Updated 4/18/2017: As expected, Russia has withdrawn from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after Ukraine’s government refused to budge on Yulia Samoylova’s travel ban. We’re kind of bummed the EBU hadn’t suggested Samoylova perform as a hologram as a possible solution.
As Americans, we’ve been thinking a lot about Russia lately. But at last, the true story has come out and we have clarity: Russia will participate at the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine, and they will be represented by Yulia Samoylova and “Flame Is Burning.” Samoylova is a 28-year-old singer who was runner-up on the third season of Faktor A, the Russian version of The X Factor. She lost use of her legs when she was a child, so she will be the second Eurovision participant to perform in a wheelchair. “Flame Is Burning” is by Leonid Gutkin, who co-wrote “What If” for Dina Garipova and “A Million Voices” for Polina Gagarina. He co-wrote the song with Netta Nimrodi and Arye Burstein. If you follow either Eurovision or world politics closely, you probably don’t need us to recap the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. (If you do, just go back and read our recap of last year’s Song Contest. And also a newspaper.) Suffice to say, Russia faced a difficult decision this year: whoever they picked would be entering particularly hostile territory, both because the Song Contest is in Ukraine and because, Sergey Lazarev notwithstanding, Eurovision fans in the hall have been more than enthusiastic to boo the Russian entry in recent years. Despite calls by hardliners in Russia (and apparently Philipp Kirkorov) to boycott the Song Contest this year, Russia’s Channel One decided to stand strong like a tree in the wind. Nothing’s going to move this mountain or change their direction. Is Samoylova a good singer? Yes. Is the song any good? Sure, if you like Russia’s brand of generically inspiring Eurovision ballads. Does any of this matter? Probably not. Russia has fulfilled its obligation to the EBU to participate and is also daring the Eurovision fans to boo a woman in a wheelchair. Have we mentioned that Russia has the chrome-plated balls? We do feel bad for thinking about this in such cold and cynical terms, of course, but you know, we can’t help it: we are Americans. Updated 3/28/2017: We would be remiss if we didn’t update this post to note the controversy over Ukraine’s security agency banning Samoylova over her concert appearance in Crimea. ESC Insight has a good article discussing the situation and the politics behind it. The EBU was widely derided for its proposal of having Samoylova perform via satellite if she was unable to go to Kyiv. Not to say it’s not a dumb idea, but we thought it was weirdly brilliant: we figure Russia told the EBU, “If our performer is barred entry, why should we pay fines for pulling out after the deadline?” and the EBU was calling their bluff. Maybe that’s a little farfetched, but then again, how much farfetched stuff has come to pass in the past year?