National finals in Eurovision vary frequently in terms of how many songs are presented and how they play on the national music scene. Some become national institutions which attract the best of the nation’s singers and songwriters, while others are more low-key, usually happening on one night and featuring amateur artists.
One national final, however, stands out more than any other in mixing its colorful songs with scandals, quirky stagings, and politics galore. Even after an artist wins the national selection, it’s never over, as these songs are put through revamps and even complete changes of songs before it hits the stage at Eurovision.
This is Vidbir, Ukraine’s national selection.
When Ukraine returned to the contest in 2016 after a one-year hiatus in 2015, they also developed a new national final in the process. Collaborating with the private channel STB, the Ukrainian national broadcaster worked to attract artists from across the country through auditions, then picked the best to compete in their national final.
Eighteen songs competed in two semi-finals in the first Vidbir, with the top three of each making it to the final. The number of total songs varied up to 2020, but the final would always have six songs competing for the opportunity to represent Ukraine at Eurovision. Since 2022, after which the public broadcaster ended its collaboration with STB, it turned into a one-night affair in which eight songs competed.
Either way, the voting is still 50/50 between the jury and televote, just like in Eurovision! Unlike the main contest, however, the jury and televote scores were tabulated on a scale from 1-8, in which 1 represented the lowest score and eight the highest. They are tallied at the end, in which 1 is the lowest for both, and six the highest.
In addition, the jury is actually a panel of Ukrainian stars, some which participated in Eurovision themselves. This year’s jury will feature Tara Topolya, the lead singer of the band Antytila; Jamala, who won eurovision in 2016 with the song 1944; and Yulia Sanina, the lead singer of The Hardkiss–voted upon by half a million people.
If the scores are tied at the end, then the televote takes precedence. This allowed Jamala’s “1944” to beat out The Hardkiss’ “Helpless” in Vidbir’s first edition in 2016–while both songs both got 11 points overall, but Jamala got a score of 6 in the televote to the Hardkiss’ 5.
Tayanna — Lelya (Vidbir 2018)
An upbeat number with a few old school hints in the instrumental, Tayanna sings about a girl who fell deeply in love, despite the dangers involved. “Positive, energetic, without regrets and sorrow“, as Tayanna described it, it became a quick contender to win at all, especially after Tayanna lost on the televote tiebreaker one year earlier with the song “I Love You”.
Lelya ended up getting the maximum jury score, but didn’t get enough televotes, which put her in second behind Melovin’s upbeat number, “Under the Ladder“.
ЦеШо – Hate (Vidbir 2019)
Despite not making it out of its semi-final, Hate represents a lot what Vidbir is all about. It’s an eccentric song, sure, but it has its cute traits which make it shine.
–A simple song about things you hate? Check.
–A cacophony of operatic music, shouting, bass, and trumpet? Check.
–A chaotic staging featuring a puppet and overalls? Check.
It represents what Tsesho is as a collective; combining a mix of music, theater, puppetry, and poetry, it strives to tell about a person’s interaction with themselves and the world around them.
Maruv: Siren Song (Vidbir 2019)
With its provocative performances and alluring soundscape, Siren Song ended up winning the 2019 version of Vidbir, but is better known for what happened afterwards.
In their statement afterwards, UA: PBC announced, “The situation around the national selection this year has signs of politicization. The social resonance, attempts of pressure by political forces, intervention of cultural figures and informational structures of the aggressor state with this discussion have actually caused politicization of the results of the national selection.”
As the conflict in eastern Ukraine continued, Maruv was asked about her concerts in Russia, and several contestants, mostly Russian-speaking, were further interrogated about their ties to the country. When Maruv won, the broadcaster made her sign a contract in which she had to cancel her shows in Russia, amongst other things. She declined, and both second and third placers refused, leading to no Ukrainian entry for Eurovision 2019. It also led to a subsequent rule where none of the entrants could perform in Russia or travel to Crimea years prior.
KRUTЬ – 99 (Vidbir 2020)
While Go_A managed to shake up Europe with Shum this year, and won Vidbir 2020 with the song “Solovey” (which was the first song to win both the jury and the televote), another notable contender is the gentle and whimsical “99”.
Like with Go_A, Maryna Krut mixes traditional music with modern sounds, but unlike with the former, has a more low-key vibe throughout it all. She is also known for her work with the bandura, which is a traditional Ukrainian string instrument blending similar sounds from the harp and lute.
Ukraine will select its representative for Eurovision 2023 on 17 December. As Ukraine won the previous year’s contest, they will still get an automatic place in the final, despite not hosting the competition due to war.