Kalush Orchestra beat out 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk with modern rhythms from an energetic, breakdancing band.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.
Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain, with the sexy reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.
Ukraine beat out scores of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway, whose Subwoolfer sang about bananas dressed in yellow wolf masks or Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.
“Only at Eurovision do people celebrate bananas, heartbreaks and wash their hands in one and the same show,” Swedish fan Martina Fries told AFP Saturday ahead of the finale.
“Eurovision is a way to show that different countries can celebrate peacefully together.”
The joy of Eurovision is in the camp and the clowning, although the nearly three-month war in Ukraine hung heavily over festivities.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
Written before the war, Kalush Orchestra’s “Stefania” mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music with an invigorating hip-hop beat and nostalgic lyrics recalling the motherland.
The band pulled off a crowd-pleasing cultural mashup with the sound of obscure flute-like folk instruments and the sight of embroidered ethnic dress onstage added to breakdancing and rapping.
President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the group for topping the contest.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.
Representing Ukraine at Eurovision while loved ones suffer back home has been tough, with one band member currently fighting to defend Kyiv, Psiuk told AFP.
“We are very worried about him, and we hope to see him safe once we are back.”
Other more sober offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.
Italy hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.
After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.
On the fashion front, Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant “Sentimentai”.
Meanwhile, Sheldon Riley of Australia- one of Eurovision’s few non-European entries- sang his self-affirmation ballad “Not the Same” through a sparkling face veil laden with crystals.
And since no Eurovision is complete without a smattering of gyrating and undulating bodies onstage, Spain’s Chanel came to the rescue with her energetic dancing and memorable “booty hypnotic” refrain.
Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals and members of the public from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.