Ukraine’s Vidbir is the first individual country competition leading up to the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.
Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra took 2022’s Eurovision 2022 top prize. Typically, the winning country has the option of hosting the following year’s contest. Eurovision organizers were forced to move the contest due to ongoing Russian aggression creating a volatile situation in the region. The honor was bestowed upon 2022’s runner-up Sam Ryder’s United Kingdom. Ukraine was granted automatic qualification in the finals.
That’s a mixed bag for the artist who wins Vidbir 2023. They don’t need to worry about being knocked out during the semi-finals. However, one of the benefits of competing in the semi-finals is an additional opportunity to be seen by the voting public.
As much as possible, I’m going to try to predict the winners of the Eurovision national song contests. I don’t expect to be very good at doing this. This will only be my second year paying attention to Eurovision and my first year digging into the national song contests.
Additionally, in nearly every case I expect to have zero familiarity with the competing artists. When I first thought about doing this I considered looking at the chosen competitor histories and back catalogs. Instead, I’m going in blind. My rankings are based solely on the sounds traveling through my ear goggles and entering my ears. The one exception is if I can find English translations for songs sung in native tongues.
Finally, in an effort to make this easier on myself, I’m not going to write a paragraph about every song. Vidbir isn’t too bad because there are only 10 songs, but Estonia, for example, has 18 songs. I imagine if I did that to myself this flight of fancy hobby would become a chore. I want to continue enjoying the spectacle of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Who’s going to win Vidbir 2023?
In a normal year, the song “Heart of Steel” by TVORCHI might have had a strong chance of representing Ukraine at Eurovision. However, this is not a normal year. Ukraine is still being aggressively attacked by Russia. Patriotism is high. Hearts and minds are with those who’ve been lost and those who continue to fight. The fear of missile strikes continues. Love songs feel trite. In my mind, that automatically pushes six of the Vidbir songs to the bottom of the pack.
Pause for an author’s note. In some cases, I’m working off of translations and might be missing the true meaning of these songs. I apologize for any cultural ignorance.
Additionally, there’s been a fan backlash around too many ballads being in the Eurovision finals. My gut tells me we’ll see fewer of those in 2023. That alone knocks DEMCHUK out of the running. Plus, in my limited exposure to Eurovision, it seems like Ukraine has learned it can have the best success when it sends bangers.
Who rises to the top of my list?
Three artists are my clear picks for representing Ukraine in Liverpool: Jerry Heil’s “WHEN GOD SHUTS THE DOOR,” Fiinka’s “Довбуш” (“Dovbush”), and Krutь’s “Колискова” (“Kolyskova”). There could be a dark horse winner with Moisei’s “I’m Not Alone.”
“WHEN GOD SHUTS THE DOOR” is an anxiety-fueled operatic, folk, electronic explosion. It articulates the struggle of abandonment of faith during wartime while inspiring cathartic dancing. The blending of Ukrainian and English is a clever trick for capturing both the global audience and the at-home audience fighting to preserve their language in Eastern provinces.
“Довбуш” (“Dovbush”) was an education. I found myself going down a rabbit hole of Hutsul history and folklore while trying to understand the English lyric translation. It fits the recent Ukraine at Eurovision model of mixing traditional Slavic instrumentation and folk traditions with contemporary dance rhythm.
“Колискова” (“Kolyskova”), a lullaby about a father who’s out fighting the war, caught me with this (translated) line: “We have all become strong since spring/So that you, my son, live in a world without war.” My wife has friends in Ukraine and she hears from them they reflect that concept of becoming hardened and strong. The song is driven by the Ukrainian bandura, a plucked string instrument along the lines of a harp lute, creating an ethereal atmosphere of lament, longing, and, eventually, comfort. This is my personal choice for moving forward.
“I’m Not Alone” could be an unexpected winner. The song, which seems to be about living with grief alongside neighbors, is likely relatable to many Ukrainians. There’s one moment in the song that, if performed well, could clinch Vidbir for Moisei: “Stand for me/Stand with me.” It’s a powerful statement of togetherness. Side note, does anyone else get Peter Gabriel vibes from Moisei’s?