4 Eurovision Song Contest

Matthew Mihalka

Held annually since 1956 by the European Broadcast Union (EBU), the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest-running and most watched international song contests. Competitors represent their home countries, mostly from Europe, after being selected in their own national competitions that determine the country’s nominee.

While the rules have changed slightly over the years, particularly regarding the use of languages, one rule that has stayed the same is that countries are restricted to one song per year. Previously contestants had to sing in a national language, but today most participants sing in English, which has assisted in the global appeal of the event and songs.  Only two of the last twenty winners (as of 2019) sang in a language other than English, even though none of those winning entrants came from a country where English is the primary language.  There are also no      restrictions on the nationalities of the performers or songwriters put forth, which is why Canadian Celine Dion was able to win the 1988 contest representing Switzerland.

Songs with political content are forbidden, though some political themes have still been present in the lyrics and in the performative aspects of some songs. Also, its role as a competition of nations has political undertones, with allegations of countries voting together in blocs and using the event to respond to international politics, such as Jordon suspending the broadcast of Israel’s winning 1978 entry after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year.


Most participants, and even winners, only receive a momentary boost in popularity, similar to contestants on American reality singing competitions such as American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor. Though, a notable few have used the competition as a springboard for their future success.  Perhaps the two most notable winners were the Swedish pop-disco quartet ABBA that performed the 1974 winning song “Waterloo” and Canadian singer Celine Dion who won with the French language song “Ne partez pas sans moi” in 1988 for Switzerland. Other notable contestants include Julio Iglesias (4th in 1970 for Spain), English-Australian singer Olivia Newton-John (4th in 1974 for the United Kingdom), and Russian pop duo t.A.T.u (3rd in 2003 for Russia).


JAMALA – “1944”

The song “1944” was the entry for Ukraine in 2016 by the native singer/songwriter Jamala and ultimately won the contest. The lyrics address the deportation of over 190,000 Crimean Tatars in 1944 by the Soviet Union during the Stalin regime. They were forcibly displaced by train to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, with several thousand dying during transit and several thousand more perishing in the harsh conditions of exile.  They were not able to return until the late 1980s when their ban was lifted. Jamala’s father was Crimean Tatar and her relatives were deported and ultimately returned to Crimea in 1989.

The song was released following the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 when Russia controversially annexed Crimea, which is claimed by Ukraine as part of their territory. The action was opposed by many global leaders, with sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and the European Union, among others.  Jamala’s “1944” appeared in light of those recent events and Jamala herself admitted in an interview that song reminded her of the condition of her family living in Crimea today under Russian occupation.  While the song was accused of presenting political messages against Russians, the EBU determined that the song did not violate their rules regarding political speech.

The verses of the song are in English and written by the poet Art Antonym while the chorus is in Crimean Tartar and derived from the folk song “Ey, güzel Qırım” which Jamal learned from her great-grandmother. The piece features the use of the duduk, a double reed instrument from Armenia, which reflects the maternal side of Jamala’s ancestry. Another regional influence is found during the bridge and final outro section of the song which draws from the folk mugham style of Azerbaijan.

The following year, with the contest hosted in Kiev, Russia’s entrant, Yulia Samoylova, was barred from entering Ukraine.  Samoylova had performed in Crimea after Russia’s annexation without the permission of the Ukrainian government and was thus barred from the country for three years.  The strained Russia/Ukraine relationship also impacted Ukraine’s 2019 entrant for the contest.  Singer Maruv had her patriotism challenged during Ukraine’s national competition, in part for a coming tour of Russia.  While she won the public vote, she did not perform at Eurovision as Ukraine withdrew and did not send an entrant.

Artist Jamala
Title “1994”
Year 2016
Nationality Ukranian
Language English and Crimean Tatar
Eurovision Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxS6eKEOdLQ


0:00 – 0:08 Duduk Solo
0:08 – 0:38 Verse 1

When strangers are coming…

They come to your house,

They kill you all, and say,

We’re not guilty, not guilty.


Where is your mind?

Humanity cries.

You think you are gods.

But everyone dies.

Don’t swallow my soul.

Our souls

0:39 – 1:11 Chorus (in Crimean Tatar)

Yaşlığıma toyalmadım

Men bu yerde yaşalmadım

Yaşlığıma toyalmadım

Men bu yerde yaşalmadım



I could not spend my youth there

Because you took away my land

I could not spend my youth there

Because you took away my land

1:12 – 1:43 Verse 2

We could build a future

Where people are free

to live and love.

The happiest time.


Where is your heart?

Humanity rise.

You think you are gods

But everyone dies.

Don’t swallow my soul.

Our souls

1:44 – 2:14 Chorus (same as first chorus)
2:14 – 2:30 Bridge

Sustained vowel sounds while singing in the Mugham style

2:31 – End Chorus/Outro (continued singing in the mugham style with a truncated version of the chorus)

Vatanıma toyalmadım

I couldn’t have my homeland

More Information:

Official Website: https://eurovision.tv/

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRpjHHu8ivVWs73uxHlWwFA


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Music in World Cultures by Matthew Mihalka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book