It is that time of the year again, as the triumphant fanfare of the European Broadcasting Union plays across our screens for the Eurovision Song Contest. Thirty-seven countries will participate this year in Liverpool between 9 – 13 May. While Ukraine won with Kalush Orchestra’s ‘”Stefania” in Turin last year, security concerns due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saw the BBC selected to host. This Just the Facts gives an overview of the 2023 contest, the songs in the running to win, the dark horses to watch out for and Ireland’s chances this year.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Inspired by Festival di Sanremo in Italy, it first took place in Lugano, Switzerland in May 1956 as the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne. Known today as Eurovision, it is an international song competition that is organised annually by the European Broadcasting Union, which was established in May 1950 and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is not part of the European Union. In order to participate, EBU members submit an original three-minute song, that is performed by up to six people live on stage.
Out of the 37 entries, 31 will perform in the two semi-finals and 10 songs from each will progress to the Grand Final. They will join the ‘big five’ of France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and last year’s winner, Ukraine.
Votes are given as ranked points of 1 – 8, 10 and the highly coveted 12 – “douze points”. For the first time, there will be an aggregated ‘Rest of the World’ vote, where viewers from non-participating countries can vote in all three shows. This year, the semi-finals will be determined by televoting only, which last happened at Helsinki 2007.
Stockholm 2016 changed the voting format for the Grand Final, which made for an exciting finish to the contest. The jury votes are announced first, during the usual whistle-stop tour of Europe, followed by the combined televotes for each entry. The format produced a thrilling end to Rotterdam 2021, when Italy’s Måneskin (‘Moonlight’ in Danish) won by 25 points with the glam rock hit “Zitti E Buoni’” (“Shut Up And Be Quiet”).
It was announced in December 2023 that Russia remains banned from Eurovision due to its invasion of Ukraine. Due to the war, Ukraine’s competition to select its 2023 Eurovision entry, informally known as Vidbir (Selection), had to take place in the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (‘Independence Square’) metro station in Kyiv. The previous Vidbir took place at the NAU Centre of Culture and Arts in Kyiv, just 12 days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The songs in the running to win.
The key caveat here is that these predictions have been made before the final staging setup for each song is known at Liverpool. The dance routine, lighting and camera angles only become known when the contest takes place. This often has a huge impact on the song’s performance at Eurovision. A recent example was Cyprus’ entry for Lisbon 2018. Eleni Foureira’s pop song ‘Fuego‘ (‘Fire’ in Spanish) came into the contest with little chance of success and ended up coming second (fifth in the jury vote, and second in the televote) largely due to her high-energy, hair-whipping, highly choreographed dance routine.
Who is tipped to win Eurovision 2023?
Since Loreen won Melodifestivalen (‘the Melody Festival’), Sweden’s Eurovision national selection competition in March with “Tattoo“, she has been the clear frontrunner to win in Liverpool this year, according to the bookies and Eurovision fans.
A dramatic pop anthem, which combines driving beats and slower tempos, it builds towards the ending chorus, which has been described as “the winner’s moment”. Key to her win at Melodifestivalen was the impressive “panini presser” staging. However, the 1,800kg suspended LED panel was not permitted in Liverpool, due to Eurovision rules prohibiting such structures hanging from the stage ceiling. For Liverpool, a smaller replica will be used instead. At the Grand Final, it is expected Loreen will top the jury vote; however, her win will rest on attracting enough televotes.
If Sweden does win this year, it will match two Irish Eurovision records. The first is the highest number of times any country has won the Eurovision – seven. Further, if Loreen wins, she will equal Johnny Logan as the only other artist to have won the contest twice. He won at the Hague 1980 with “What’s Another Year” and in Brussels 1987 with “Hold Me Now“. He also wrote the lyrics for Linda Martin’s winning entry “Why Me?” at Malmö 1992. Loreen won for Sweden in Baku 2012 with “Euphoria“, becoming a worldwide hit, reaching number one in music charts in 21 countries, including Ireland.
Who could give Loreen a run for her money?
The candidate that could upend things for Sweden, according to the bookies and Eurovision fans, is their Nordic neighbour Finland. Käärijä (“someone who wraps” in Finnish, pronounced “Caa-re-ah”) will be performing an electro-pop, rock-rap song “Cha Cha Cha”. The song’s Finnish lyrics “describe Käärijä’s progressing feelings on a night out”. He swept to victory at Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (Contest for New Music) in February to represent the country at Eurovision.
At the Grand Final, this is expected to be popular with the televote due to its attention-grabbing elements. It achieves this from the staging, Käärijä’s lime-green shoulder-to-cuff outfit, the chorus chant of “Cha cha cha”, his goofy dance, to its mix of rap, dance and rock-grunge. However, it might prove to be out of reach for the tastes for some, which might hinder it in the jury vote.
The dark horses to watch out for.
After an internal section by public broadcaster Österreichischer Rundfunk, Teya and Salena will represent Austria with their quirky and energetic “Who the hell is Edgar?”. An endearing song, its lyrics refer to the ghost of 19th Century American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe possessing the duo and helping them to write amazing songs. The lyrics also critique the financial struggles of songwriters, as Teya and Salena chant “zero dot zero zero three”, referring to the 0.003 cents songwriters are often paid per stream of their songs. The song is expected to have broad appeal across both juries and the televote for its fun accessibility at the Grand Final.
After an internal selection by France Télévisions, Montréal-born singer La Zarra was selected to represent France, with “Évidemment” (“Evidently”). She has described it as a “universal love song”. It is swimming in style, and an outfit with enough sequins to pave the entire Champs-Élysées.
The song has been tipped as another potential dark horse at the Grand Final due to its combination of nouvelle chanson and disco. Captivating from the first bar, it builds in drama towards its climax through La Zarra’s impressive vocals. While distinctively French, it is accessible at the same time, which has worked previously. At Rotterdam 2021, Barbara Pravi’s “Voilà” came second by just 25 points after the juries placed her second and third in the televoting. However, the staging here will be key for “Évidemment” to succeed at the Grand Final.
Honourable mentions: Norway, Spain, Ukraine.
Representing Norway is Alessandra’s “Queen Of Kings”. A triumphant pop anthem with Norse instrumental elements. She decisively won Melodi Grand Prix 2023 in February. At the Grand Final, this song is expected to do well in the televote, but perhaps less so with the juries.
Blanca Paloma will be representing Spain with “Eaea”, after winning Benidorm Fest in February. With impressive vocals and a commanding stage presence, she has described this performance lullaby as a “chant to her late grandmother” and “a celebration of female ancestors’ power and strength”. While this will be popular with juries, it could be less so in the televote in the Grand Final.
Winning Vidbir in December 2022, Tvorchi (‘Creative’ in Ukrainian) will be singing their dark electronic-rap song “Heart of Steel” for Ukraine. The lyrics were inspired by the Ukrainian army defending the steel and iron factors in Azovstal in 2022. Ukraine is likely to see a repeat this year of the solidarity it received from people across Europe in the televote, but less so from the juries in the Grand Final.
Ireland’s chances this year: a strong likelihood of not progressing to the Grand Final.
Wild Youth won the Late Late Show’s Eurosong 2023 in February with uplifting indie rock song “We Are One”. Unfortunately, they perform in the first semi-final on Tuesday 9 May (number six in the running order), which contains many strong entries. These include Finland, Norway and Sweden (as highlighted above), in addition to Czechia, Israel, Moldovia, the Netherlands, Serbia and Switzerland. As the band have a strong stage presence and live vocals, there is a small outside chance they could qualify, if another entry fails to deliver in their performance on the night.
The running order for both semi-finals can be viewed below, which include snippets of each song. The Grand Final will take place on Saturday 13 May, all shows begin at 8 pm Irish time.
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