By Jay Darcy
Eurovision is back in the UK for the first time before most of our writers were even born! We last won the competition in 1997, thanks to Katrina and the Waves (‘Love Shine a Light’), and hosted it the following year, where the competition was famously won by transgender Israeli songstress Dana International (‘Diva’).
Believe it or not, the UK has the third most wins at Eurovision, and we have hosted the competition more times than any other country. The late 90s saw us lose favour with our neighbours; we’ve only made the top 10 thrice in the 21st century.
Last year’s Eurovision was, of course, won by Ukraine – the first country to win the competition three times this century. With Ukraine unable to meet the EBU’s safety requirements because of Russia’s invasion of the country, the UK – who came second place for the first time since 1998 – graciously accepted the offer to host.
Semi-final 2 takes place tonight, and it will be shown live on BBC One (rather than the usual BBC Three). We’ve provided you with a little recap of the press preview so you know what to expect.
With Eurovision 2023 taking place in nearby Liverpool, we’re delighted to be covering it in person. This year, there are three dress rehearsals that serve as exclusive press previews. Yesterday, we watched the dress rehearsal for semi-final 2 and rehearsals for two of the Big 5 (Spain and the UK) and last year’s winner (Ukraine), all of whom automatically qualify for the final. There were also performances from Mariya Yaremchuk, Zlata Dziunka, and rapper OTOY.
The semi-finals are presented by Alesha Dixon, Julia Samina and Hannah Waddingham (they’ll be joined by Eurovision commentator Graham Norton for the grand final).
Reiley – ‘Breaking My Heart’
Semi-final 2 is kicked off by Faroeise singer and influencer Reiley. He’s apparently 25 but he looks 15 – a curse in youth but he’ll be glad for it when he’s 40! Reiley has good vocals albeit not the strongest but he looks amazing and is accompanied by sublime production value. The song is a generic bop. The set (three connected rooms which spin around) remind me of the main set piece in the musical My Fair Lady (Professor Higgins’ sumptuous home).
Brunette – ‘Future Lover’
Brunette has incredible vocals and could command the stage on her own but she has decided to go all out. The projections are gorgeous, and I love the dance break. The shift from ethereal to powerful is seamless.
Theodor Andrei – ‘D.G.T. (Off and On)’
Many of the semi-final 2 performances contain a shift in sound and vibe. Theodor begins sat playing his guitar – unexciting but he looks swanky in his pink suit. But the performance really gets going when he stands up, ditches the guitar, and prances around the stage. He has some real rockstar energy; it’s hard to believe he’s only 18 (and it’s really hard to believe he’s 7 years younger than Reiley). Like in most performances in this year’s competition, the projections are brilliant.
Alika – ‘Bridges’
Similarly to the last performance, Alika begins by playing the piano before a tonal shift which sees her walk freely, show off her gorgeous gown, and sing more powerfully, accompanied by great projections.
Gustaph – ‘Because of You’
Gustaph provided backing vocals for Sennek in 2018 and Hooverphonic in 2021 but now he’s upfront. This is his first hit in his native Belgium since the year 2000! This camp performance sees him dressed in pink (with a big hat that gives Coronation attendees a run for their money) as the huge screens show videos of diverse people, including drag queens (more on drag queens later). He is later joined by a trio of Black female backing singers and a vogue dancer who elevate the performance to the heavens.
Andrew Lambrou – ‘Break a Broken Heart’
An Aussie of Greek-Cypriot origin, Andrew truly is a gorgeous man. He wears a simple but sexy outfit. It’s a very powerful performance – and fiery! The song reminds me a little of Imagine Dragons’ Believer, but whilst I love Believer, I don’t love ‘Break a Broken Heart’ but Andrew is a great performer and the production value is brilliant.
Dija – ‘Power’
Dija competed on Iceland’s Got Talent as a kid and now she’s doing Eurovision. I understand why this song is called power – she has some powerhouse vocals and she embodies power physically!
Victor Veronicos – ‘What They Say’
Greece has not been so memorable in recent years, and sadly this song is no different. Victor does have a strong voice, however, especially for a 16-year-old. Whilst I’ve loved the projections in more performances, I’m not sure about the ones featured in this one; they’re a bit cheesy.
Blanka – ‘Solo’
There has been some controversy surrounding the selection process for this year’s Polish entry but I absolutely loved Blanka’s performance and am not at all surprised she won the completion. Her vocals are not as strong as some other contestants’ but she looks fabulous, her dancers slay, and the performance is just a whole lot of fun. The dance break is electrifying. The song is giving Inna – think ‘Diggy Down’. It’s a bit dated and generic but lots of fun – and, hey, this is Eurovision. It is guaranteed to go to the final; I’d put money on it.
Joker Out – ‘Carpe Diem’
I love the camp clothing of this five-man rock band, especially the lead singer’s multicoloured flowy shirt and purple pants. All of the members are groovy and have great movement though, admittedly, the song feels a bit generic rock.
Iru – ‘Echo’
Iru won Junior Eurovision as a member of Candy back in 2011, and now she’s vying to be Georgia’s first ever winner of the main show. Georgia’s new selection process is via The Voice, of which Ira won the fifth season. Whilst some of the other performances began more relaxed before taking a powerful turn, this performance has a striking beginning. The visuals are ethereal and eery. Ira, herself, looks like a ghost bride or a tormented angel. She excels at both powerful and ethereal vocals. I love the videos on the screens and all the smoke; it is very atmospheric.
Piqued Jacks – ‘Like An Animal’
San Marino have not entered a novelty act this year (Moldova have done that for them). This four-man Italian band is funky and rocky. Dressed all in black, they look slick and sexy. The black and red animation on the screens are fantastic. The band is very charismatic, and the lead singer has an incredible rock voice. It’s a catchy song that has me wanting to rave
Teya & Salena – ‘Who the Hell is Edgar’
Salena is one of several former The Voice contestants on this year’s Eurovision. This song has a fun opening that draws you in. It has brilliant costumes and dancers – with video footage of the dancers on the screens. It is very well choreographed, with great movement and usage of space. Alternative and captivating – and lots of fun!
Albina & Familja Kelmendi – ‘Duje’
Albina was runner-up on season 4 of The Voice. For this beautiful performance, she is accompanied with 5 members of her family. Like the last performance, I was immediately intrigued. The vibe is dark and mythical, and the Albanian lyrics left me none the wiser, but I was intrigued! I love the usage of red and the traditiontal dance section is wonderful. The whole performance is enthralling. The big where Albina’s family gather around her is reminiscent of Marija Šerifović‘s backing singers surrounding her in ‘Molitva’ (Serbia’s Eurovision winner in 2007), though Albanians might not appreciate a Serbia comparison…
Monika Linkytė – ‘Stay’
Monika previously represented Lithuania with Vaidas Baumila in 2015. They only came 18th so it is surprising that she has been allowed back. She has previously attempted to represent Lithuania in Eurovision in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2007. The performance begins a bit meh but it picks up after its first chorus, when she’s joined by backing singers. The way they join her onstage is slick and seamless. The backing singers really compliment her; the next chorus is so much better. Whilst I enjoy the chorus, the verses are a bit bland.
Voyager – ‘Promise’
A car onstage will always have me captivated… Voyager is a five-person (four men and one woman) progressive rock band. This performance has bold visuals and glittery costumes. The song, itself, is good but not mind-blowing – but the last part of the song, in which the bald man sings a couple of lines with his scream-like rock voice, is striking. Eurovision loves rock so I think it’s going through.
The first interval performance, ‘Music Unites Generations’, features Mariya Yaremchuk (Eurovision 2014), Zlata Dziunka (Junior Eurovision 2022), and rapper OTOY, alongside a score of phenomenal dancers. It is a diverse, beautiful celebration of Ukrainian music, dance, culture, and expression.
The second performance, ‘Be Who You Wanna Be’, features three drag performers and a troupe of electric dancers. It is a triumphant celebration of diversity, inclusitivity and self-love, with a wonderfully camp medley that includes Jessica Mauboy‘s ‘We Got Love’ (Australia’s entry in 2018). Whilst I wonder why Eurovision did not opt to choose more famous drag queens, perhaps stars of Drag Race UK, it’s great to see lesser-known Queens be given a platform – and they absolutely slayed!
The Big Five
After this, we were treated to two performances from the Big Five and a performance from last year’s winner (Ukraine). As the avid Eurovision fans amongst you will know, the Big Five are the group of countries who make the biggest financial contributions to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and are thus guaranteed a space in the grand final. They are France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (heck, if we were not a member of the Big Five, we’d pretty much never be in the final). Alongside the Big Five, the previous year’s winner makes it straight through to the final – however, Ukraine is the only country that has made it to the final in every year that they have competed!
Last night’s show featured Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
Blanca Paloma – ‘Eaea’
This song represents a “chant to her late grandmother”, who had inspired much of her music. It features a celebration of female ancestors’ power and strength. It is red, fiery, sexy – and Spanish! A striking performance, it feels a little cult-ish (in a good way).
Tvorchi – ‘Heart of Steel’
The music is gorgeous but I was not blown away by the song as a whole. I love the futuristic costumes and stage design; they are reminiscent of The Matrix. I must compliment the performers’ stage presence. This performance is sure to do well if only for another sympathy vote. Also, the hosting country tends to do well but last time Ukraine hosted, they came 24th out of 26!
Mae Muller – ‘I Wrote A Song’
Lastly, the hosting country – our country! As if expectations were not already high enough, the long setup time of the staging had us especially excited. Mae did not sound amazing vocally but she was in tune. She moves around a little bit but does not dance too much, perhaps to keep herself from losing control of her vocals (breathy singing is not a vibe). The production value is brilliant – the staging, the dancing, the videos. The live version of the song has a spoken word bridge not present in the original version – it’s always exciting when an artist mixes the song up for a live performance.
Whilst 16 artists are performing in the first semi-final, only 10 can go through to the grand final. I told you my favourites for semi-final 1; all but one got theough! Here’s who I hope goes through to The grand final:
Armenia; Belgium; Iceland; Poland; Georgia; San Marino; Austria; Albania; Lithuania; Australia.
This means I’d be sending home the following:
Denmark; Romania; Estonia; Cyprus; Greece; Slovenia.
So, that’s my recap-slash-preview of semi-final 2 – and who I hope makes it through to the grand final. You can watch semi-final 2 on BBC One tonight at 8pm and the grand final on Saturday.
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