Against the backdrop of a war in Europe, the hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest reaches its flamboyant climax Saturday night as 25 bands perform in front of a live audience in the northern Italian city of Turin, while millions more watch on television around the world.
The Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra is heavily tipped to win by bookmakers, which are giving the group that mixes traditional Ukrainian rhythms, costumes and dance moves with contemporary hip hop a 60% chance of winning.
Their song, “Stefania,’’ was written as a tribute to the frontman’s mother, but has transformed since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 into an anthem to the war-ravaged nation, as lyrics take on new meaning. “I’ll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed," Kalush Orchestra frontman Oleh Psiuk wrote.
The six-member, all-male band received special permission to leave the country to represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music contest. One of the original members stayed to fight, and the others plan to return as soon as the contest is over.
The winner is chosen in equal parts by panels of music experts in each competing nation and votes by the viewing public, leaving room for an upset. Britain’s Sam Ryder and Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs are each given a 10% shot while the Italian duo of Mahmood & Blanco have a 6% chance of winning.
The winner takes home a glass microphone trophy and a potential career boost.
The event is hosted by Italy after the Italian rock band Maneskin won last year in Rotterdam. The victory shot the Rome-based band to international fame, opening for the Rolling Stones and appearing on Saturday Night Live and numerous magazine covers in their typically genderless costume code.
Twenty bands have been chosen in two semifinals this week, and will compete along with the Big Five of Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, which have permanent berths due to their financial support of the contest.
Russia was excluded this year after its invasion of Ukraine, a move organizers said was meant to keep politics out of the contest that promotes diversity and friendship among nations.