By CHRISTOPHER D. SHEA, reposted from New York Times (here)
Jamala, a Ukrainian singer who performed the politically charged ballad “1944,” has won the 61st annual Eurovision Song Contest.
After a deliberation process that lasted several months and included contests and appointments in each of the 42 participating countries and two semifinals this week, Jamala, whose full name is Susana Jamaladinova, was chosen by a combination of popular and jury voting in the final event at a Stockholm arena on Saturday night.
“Actually, I really want peace and love to everyone,” Jamala said as she took the stage after winning the award. With tears in her eyes, she then performed the song again.
The singer is an ethnic Tatar, and the song seems to make reference to Soviet abuses of the group in Crimea during World War II. (“They kill you all and say, ‘We’re not guilty,’” she sings in the song.) There had been calls for Jamala’s disqualification that cited Eurovision’s rules banning explicitly political songs, but the song survived in part because its references did not directly name specific historical events.
This year’s contest included some of the campy mainstays of Eurovisions past, as well as some shake-ups. Australia, a special guest in 2015, was invited back to compete in 2016. It led in the first half of the voting, which was decided by professional juries from each country. But it did not receive enough popular votes to win the contest.
Russia’s entry, Sergey Lazarev, who sang “You Are the Only One,” had been expected by many observers to win. Mr. Lazarev received the highest score from viewers, but he did not receive enough total votes to surpass Jamala.
As in past years, the contest was marred — or enhanced — by controversies, some of which echoed broader geopolitical debates. Romania was kicked out for failing to pay debts to the European Broadcasting Union, the conglomerate that organizes Eurovision. Spain’s entry drew strong criticism for performing a song sung entirely in English, a move that bothered many traditionalists in that country. Germany expelled its original entrant, Xavier Naidoo, after an outcry over his apparent sympathies for a fringe right-wing political movement.
Victory in Eurovision has rarely translated to mainstream success, with the notable exceptions of Abba (the 1974 winner) and Celine Dion (in 1988). Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen, earned cult status worldwide after winning in 2014. (The 2015 winner was Mans Zelmerlow of Sweden, for the song “Heroes.”)
The voting system was overhauled this year in an effort to add suspense to the finale. In years past, entrants slowly racked up points in an announcement process that could take the better part of an hour. This year, the winner was not known until the contest’s final moments.
Other front-runners in the 2016 contest included Amir, of France, with his song “J’ai Cherché,” and Ira Losco, of Malta, with “Walk on Water.”
The event was broadcast live in the United States for the first time this year, on the Logo network. Last year’s final event attracted around 200 million television viewers worldwide.
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