At #23 we have one of the most interesting artists at Eurovison this year in the shape of Manizha. Perhaps more than any other entry, including Cyprus, Manizha’s entry and Eurovision story has broken into the wider news world rather than the more narrow confines of Eurovision and it’s all to do with social issues and politics (more of that later) but all told we have quite a different type of act representing Russia this year.
Russian selection for 2021
Unusually there was a Russian national final this year, the first since 2012, with three acts competing and the result decided by public vote. Little Big were Russia’s representative last year with “Uno” and there had been some expectation they would be back for 2021. Yet that proved not to be the case, with the national final announced at short notice and Little Big appearing on the show to announce they would not be going to Eurovision in 2021. There is some speculation on the reasons behind this, but whatever the truth, it gave an opportunity to three acts to represent Eurovision’s largest country. Ultimately, it was “Russian Woman” that won and you have to wonder how much the Russian broadcaster/authorities had a chance to vet the songs and artists.
The song and artist
“Russian Woman” is a about the transformation of the self-awareness of women in Russia – going from peasantry to the factory and on to going into space. It’s also a strong satirical pop at the chauvinism, sexism and misogyny of men and institutions in Russia still. I’ll admit it’s not always the easiest listen – spoken rap is not my favourite thing (be it in English or Russian) – but it has an amazing rousing, very Russian sounding chorus (and is in Russian), and the passion and charisma of Manizha shine through.
Manizha is quite a remarkable artists. Born in Tajikistan, her parents fled the civil war there when she was a baby and she grew up in Moscow, going to university, getting into music and singing and spending time in London (and also New York). What makes her stand out is her activism over social issues in Russia – she’s led campaigns against domestic violence and speaks out for LGBT rights and supporting the Russian LGBT community. Given the extremely tough and worsening position of LGBT rights in Russia, this is not only a commendable stance, but also very brave and selfless.
Backlash and chances at contest
Inevitably, both the song and her known activism (and her ethnicity) have seen a lot of hate directed at her – from far right nationalists of course but also many others and even from MPs within the Russian parliament, calling for Russia to withdraw from the contest this year rather than send her. Manizha has remained defiant though, as she explains in this great piece from the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg (BBC’s Moscow correspondent and also a big Eurovision fan – be sure to follow him on Twitter: @BBCSteveR) It’s also been written about in The Guardian and other news media.
I really hope that Manizha qualifies from the semi-finals. She’s been placed in the unenviable third place slot in the running order of the (arguably) tougher semi-final (third place in semi-final running order has worst qualification record of any running order position). However, Russia has one of the best qualifying records at Eurovision as well as achieving consistently high placings in the grand final. This is partly driven by the large Russian diaspora – and while there are many haters of Manizha and her song, there are many who support her too, so I’m hopeful that the support will be there, and that juries and non-Russians “get” this as it’s the most interesting Russian entry I can recall, and very different to their very polished, highly produced pop fair that is their usual style entry.
Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest
First entered: 1994
Appearances (excluding 2020 and this year): 22
Best result: Winner 2008
Last year’s result: 3rd