Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, May 19, 2016



The results are in from Stockholm! The winner of EURO-VISION 2016 is: **JAMALA!** She's a feisty young Tartar representing Ukraine. (Real name: Susana Jamaladinova) With jet-black hair and a piercing smile, her pop music future looks bright. Her song, 1944, refers to the year Stalin forcibly removed 200,000 ethnic Tartars from beautiful Crimea to dusty Central Asia. And...it just so happens...that Jamala's great grandmother was one of those unlucky people. It wasn't until 1980 that they were allowed to return. So...instead of just winning Eurovision...Ukraine also got to roust rival Russia too. Wow!

OK: American readers must be confused. Let's start with the Eurovision Contest. It's half American Idol and half Olympics: A song contest where each nation sends one pop star to represent. It dates back to 1956, when seven nations sent singers to Lugano, Switzerland. Since then, it has steadily grown, adding new nations almost every year. Things peaked in 1974, when an unknown foursome from Sweden named ABBA won. (NOTE: Their hit, 'Waterloo' also had historical overtones.)  To summarize: Eurovision is a feel-good event celebrating the wonders of pop-disco on a level unfathomable to most Americans.

Well...everyone feels good until politics get involved. A huge shift in emotions occurred in 1991 when the Iron Curtain fell. Instantly, a dozen new nations thrust themselves into the competition. Some were accepted with open arms by the established powers: Macedonia triumphed in 1998 and Estonia won a year later. However, other states (Russia) were only reluctantly invited. That's too bad, because Moscow produces good pop music. This year's entry Sergey Lazarev was the early on Ladsbroke favorite. But when voters heard Ukraine's melodic swipe at Russia, they were swayed. Putin spokesperson Maria Zakharova snipped: "Next year, just sing about Syria, Assad and blood. You will win."

See? That's not feel-good at all! Let's get back to why Eurovision garners so much attention. This year's installment tallied 200 million viewers worldwide. They tune in to the week-long showcase to see the over-the-top splendor. They love the insane on-stage pyrotechnics, jaw-dropping little black dresses and crazy costumes that would make Lady GaGa proud. Also, the vast majority of the songs are not political ballads, but silly pop songs about joy, love and flowers. And it's the only time a little country like Luxembourg can rise to the top: They are tied for the all-time lead with four crowns!

Which brings us back to Jamala: The little Ukrainian who could. She returned home to Kiev a conquering heroine. A ticker-tape parade of powder-blue and yellow confetti showered her as she arrived at the airport. But winning Eurovision comes with a catch: Your nation must host next year's event. Can the war-torn nation scrap it together? The snarky Putin spokesperson doesn't think so. She quipped: "Ukraine has hole in budget." C'mon, Maria! This isn't the Olympics, World Cup or even a Super Bowl. Armenia pulled it together two years ago... Kiev has got this covered. We say: YAY! JAMALA!

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