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jaydarcy
13th May 2023

Eurovision 2023: What to expect from the grand final

Eurovision is back in the UK after 25 years, and we got to attend an exclusive press preview of the grand final – here’s what to expect!
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Eurovision 2023: What to expect from the grand final
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion. Courtesy of BBC/EBU

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.

The grand final takes place tonight, and it will be shown live on BBC One. 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 the grand final. All 26 entries performances. There were also special guest performances from Kalush Orchestra, Go_A, Jamala, Tina Karol, Verka Serduchka, Sam Ryder, Queen‘s Roger Taylor (possibly!), Mahmood, Netta, Daði Freyr, Cornelia Jakobs, Sonia, and Duncan Laurence.

Opening Number

The show is opened by Kalush Orchestra, performing their winning song ‘Stefania’ and their latest single ‘Changes’. This electrifying winning song sounds even better live. A big number – complete drummers, dancers, and a giant hand that the bands stand on – it is a fitting opening to Eurovision.

Flag Parade

The opening performance is immediately followed by the iconic flag parade. This year’s flag parade is perhaps the best in Eurovision history. The parade is broken into a few sections, with performances no longer than a minute taking place in between. The way the parade transitions into the performances is seamless and slick; the lighting deserves great praise.

The performances come from four former Ukrainian Eurovision entrants, performing new spins on their competing songs mixed with British classics.

The first act is Go_A, who came fifth in 2021 with ‘Shum’. They were supposed to represent Ukraine in 2020, with ‘Solovey’, but that competition was obviously cancelled. The band play on the small secondary stage at the back of the pit. Lead singer Kateryna Pavlenko is a joy to watch; she is full of energy and radiates confidence. With members of the audience completely surrounding them, it is going to feel very atmospheric.

The next performance comes from Jamala, who won the 2016 competition with ‘1944’, which is about the Soviet’s deportation of Crimean Tartars. A Turkic ethnic group, the Tartars are indigenous to Crimea. Jamala is the latest Muslim winner of Eurovision. The favourite this year is also Muslim: Loreen (a Swede of Moroccan Berber heritage), who previously won the competition in 2012 with ‘Euphoria’.

For some reason, Jamala was not present during the first run-through of the flag parade. The second run-through was just for the competitors, not the performers, but Jamala took part this time. Her voice is powerful and beautiful. I was not so fond of ‘1944’ at the time but it soon grew on me, and it’s now one of my favourite Eurovision songs. Listening to it today, I was in tears.

The penultimate performer is Tina Karol, who came seventh in 2006 with ‘Show Me Love’. Accompanied by dazzling backing dancers, all dressed in red, this sexy performance is a nice contrast to the devastating one that came before it. Karol makes the most of her limited stage time and puts on a brilliant performance.

The flag parade is closed by drag queen Verka Serduchka – one of the most iconic Eurovision acts in history – who was runner-up in 2007. She is accompanied by a mob of dancers, all in outlandish costumes. The recreation of some of the original performance’s iconic dance moves is super nostalgic.

It’s a truly remarkable opening but I do have one complaint – where the hell is Ruslana?! Ruslana won the competition with ‘Wild Dances’ back in 2004 and is one of the biggest-selling Eastern-European artists. She does make a pre-recorded appearing during the interval but it’s not quite the same.

Ruslana’s lack of being there must be a snub because she’s not busy – she’s in Liverpool! She has made numerous appearances at the stage at Eurovision Village. I actually visited the Village for all of five minutes yesterday (a Visit Liverpool lady kindly gave me a media wristband because our media accreditation badges don’t allow access). I heard Ruslana singing whilst I was at security but, by the time I got in, she had just finished. Tragic!

The Presenters

Whilst the semi-finals were presented by Alesha Dixon, Julia Samina and Hannah Waddingham, the ladies are joined by Graham Norton for the grand final. Norton has been the UK’s Eurovision commentator for over a decade, replacing the legendary Terry Wogan. He commentated the semi-finals alongside Scott Mills and is doing the same during the grand final, alongside Mel Giedroyc – talk about multi-tasking!

The Representatives

The running order is as follows:

1. Austria | Teya & Salena – ‘Who The Hell Is Edgar?’

2. Portugal | Mimicat – ‘Ai Coração’

3. Switzerland | Remo Forrer – ‘Watergun’

4. Poland | Blanka – ‘Solo’

5. Serbia | Luke Black – ‘Samo Mi Se Spava’

6. France | La Zarra – ‘Évidemment’

7. Cyprus | Andrew Lambrou – ‘Break A Broken Heart’

8. Spain | Blanca Paloma – ‘Eaea’

9. Sweden | Loreen – ‘Tattoo’

10. Albania | Albina & Familja Kelmendi – ‘Duje’

11. Italy | Marco Mengoni – ‘Due Vite’

12. Estonia | Alika – ‘Bridges’

13. Finland | Käärijä – ‘Cha Cha Cha’

14. Czechia | Vesna – ‘My Sister’s Crown’

15. Australia | Voyager – ‘Promise’

16. Belgium | Gustaph – ‘Because Of You’

17.  Armenia | Brunette – ‘Future Lover’

18. Moldova | Pasha Parfeni – ‘Soarele şi Luna’

19. Ukraine | TVORCHI – ‘Heart of Steel’

20. Norway | Alessandra – ‘Queen of Kings’

21. Germany | Lord of the Lost – ‘Blood & Glitter’

22. Lithuania | Monika Linkytė – ‘Stay’

23. Israel | Noa Kirel – ‘Unicorn’

24. Slovenia | Joker Out – ‘Carpe Diem’

25. Croatia | Let 3 – ‘Mama ŠČ!’

26. United Kingdom | Mae Muller – ‘I Wrote A Song’

I gave my thoughts of all the performances in my semi-final 1 and 2 write-ups, and nothing has really changed. Some of the performers have better energy now, namely our homegirl, Mae Muller. She did not sound too great during her performance on Wednesday but I presumed she was holding back. Sure enough, the next day, I was told she was on vocal rest. She has definitely been saving herself; her performance yesterday was far better, in terms of both vocals and energy.

Loreen, who was fabulous the first time around, has grown so comfortable on that stage that she has taken ownership of it. I was entirely enthralled by her performance.

Likewise, La Zarra had me mesmerised last time around, but this time around, she shone even brighter (literally). Her stage design is perhaps the most striking.

I also must comment on the postcards, which I did not pay much attention to during the semi-final rehearsals. They parallel locations in Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the artists’ home country. They are very touching and beautifully produced.

Interval Acts

The first interval performance comes from Sam Ryder, who came second last year with ‘Space Man’. It was the first time the UK reached the top 10 since 2009 (Jade Ewen came fifth with ‘It’s My Time’), our first top 3 result since 2002 (Jessica Garlick came joint-third with ‘Come Back’), and our first top 2 result since 1998, which we hosted (Imaani came second with ‘Where Are You?’).

Ryder performs his new single, ‘Mountain’, an aural delight and a visual feast. He stands on a raised platform, surrounded by what look like lightsabers, which swing around like they have got minds of their own. He’s accompanied by drummers and pyrotechnics. Viewers in the audience and at home, alike, are sure to be overcome with joy watching Sam own that stage.

Ryder is accompanied by Queen’s Roger Taylor!

The second interval act, ‘The Liverpool Songbook’, has to be one of the best in Eurovision history. It is similar to ‘Switch Song’ (Eurovision 2019), which saw five previous contestants sing each other’s songs – in their style.

An homage to Liverpool, it featured six former Eurovision entrants singing their own version of songs from the host city. The performance is opened by Mahmood, who represented Italy in 2019 with ‘Soldi’ (second place) and in 2022 with ‘Brividi’ (with Blanco) in 2022 (sixth place).

Mahmood, a fashion icon, obviously looks fabulous, but whilst I love his voice, I’m not sure it suits John Lennon‘s ‘Imagine’.

The mood is lifted as Netta (who won Eurovision for Israel in 2018, the year Mahmood competed) falls from the sky. She is brought down on a huge, silver machine. Her outlandish costume is like something Lady Gaga would wear. Accompanied by swanky dancers, she covers Dead or Alive‘s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’.

The next performance comes from Daði Freyr, the frontman of Daði & Gagnamagnið, who represented Iceland in 2021 with ’10 Years’, finishing fourth. Like Go_A, Daði & Gagnamagnið were supposed to represent their country in 202o. That song, ‘Think About Things’, is generally considered superior; it was a favourite to win that year’s competition.

Freyr was accompanied by scores of backing singers, all dressed in the same outfit he wore back in 2021. Together, they cover Atomic Kitten‘s ‘Whole Again’ (yes, really). They completely transform the song (thank goodness).

The next performance comes from Cornelia Jakobs, who represented Sweden last year with ‘Hold Me Closer’, which placed fourth. I’m not sure why Jakobs was chosen; there are so many Eurovision icons who most people would have preferred to see. Perhaps the producers just thought her the perfect artist to cover Mel C‘s ‘I Look to You’ – and, yes, she absolutely killed it. Like Go_A, she performed on the alternate stage. There’s a tub filled with water, and Cornelia makes quite the splash. It’s a stunning performance.

The penultimate performance is the most iconic. It begins with a recap of the 1993 contest on the screens. The competition awkwardly came down to Ireland (Niamh Kavanagh with ‘In You Eyes’) and the UK (Sonia with ‘Better the Devil You Know’). Hilariously, both artists are redheads. Niamh is actually Ireland’s spokesperson this year!

Ireland took home the victory, albeit narrowly, adding the trophy to their collection of the most Eurovision wins, whilst Sonia’s second-place standing contributes to the UK’s record for most times coming second place!

The screens then say “AND 30 YEARS LATER SONIA IS BACK”, before Sonia and a troupe of bedazzles dancers perform her signature song. It’s poetic that Eurovision is in Sonia’s hometown three decades after she was narrowly defeated, and I’m so glad she was invited to perform. She still looks and sounds wonderful.

The final performance comes from Duncan Laurence, who represented the Netherlands in 2019 with his song ‘Arcade’. Laurence had beaten Mahmood, who opened the show. Whilst the 1993 competition came down to two redheads, the 2019 competition came down to two queers – we love to see it!

Laurence sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It is a beautiful rendition but, admittedly, a little boring – but maybe that’s just the song.

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Carousel, but its most successful cover was released by Liverpudlian band Gary and the Pacemakers – and it is now associated with Liverpool F.C. Whilst the song does not do too much for me, it’s inclusion is a nice touch, not only to celebrate football’s contribution to Liverpool’s culture and economy, but also because it can be read as a pledge to Ukrainians.

Laurence is later joined by all of the previous performers, the backing singers, and the presenters, though I don’t recall seeing Netta and Mahmood during the press preview – perhaps they decided to skip that but will take part in the real thing. It’s a little cheesy but touching nonetheless.

The aforementioned Ruslana sings along in a pre-recorded appearance at the Golden Gate in Kyiv. Again, I’m not sure why they did not just invite her to be a part of the show – in person.

Safe to say, this is going to go down as one of the best interval performances in the history of Eurovision.

There were some rumours Kylie Minogue was going to take part, which would have rivalled Justin Timberlake‘s appearance in 2017 and Madonna‘s in 2019, but, alas, we got Sonia – an icon, of sorts!

Who’s Going to Win?

The Eurovision voting system is incredibly iconic. Some people tune in specifically for it. A few years back, the EBU decided to split the jury vote and the televote, creating even more drama and tension – and also a lot of shocks. With so many fantastic songs in this year’s competition – indeed, has a final ever been so strong? – this is going to be a bloodbath.

As aforementioned, the favourite to win is Loreen with ‘Tattoo’. Loreen would be the second person and first woman to win Eurovision twice, and Sweden would join Ukraine as the only countries to win Eurovision thrice this century. Sweden is famously good at Eurovision (with six wins, second only behind Ireland), but also famously good at presenting Eurovision, with their last two productions presented by the marvellous Petra Mede (2013 and 2016).

Next year marks half a century since ABBA won the competition for Sweden, the country’s second victory, so it would be poetic for Sweden to host – and, hey, maybe we’d finally get an ABBA reunion? Speaking of which – Björn Ulvaeus will appear in a short video skit on the recent commercial successes to come out of the contest.

The second favourite to win is Käärijä with ‘Cha Cha Cha’. Finland last won in 2006 with Lordi (‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’), who delivered an equally dramatic performance – albeit very different.

Whilst I think this might win the televote, I can’t see it winning the jury vote. Indeed, this year’s results might see a repeat of last year’s, whereby the UK won the jury vote but the televote handed it to Ukraine, but with Sweden winning the jury vote and Iceland winning the televote.

The third favourite is Ukraine who will probably be boosted by more sympathy votes; they last hosted in 2017.
The top five is rounded off with Israel and Norway, who last hosted in 2019 and 2011, respectively.
The aforementioned La Zarra (France) has dropped from third favourite to sixth. France is joint-third with the UK for most Eurovision wins (five), but they have not won the competition since 1977 – almost five decades ago! It would be pretty delicious if a La Zarra, and Arab, won the competition for France.
Spain, Austria and Italy are seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. Spain won the competition over consecutive years in 1968 and 1969 but only hosted after the first win. Austria last hosted in 2016, and Italy hosted the competition last year.

Rounding off the top 10 is, perhaps surprisingly, the United Kingdom. One hopes our being the host leads to more votes, but the last time Ukraine hosted, they came 24th our of 26!

It would be pretty embarrassing if the UK does not do well after finally achieving a good result last year, after over two decades of flops.

 

So, that’s my recap-slash-preview of the grand final. You can watch the final on BBC One tonight at 7:30pm.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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