Germany won Eurovision yesterday, thus breaking the "No Big Four Country Will Ever Win Eurovision Curse." But how will Germany do on my own countdown of the top 10 pop music scenes in Europe?
Number 8: Ukraine. 8.11% GREEN (8.11% of that country's charting songs earned top marks on my spreadsheet)
In 2004 Ruslana's "Wild Dances" won the Eurovision song contest. Only a few months later the singer was addressing cheering Orange Revolution supporters in Kiev. The Orange Revolution reversed the results of a good old-fashioned Soviet-style rigged election and turned control of the government over to a more Western-focused group of politicans.
Unfortunately, due to massive and embarrassing infighting amongst its leaders, the Orange Revolution has now petered out. While Ukraine as a whole doesn't look like it's going to become the Russia lackey some pessimists imagine (it's in any country's best-interest to pursue a relatively independent track), the Russian influence will certainly grow under the current government's tenure, as has been signaled by a string of recent positions taken on Sevastopol, the Holodomor, and NATO membership.
In the USSR, the Ukrainian music scene was run from Moscow. Thus, when Ukraine declared independence the country had to build its own music distribution network from scratch.
I can't see how the Orange Revolution would have helped most Ukrainian musicians very much. Looking to the affluent west may sound great in concept, and Ruslana may have enjoyed moderate Western success after her Eurovision showing, but for most Ukrainian music groups business always lay to the east, and breaking from Russia probably left many artists feeling relatively stranded in a market not advanced or big enough to support those musicians--especially after the Orange Revolution.
The result of Ukraine's independence has been a music scene that is in disarray. But I think Ukraine's pop music is much stronger than Russia's, and in general it has large potential. Ukraine's music strengths may be a byproduct of the country's geographic position, where it soaks up interesting ideas from its many neighbors (it's worth noting how much easier it is, logistics-wise, for a westerner to visit Ukraine than to visit Russia). Ukraine is not massive, and so ideas can circulate more efficiently. Oddly enough, Ukraine may also benefit from a long history of invasion that has resulted in every single citizen being naturally a bit multi-cultural.
Over the years, I have seen Ukraine offer drum and bass DJs who utilize live instruments in their sets, a female rapper who also sat on a cake in Playboy (or so I was told), a rock/rap band that utilizes traditional Ukrainian folk singing, and an ostentatious drag queen who, in a telling hint of the general Ukrainian attitude towards homosexuality, has never explicitly said he is gay (his Wikipedia entry is worth a look).
Perhaps the most stirring Ukrainian music comes from the old ladies from the country's rural villages. This is some haunting and lovely stuff.
Some tracks from the last couple of years:
Dazzle Dreams - Disco Killers
Gorchitza - Final Cut
Tina Karol / Тина Кароль - Ne boysya
Zebra / Зебра - Vesna / Весна