some acts proved singular for their choice of lyrics, outfits or choreography.
"Give That Wolf A Banana" is an ear worm by Norway's Subwoolfer, an anonymous duo known only by their pseudonyms Jim and Keith. Dressed in suits with their faces covered by yellow wolf masks, their toe-tapping chorus goes, "Before that wolf eats my grandma / give that wolf a banana."
The listener is left with much room for interpretation: do the lyrics reference the story of Red Riding Hood or the fact that wolves are back in European forests or that veganism is the way to go?
Serbian artist Konstrakta, who was dressed as a nurse and whose routine saw her seated with a bowl of soapy water in which she kept washing her hands, sings: "What could be the secret of Meghan Markle's healthy hair? What could it be? I think it's all about the deep hydration." She had previously explained that her song "In Corpore San" was about underscoring the importance of health, especially in present times.
The affable German contestant, Malik Harris, however, went home literally empty handed. Despite being enthusiastically applauded by the audience for his song "Rockstars," he received zero points from the jury and a total of six points from the televoters. This despite his song being in the German Top 10. The last time Germany won the ESC was in 2010 when Lena won it for the upbeat "Satellite."
Host of next year's show uncertain
Traditionally the winner of the finals will host the folllowing year's competition. However, given the current situation in Ukraine, the EBU might reconsider staging the event in Kyiv.
The Guardian reported that runner-up United Kingdom might stand a chance of playing host instead, adding that the 2023 host will most likely be chosen from one of the "big five" countries — namely France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK — who make significant financial contributions to the EBU and who are guaranteed direct entry into the final.
Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru