15 March 2016

Eurovision 2016: Review: Ukraine: Jamala: 1944

Jamala sings 1944
The Ukraine return to the Eurovision stage, following an understandable absence in 2015, with the slightly controversial offering from Jamala called 1944.

Written by the singer, the song concerns the expulsion of Crimean Tartars by Joseph Stalin during the latter stages of the Second World War. This caused loud rumblings from officials in Russia - as well as several politicians in Crimea - stating the lyrics were too politicised and a veiled effort to attack Russia for its decision to annex the Ukrainian peninsula.

Happily for Jamala, the EBU has recently quashed any complaints, instead deciding that the title and lyrics of 1944 do not breach any rules concerning political speech. This means we'll be able to hear the song in Stockholm, the events a personal inspiration for Jamala: her great-grandmother and her children were among the thousands deported from the Black Sea area into forced exile.

It's unlikely that the same fate will befall the naggingly pronounced rhythm of 1944. Performing in the second half of the second semi-final, the song has already picked up a lot of support - mainly from those sympathetic to the plight of Crimea, rather than for the quality of the song. As the staging of the Contest approaches, the story of 1944 will no doubt garner yet more media interest leading to further support from a wider public.

But is the song worthy of all this attention? Somewhat. 1944 benefits from not only a mesmerising arrangement but also a mesmerising interpretation from Jamala. Although a relatively static rendition, her arm movements -  as well as an intense vocal performance - cleverly draw the listener into the whole package, much as a snake charmer would hypnotise his serpent.

Nice Middle Eastern flavours then, as well as a chorus sung in Crimean Tartar, which will no doubt better impact voters located in Ukraine's immediate vicinity. Sadly, these traits are likely to be its downfall in a pan-European and commercial sense: the message seems unclear and the entire presentation lacks an obvious hook.

Consequently, Jamala is very unlikely to deliver Ukraine its second victory this year. The song is just not strong enough. It's sure to attract some much-needed sympathy votes, helping push it through its semi-final, but a spot on the left-hand side of the scoreboard seems remote.

What do you think?


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