History repeating itself.
Scott Mildenhall: If it wasn’t for her allegations of dubious practice in Ukraine’s 2011 Eurovision selection, Jamala may have already represented her country at the contest with this jaunty yodelathon, and “1944” may never have happened. The difference between “Facebook Song” Monetta and “Crisalide” Monetta is but an illusion, but it’s fortunate that this time the world got the latter. It’s very hard not to be glib when talking about this – maybe impossible – but it doesn’t feel wrong to say that whether on record or live, it is completely compelling. A lot of performances looked curiously empty on the seemingly infinite Stockholm stage, but Jamala made the most of it: she was in the eye of a storm.
Leonel Manzanares: Mugham singing — a cultural staple of the peoples of the Eurasian steppe — is the crux of this track’s colossal resonance. According to tradition, mugham is both mournful prayer and lullaby, as it’s transmitted from mother to baby. It serves as a perfect expression of honor to Nazylkhan, Jamala’s ancestor, and it carries her message. She was a Crimean Tatar who lost a child while being deported to Central Asia by Stalin’s USSR in 1944. Jamala’s devastating take on this subject, accompanied by duduk and a beat that feels close to Burial’s Untrue record, or William Orbit’s Ray of Light ethno-explorations, is a breath of fresh air in Eurovision history; a beam of light in a contest so obscured by both understated hostility and aggressive neutrality. This is not politics, it’s a History lesson. It’s the sound of pain, personal and collective, but also of hope. A message to all displaced peoples, that they’ll too be home soon. And now that Crimea is, once again, an occupied territory, “1944” feels twice as powerful.
Cassy Gress: We’re all going to talk about that bridge and final chorus, right? The part where this turns from an cold and huddled lament into some sort of psychic channeling of the abraded, raw spirit of every displaced people? “I couldn’t spend my youth there,” they wail, “because you took away our peace.” Jamala’s out-of-nowhere perfect whistle register is a cry out of time.
Edward Okulicz: Lost in the furore about this song’s charged political ramifications, I first took to how you could almost body-pop to the beat. That’s an important contributor to how the song moves you, because it rescues it from being just a downer. Though it’s a big downer anyway; nothing says universal sadness like the duduk, even Jamala’s almighty wail. The Tatar chorus, absent of context and my reading of a translation, would have sounded like a lullabye to me, and the triumph of “1944” is how it takes history that’s been slept on, particularly throughout Western Europe and the Anglosphere, and makes us open our eyes. Her howl at the song’s close nearly brought the house down on Saturday night. Kangaroo-toting flag-wavers in the crowd told me that they were disappointed by the last-minute reveal of Dami Im’s defeat, but they were salved because it was to Ukraine.
Thomas Inskeep: I’m kinda shocked that this won the annual cheesefest known as Eurovision: “1944” slinks through the shadows, a quiet shuffle-beat from an early ’00s UK garage record joining forces with some trip-hop sonics and some dark, dark lyrics sung by a singer who can really emote. I’ve not read up on the politics referred to herein on purpose, because I wanted to judge this purely on its musical merits, and on those, this is a damned good record.
Will Adams: Jamala’s force-gathering performance of “1944” sent shivers down my spine at each stage of the contest, but in a way the song works just as well in recorded form, without the ball lightning effects and wind. It’s quieter, building atmosphere through windy pads and dusky breakbeats, and Jamala waits until the spellbinding bridge to cry to the heavens. The English lyrics would seem hollow like they so often do in typical Eurovision entries if it were not a lived reality for Jamala and her family. Adding even more weight (and an extra point) is the devastating blow that comes from uncovering the Tatar chorus: “I couldn’t spend my youth there, because you took away my peace.”
Iain Mew: Last year, Måns Zelmerlöw’s “Heroes” got to #11 on the UK charts. Fair to say nothing from this year’s will even match Loïc Nottet‘s #69, and it’s not just because of the introduction of streaming to the charts since. We’re an imperfect barometer, but a lack of songs with wider immediate appeal, it makes sense for something at least striking to get through to win. “1994” is really striking. The recorded version can’t match the intensity of performance, staging, or context from the night of course; it doesn’t silence me and have me holding my breath in the same way. It’s still impressive in its own right, as anything which has me thinking of positive comparisons with both La Roux’s “In for the Kill” and Ayumi Hamasaki’s otherworldly epic “Brillante” probably has to be. Jamala powers the small scale sections but keeps enough in reserve to make the grand moments jump out too. And somehow it’s done in three minutes!
Katherine St Asaph: That a major Eurovision contender would have a message of “fuck you, USSR!” was unsurprising, though perhaps not its win. That it would get genuinely, casually operatic? Also not a surprise — it’s Eurovision. That it would sound remarkably like Burial or Maya Jane Coles? The best sort of surprise.