Just outside the medal positions is one of Eurovision’s most successful (and most entertaining) countries of the past twenty years. They still retain a 100% qualification record and have won twice in their relatively short contest history, in 2004 and 2016. 2019 turned into a bit of a fiasco following the national final (and would have come top 5 I am sure if they hadn’t withdrawn). They returned in 2020 with a successful national final (and repeat of the 2019 drama). The winners, Go_A, were reselected for 2021.
Go_A are an electro-folk (also known as folktronica) band I was a big fan of their 2020 entry, “Solovey“. It combined that electro-folk sound with the lead singer Kateryna’s use of “white voice“, that specific East European singing style that I think sounds so haunting (though I appreciate not everyone is so keen on it!). It would also have been the first ever Eurovision entry to be sung wholly in Ukrainian.
They’ve kept the folktronica (and the Ukrainian) for their 2021 song, “SHUM”, and as well as keeping the white voice singing, they’ve added some folk techno-rave. Combined with a music video that includes an industrial steampunk version of Brum, and scenes of Chernobyl, who else but Ukraine could come up with a highly charged electro-folk and techno dystopic banger?
The “SHUM” we hear for Eurovision is actually the second incarnation of the song and is more of a sequel than a revamp. The lyrics are drawn from a variation of Ukrainian folk songs from the “SHUM” folk ritual and the song overall relates to calls for awakening the god of the forest in spring (or something to that effect). The band are steeped in Ukrainian folk music, taking time to study and learn about it, and incorporate it into their music and keep it passed on. It’s certainly quite a contrast to some of the manufactured and cynical pop songs that we get in the contest.
There had been some doubts raised about the qualification chances and that Ukraine might have been in danger of not qualifying this year (as I think people thought it was such a tough semi-final and weren’t sure how wide this song would appeal). Those doubts seem to have been well and truly put to bed though with the rehearsals that have been seen. As well as a scintillating live performance, Ukraine has not disappointed in their staging – they really do come good in that area and I think we could be seeing another top 10 result in the grand final.
Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest
First entered: 2003
Appearances (excluding 2020 and this year): 15
Best result: Winner 2004 and 2016
2019’s result: withdrew from contest after national final