Eurovision Song Contest 2023: United By Music

Well, another year, another Eurovision Song Contest. As usual, I spent the evening with some friends, playing a drinking game of our own devising along with some homemade bingo cards (see below), so I’ve got to be honest, the night is a little bit of a blur. But as usual, I’ve picked ten favourites from the songs performed and, if you too are nursing a Eurovision hangover, then you might like to give this a read. First of all, I’d like to say a huge congratulations to the BBC for putting on a show we can be proud of – the production value was excellent, the postcards and graphics were all of a very high standard, and as we were joint hosting with Ukraine, it was really nice to see so much of a Ukrainian presence in the show and in Liverpool itself. The tour of Ukrainian Eurovision acts from the past during the flag parade was a really nice idea, and I think it worked very well indeed – even before it was mentioned, I remember thinking as the camera panned over the venue… hold on, I recognise those trees… and before I knew it, there were Go_A! Absolute classic.

From left to right: Graham Norton, Alesha Dixon, Julija Sanina (Юлія Саніна) and Hannah Waddingham.

Before we get stuck in, I’d like to give another quick shout out to the hosts, who did a fantastic job (is anyone else a little obsessed with Hannah Waddingham now? It can’t just be me…), and will anyone ever really forget Mel Giedroyc doing the now-infamous Polish butter churn dance? It’s going to take a hell of a lot of therapy to cleanse that one from the ol’ brain box. It was so out of nowhere I choked on my drink. I do love it, though – if you’ll permit me to read a little too much into it for a moment, I think it was kind of indicative of Eurovision fans in the UK. Yes, we know it’s silly, and yes, we know it’s not the most popular thing on television – but the people who love it really do love it, in all its glory and silliness – the fact that a commentator could dredge up a reference from a song from about ten years ago that didn’t even do particularly well and everyone watching would know exactly what it was, like it’s our own little in-joke. It’s just a nice little family to be part of. But, without further ado… in alphabetical order, let’s have a look at some songs, shall we?

Austria (Österreich) • 🇦🇹 • Teya & Salena, ‘Who the Hell Is Edgar?’ I’ll admit, I didn’t love this the first time I heard it. But after a couple of listens, it really gets into your head, and you can really appreciate the artistry of it – sure, it’s a little on the comedic side, but it’s got quite an important point to make. The fact that it’s so catchy and can only count in its favour. The live performance couldn’t be faulted (at least to my amateur ear), which unfortunately wasn’t something that could be said for all of the acts that night (but more on that later). It did quite well with the juries, but with the televote it really suffered – and this was, in my humble opinion, at least partially down to it being drawn to open the show, it got lost in the craziness that followed. Even so, I think they can be proud of their performance and I hope their Spotify streaming royalties mean they can afford to get a dinner together a bit sooner than in two years time.

Belgium (België/Belgique) • 🇧🇪 • Gustaph, ‘Because of You’ Again, this one really didn’t speak to me at first, but that’s entirely on me. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe Gustaph was one of the first artists to be announced for this edition of Eurovision – I saw the hat, and just immediately thought, ‘Nope.’ They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and anyone who’s seen one of my book hauls on Instagram knows that it’s something I’m frequently guilty of – and in this case, it was very wrong of me. As a friend said on the night, it’s got a sort of… lovechild of Boy George and Jamiroquai vibe to it, and I’ve got to admit, during the performance my toe was definitely a-tappin’. I’ve been listening to it on and off pretty much all day, I absolutely love that dirty synth. That’s the good stuff. Thank you Gustaph, I’m sure this will be a regular feature of my playlist for many years to come.

Czechia (Česko) • 🇨🇿 • Vesna, ‘My Sister’s Crown’ Now, finally, I come to one of the songs on this list that I can actually say I liked from the first listen. Now, my Czech is a little bit rusty (he said, incredibly charitably), but the plus side of this song being a little on the repetitive side was that I think I understood most of the non-English lyrics. I mean who doesn’t love a feminist anthem? The performance was mesmerising, though a little anxiety-inducing because I was absolutely certain one of them was going to step on their braid at some point. If they did, they hid it very well and they managed to be both powerful and graceful at the same time. I’m not entirely sure if this could be considered an example of the ‘white voice’ (білий голос, or biały głos) singing technique but it definitely had that sort of folky Eastern-Central European vibe that I’m such a sucker for. Yeah, really liked this one!

Finland (Suomi) • 🇫🇮 • Käärijä, ‘Cha Cha Cha’ Oh, Käärijä, rakkaani. This is a bit of a weird one, because it definitely grows on you. You start off thinking ‘what the hell is this’, and then after a few listens you realise you’re dancing in your chair at work, and then you’re ready to lay down your life in the service of this magnificent whatever the hell he is. It’s just years of Finnish Eurovision madness rolled into one song – it’s crazy, it’s party. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch him absolutely storm the public vote and have it ultimately not be enough to pass the (some might say overly-inflated) jury winner. It was such a strange disconnect to hear the crowd in the arena shouting ‘Käärijä! Käärijä!’ and ‘Cha Cha Cha!’ pretty much all throughout the voting and have him being pipped to the post at the last minute. It was hard to watch, but never the less, he brought his big puppy energy and sense of fun to the stage for a few minutes and in every interview, it’s been a joy to have him be part of all of this and I think he should be very proud of what he’s achieved.

France • 🇫🇷 • La Zarra, ‘Évidemment’ This was my other favourite for the big night, and I’m genuinely a little surprised it didn’t do better than it did. I thought it was catchy (again, like a friend pointed out on the night, a little like a French Sophie Ellis-Bextor?), and her performance was… well, it was quite commanding, and you didn’t really notice that the stage was basically empty except for her on her pedestal, but it was a little bit dull, if I had to think of a criticism. She didn’t move, like, at all. It just seemed like an odd choice, because the song is prime for a diva strut, and La Zarra looks like she’d be able to pull that off even if just she was wandering up to the counter in McDonald’s to ask for extra sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still like the song, I just think a bit more could have been done with it on the night.

Italy (Italia) • 🇮🇹 • Marco Mengoni, ‘Due vite’ Now, before I get started on this one, I have to say that I absolutely love Marco Mengoni. He’s got an incredible voice, and he’s very good at what he does – it just has to be said that on this occasion, what he did was a little bit… flat. The song starts to build at the beginning as if it’s about to go somewhere completely different, and then it just crashes back down again and gives you none of the fireworks you were hoping for. I think nowadays in Eurovision a ballad has to be something really special to stand out and this just wasn’t. Still, this was Marco’s second go at it so I’ve got every hope and expectation that he’ll be back in some future year to absolutely blow our socks off. The song will still be on my playlist either way, it’s a good song but it just wasn’t a winner. This entire year was quite strong, so even a decent song can get a little lost on the night.

Poland (Polska) • 🇵🇱 • Blanka, ‘Solo’ I remember seeing the performance of this from the Polish national final and thinking, ‘oh god, what have they done?’ Poland is often quite bankable, they’ve produced some real quality entires in the past (although I’m not sure if they’ve ever won? A quick check on Wikipedia confirms that they haven’t, their highest placement was 2nd in their debut year of 1994). But actually, on the night, when they’d ironed out some of the kinks and boosted the backing vocals a little bit… I think this is actually quite good. It’s got a sort of ‘Britney on the beach’ vibe to it, and I can definitely see it being played poolside in a lot of Spanish resorts over the summer. It is a little confusing, because it does definitely feel more like a Spanish entry than a Polish one… I’m not saying they should send folk music every year, but a bit more Polish flavour wouldn’t have gone astray, I feel.

Portugal • 🇵🇹 • Mimicat, ‘Ai Coração’ I’m going to come out and say it, I loved this from the moment I heard it, and I was absolutely gobsmacked that it didn’t do better. The curse of spot #2 strikes again. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, one of the main reasons I didn’t pick it as one of my top two for our bingo game was that I didn’t quite feel up to drawing the crest on the Portuguese flag – I’ve been burnt by Moldova in the past and I wasn’t ready to go there again. But even so, I was rooting for her. The song is fun, it’s entirely in Portuguese (which I love), and it’s one of those songs where you can guess almost immediately where it’s from just by listening to the music – that kind of national identity is something you don’t see very often but I for one would love to see more of. It’s definitely made it onto my playlist, and now all I have to do is resist the temptation to blow the dust off my copy of ‘Teach Yourself Portuguese’.

Slovenia (Slovenija) • 🇸🇮 • Joker Out, ‘Carpe Diem’ I know this one is a little out of left field, as it’s basically a sort of proto-Arctic Monkeys dressed in their grandma’s old curtains, and was definitely one of the weaker songs in the final… but I just find it so charming. They seemed like they were having the absolute time of their young lives, and it’s in Slovene, so that’s bonus points from me before the first note has been sung. It’s a fun little number, and it’s definitely better than some of the other songs the final – again, didn’t do particularly well, which is just living proof that my support in something like this is the kiss of death; I shouldn’t be allowed to pick favourites, but just try and stop me. It did inspire me to check out some of their other songs, though, if they’re old enough to have a discography at this point.

United Kingdom • 🇬🇧 • Mae Muller, ‘I Wrote a Song’ Oh, Mae. Okay, so, let me start out by saying that human golden retriever Sam Ryder set the bar incredibly high last year, and it was going to be very difficult for any UK act to follow. This song isn’t bad at all, but I think it could have benefitted from a bit of the Poland treatment – add a few backing singers to round out the vocal, because singing in an arena that size is a completely different skill to actually being able to sing, and Mae seemed like she got a little drowned out in parts. That being said, she really commanded the stage, and the performance was really great – her sassy attitude really suited the feel of the song and it really came over well, it was just that vocally it wasn’t quite as good as some of the other songs on display. And after all, at least we didn’t come dead last – but it seems like we’ve resumed our spot at the bottom of the pile.

And here we are, the winner – Loreen, with ‘Tattoo’. I don’t want to be a sore loser here, because I do genuinely really like Loreen – I think she’s an amazing performer, her voice is impeccable and it takes a lot to go up on that stage completely on your own and own it like she did. She seemed shocked to have won, and handled it gracefully and humbly, which is always nice to see (thinking back to when Portugal won a few years ago, when the same could not be said). It just feels a little… I don’t know, it felt a little cynical of Sweden to be like, ‘shall we just do the same thing as last time? Yeah go on then.’ Sweden are pros at Eurovision, and they do know what is going to sell to a jury – as we saw last night. But there we are, nothing to be done about it. Congratulations Loreen, a fabulous performance and I look forward to seeing what Sweden comes up with next year (no doubt Måns Zelmerlöw will be involved somehow… let joy be unconfined…) In Eurovision trivia, Sweden are now tied with Ireland for the most wins at Eurovision, and Loreen is now personally tied with Johnny Logan for the most times an individual has won the competition.

All in all, it was a great show. Honourable mention to those absolute madmen that seemed to storm the stage instead of whoever Croatia had intended to send (is it possible to ask the police to carry out a welfare check on an entire country?) and Reiley, who represented Denmark, and who I believe would have been the first Faroese contestant in Eurovision, had they qualified for the final. in Eurovision Eye Candy news, I’d like to give a personal shoutout to the representative from Cyprus, who bravely battled his presumably fatal allergy to sleeves and took to the stage in order to give us something nice to look at (and if you’re reading this… y’know, call me). I’d also like to mention lovable lollopmonster Daði Freyr, whose cover of the Atomic Kitten classic ‘Whole Again’ looks set to be a permanent resident in my head for about the next six years. Genuinely, thank you for that, it was a truly joyful moment and I can safely say that everyone at our little soirée thoroughly enjoyed it.

And that’s it for another year! If you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to share about the contest, whether you agree or disagree with my assessment, feel free to leave a comment, or you can reach out on Twitter, Instagram or Mastodon (I’m @sprakskatan on all of them). And now, the countdown to next year’s Eurovision begins. See you as normal next month, and until then, take care!

— J.


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