TURIN, Italy — Spontaneous chants, sequined jackets and European flags all around.
Turin is gearing up for the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, arguably Europe’s quirkiest music competition.
After two years of the pandemic, fans have flown in from all over Europe to this Italian city at the foot of the Alps, turning the place into a weekend cultural hotspot. On Saturday, more than 10,000 people will gather in Italy’s largest indoor sports arena, Pala Olimpico, for the extravaganza filled with flamboyant pyrotechnics, garish outfits and absurd songs.
In Piazza San Carlo, a 17th-century baroque square, a group waving Spanish flags and playing music on their phones pose together for a selfie, while in the Eurovision fan zone on the other side of the city, French women in dazzling outfits applaud the Serbia Latin song on Meghan Markle’s hair.
“The city is alive,” said Chiara, 29, an English teacher who lives in Turin. “There is this party atmosphere.
Ukraine are heavily tipped to win this year after Russia invaded, but fans are all hoping their country will be crowned Eurovision star among 25 contestants ranging from Estonia to Greece to Romania .
“Our presence here is already a victory, showing our flag, sharing our culture,” says Oleksii, who fled kyiv to Italy with his wife and two children at the start of the war.
Hoping for a victory
More than 40,000 visitors passed through Turin airport during the week, according to Italian newspaper La Stampa, and hotels filled up.
In the city of 1.7 million people, throngs of young people with flags on their backs roam the city singing, as elderly residents look on fascinated. Billboards with Eurovision posters adorn the town, and shops have joined in the fun, displaying inflatable guitars in their storefronts. Notes of Italy’s entry into this year’s competition – a swooning love pair – spill out of the open windows of restaurant kitchens.
The streets of the city are dotted with buskers seeking international attention. In a bar in the trendy district of San Salvario, five Eurovision fans flying Polish, Italian and British flags lament that Latvia’s sexy vegetarian anthem didn’t make it to the final.
“Eurovision is like many countries coming together and helping people meet in this warm and relaxed atmosphere,” says Alexandra, 42, from Rennes, France.
Suddenly, dozens of fans start running as a rumor spreads that last year’s winner, Italian rock band Måneskin, is staying at a nearby hotel. Amid the confused horns of dozens of Fiat cars, fans cross the busy street in the hope of getting a precious selfie.
Trying to join in the cultural frenzy, even the European Commission has set up shop in the Eurovillage, next to big brands of drinks and telecommunications, to distribute brochures on the wonders of the EU legislative process and to promote this that Brussels proclaims the European Year of Youth.
While most of the fans flooding the city are backing their own contestants and touting their incredible singing skills and truly soulful ballads, the Ukrainian folk rap group looks set to take it home. As the country is bombarded with Russian shells, popular support has grown for the band, who have been granted special permission to travel for the contest.
“A lot of people are going to vote to show their support for Ukraine right now through Eurovision,” said Amanda, a 24-year-old student from Geneva, Switzerland.
Yet many on the streets of Turin were reluctant to ponder the political stakes of the musical contest. For the occasional Ukrainian flags stowed in the back pockets, Spanish, Swedish and Italian colors dominate the visual landscape.
Jesús, a 25-year-old computer engineer from Madrid, thinks politics shouldn’t be part of the show. “It should only be about the music and musically speaking Ukraine is not the best number,” he says.
While the show’s organizers, the European Broadcasting Union, go to great lengths to exclude politics from the show, Russia was banned in February from participating in the competition.
Oleksii, who has made Turin his temporary haven for the past two months after fleeing Ukraine, believes the music competition could be a symbolic show of support from European citizens at a much needed time.
“It’s important for us because it would show that Europe and the world are behind us.”