The folk rap group are a favorite in the betting markets and their presence at the tournament has captured the imagination of fans from all competing countries.
“As we speak, our country and our culture are under threat. But we want to show that we are alive, Ukrainian culture is alive, it is unique, diverse and beautiful,” Oleg Psyuk, the leader of the group, told CNN.
“It’s our way of being useful to our country,” he said.
At first glance, the six-member group seems to fit in comfortably with dozens of their more eccentric Eurovision brethren.
Most members wear elaborate clothing national attire, with rapper Psyuk also sporting a pink bob. One of the members is so overwhelmed by the patterned embroidery that only his mouth is visible, while the band’s bassist arrives dressed as a ball of yarn.
But bringing Kalush Orchestra to the Eurovision stage has taken time, and their journey is deeply tied to the war at home.
The group initially finished runners-up in Ukraine’s national selection competition, but were elevated after it emerged the winner had already traveled to Russia-annexed Crimea. They were unveiled when entering the country on February 22, two days before the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops.
“All members of the group are in some way involved in defending the country,” Psyuk told CNN via email.
A member of the team’s media team has joined the home defense and is fighting on the front line, leaving the group outnumbered in Turin. Psyuk, meanwhile, volunteers to find shelter for internally displaced Ukrainians and organizes the transport of food and medicine.
The context of conflict has complicated preparations for Eurovision. The group was forced to rehearse virtually until they could finally reunite in Lviv after weeks of war.
And their song took on new meaning. “Stefania”, sung in Ukrainian, is a tribute to Psyuk’s mother, who still lives in the western town of Kalush, from which the group takes its name. “Some days rockets fly over people’s houses and it’s like a lottery – nobody knows where it’s going to hit,” Psyuk told CNN.
Organizers banned Russia from the competition in February, 24 hours after a widely criticized initial decision to allow it to enter. The European Broadcasting Union concluded that the country’s presence would “discredit competition”.
Belarus, which aided the invasion of Moscow, had previously been suspended due to the suppression of media freedom in the country.
Kalush, meanwhile, came through Tuesday’s semi-final and drew wild cheers from the crowd when they took to the stage. Eurovision is notoriously difficult to predict, given that its points system relies on both jury verdicts and public votes from dozens of countries, but Kalush looks like a safe bet to win this year’s crown.
A Ukrainian victory would mean the country had the right to host next year’s contest – but it is far from certain such an event would be possible in Ukraine next May.
Psyuk, however, is optimistic. “We believe in our song…it’s become a song about the homeland,” he said.
“If it turns out that we are going to win, Eurovision 2023 will be held in Ukraine. In a new integral Ukraine… a rebuilt, prosperous and happy country.”
Kalush Orchestra joins a typically ragtag group of national competitors in this year’s competition, and while they are the clear favorites to triumph, a number of other artists have managed to get Europe talking in the build-up.
Subwoofer, the enigmatic electro duo from Norway, also grabbed attention with their track ‘Give That Wolf a Banana’.
The couple claim they formed on the moon 4.5 billion years ago and never take off their yellow canine masks. Looking the most like a TikTok-ified Daft Punk, the legendary French duo have hired David Lynch as their artistic director and hit the kids’ party circuit.
Less “out there” are entries from Sweden, Poland and Greece – all three have brought ballads to the table that are sure to interest national juries.
And here are some words this seasoned Eurovision reporter never thought to type: UK could win this year.
It’s true – the nation that for the past decade has sent what’s left of Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck to compete with European newcomers has reluctantly accepted that modernity isn’t just a passing fad. , turning to a TikTok sensation in a play for the under 65s in Europe.
Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” is an exceptionally strong UK entry that draws inspiration from Ziggy Stardust-era Elton John and Bowie, and some bookmakers are only giving Ukraine better odds of winning.
But the track leans heavily on the remarkable vocal acrobatics that helped Ryder go viral at the start of the pandemic – so he can’t afford a night’s rest if he is to break the 25-year Eurovision curse. UK.
The best (and worst) of the rest
Italy hopes to put on its show on Saturday evening, on the occasion of the first post-Covid Eurovision in front of a large audience. The 2020 edition was canceled and last year’s took place with crowd restrictions.
This contest marked the release of two years of suppressed weirdness, and the tone of this contest is a bit more traditional in comparison. But it’s still Eurovision, and it’s still weird – so casual viewers who tune in exclusively to shake their heads and tut won’t be disappointed.
Already eliminated is Latvia, whose eco-friendly anthem “Eat Your Salad” began with the line “I don’t eat meat, I eat vegetables and pussy”. Unsurprisingly, the organizers asked them to skip the feline allusions, and in doing so erased the song’s only interesting feature.
Serbia’s Konstrakta begins their entry, “In Corpore Sano,” with the question that keeps us all awake at night: “What could be the secret to Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?” Then she kind of just…continued with that theme. “What could it be?” Konstrakta sings in his mother tongue. “I think it’s all about deep hydration.”
Last year, the landlocked micronation of San Marino inexplicably included Flo Rida in their song, then forced the puzzled rapper to sit and watch the people of Europe successively shrug their shoulders at their waning star power, throwing the country to a fourth from the bottom. to end.
This year, Achille Lauro – a man who takes his stage name from a famously hijacked cruise ship – takes up the baton for the smallest country in the competition. With a tattooed, androgynous aesthetic and lyrics that liken his heart to a sex toy, Lauro is probably the bad boy of Eurovision 2022. (Although he still has a ways to go to beat last year’s winners , who were eventually allowed to take cocaine on the air following a viral video that sparked an investigation by organizers.)
Other worthwhile long shots include Stefan, Estonia’s answer to Johnny Cash. He played the western theme in his music video, and although his Eastwood credentials go so far as to be able to wear a poncho and stare gloomily into the distance, his raspy voice and catchy chorus might confuse favorites.
And then there are the Australian revelers. Originally invited in 2015 to mark the show’s 60th anniversary, Australia keeps rocking every year, boxed wine in hand, awkwardly laughing at European jokes and hoping to land a win for die-hard fans who wake up early in the morning. to watch the show at home.
To be fair to Australia, they’re giving it their all – and this year’s contender Sheldon Riley’s aptly named ‘Not the Same’ should end in a respectable finish.
And Eurovision’s popularity in the southern hemisphere testifies to its growing strength, even in its seventh decade.
Eurovision, for all its quirks, retains a special place in the cultural calendar. But winning would be of unique significance to Kalush Orchestra, and it’s hard to imagine a more popular winner in the tournament’s history.
“For us, victory would mean an appreciation for Ukrainian music, its uniqueness and its beauty,” Psyuk told CNN. “Victory would also lift the spirits of the Ukrainian people, who (have) not had a break (for) joy in over two months.”
Eurovision airs at 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) on Saturdays, and it’s available on Peacock for US viewers.
CNN’s Xiaofei Xu contributed reporting.
This story has been corrected to state that Kalush Orchestra social media team member Slavik Gnatenko has joined the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force. Dancer Vlad Kurochka is with the group in Italy.