[Button id="2"] [Button id="1"]
Frances Robinson is a freelance journalist based in London.
Dust off your sequins and download the app — it’s Eurovision time again!
Since the turn of the century, the Eurovision Song Contest has expanded into a week-long marathon; now with two semi-finals — the first to be held today and the other on Thursday — and a grand final, which will take place on Saturday, May 13.
Some 37 countries are taking part this year, with 26 songs due to participate in the final, as the Continent’s extravaganza of glitter, dance routines and political intrigue returns to the United Kingdom, where the BBC is hosting on behalf of Ukraine.
So, what can we expect?
As always, there’s a cracking list of runners and riders, ticketing drama and — every true fan’s favorite — a voting system change. But before we get stuck into all that, a word about how Eurovision ended up in the Liverpool Arena.
Traditionally, the previous year’s winner plays host to the contest, but last year, Kalush Orchestra’s performance of “Stefania” won for Ukraine, against the backdrop of the Russian invasion. Ukraine has a storied history of Eurovision success, having won three times. However, after careful consideration, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which oversees Eurovision, concluded the event couldn’t be held in Ukraine, “for safety and security reasons.” And as runner-up, the BBC was invited to act as Host Broadcaster for the 67th Eurovision, and stage the event.
It’s not unprecedented for a country other than the winner to host. In fact, the U.K. stepped up for Luxembourg in 1974, when they didn’t fancy hosting after winning twice in a row — insert your own EU Summit coverage joke about wishing Luxembourg could do a bit less hosting here — and for Monaco when they didn’t have space. It also can’t have done any harm that the U.K. is one of the so-called Big Five — the group of countries making the biggest financial contributions to the EBU — or that last year’s runner-up, “Space Man” by Sam Ryder, was the best entry they’ve sent in years.
It’s also fair to say that the U.K. is making a big effort this time round. The King — no babes, not Rylan, the actual King Charles III — came to turn the lights on and unveil the set. There’s a Eurovision Village with an area dedicated to Ukraine. And Paul Jordan, better known as Dr. Eurovision, reckons we could be about to see “the best contest in years.”
Bookies currently have Sweden, with Loreen’s “Tattoo,” as the favorite, and as the contest gets bigger, upsets seem rarer. Sweden is an absolute Eurovision powerhouse, and Loreen’s brought the glittery trophy home before, winning with “Euphoria” in 2012. Finland, Ukraine, Spain and Norway are all popular bets as well, while France looks like it could potentially upset the old chestnut that the Big Five countries never win — ahem, remember Måneskin? — with the sophisticated and catchy “Évidemment” by La Zarra.
Your correspondent’s personal favorite, though, is “Australia’s premiere progressive pop-metal act” Voyager — their words, not mine — with “Promise,” which features epic riffs and a keytar solo. However, they’re currently at 150-to-1 to win. Perhaps, Australia should send Bluey next in 2024? The Heeler family are, after all, their biggest cultural export since Kylie Minogue, and the Chattermax song has massive Verka Serduchka energy — another Ukrainian classic that finished in second place.
One thing also worth noting this year is those ”exciting” changes in the voting system. For the first time ever, Eurovision fans who don’t live in a participating country can now help choose the winner, with a “Rest of World” vote. As the EBU explained, “votes from countries not participating will be combined to create a set of points with the same weight as one participating country in both of the Semi-Finals and the Grand Final.” This will also give the general public slightly more impact on the final result, with 37 jury votes compared to 38 televotes — approximately 50.6 percent. (If you don’t know about jury voting at all, read this.)
In addition, as the competition has grown, it’s become impossible to stage 40+ songs in a single evening, so semi-finals have been introduced. And this year, instead of giving equal weight to jury and public votes, getting through to the final on Saturday will depend on the public vote alone.
Those interested can read the explanation here, but as a long-standing Eurovision fan, I think it’s a good thing. Who doesn’t love a little bit of burning piano, cabin crew fancy dress or glittery penguin outfits? This kind of fun gimmick resonates with the public, whereas juries tend to reward boring acoustic guitar-driven country-lite dirges where people warble on about how heartbroken they are (It’s the opinion section, don’t @ me).
And there are some absolute crackers this year that fall under that heading. Austria, for one, has come up with an electro-pop bop about being possessed by the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. Is it a reflection on ChatGPT, the growth of AI writing tools in general, and the line between human writer and the invisible hand of the machine becoming increasingly blurred? Or is it just an excuse to sing “Poe, Poe, Poe,” which roughly translates as “bum, bum, bum,” in German? Cheeky.
The other thing the public likes is attractive people wearing very small outfits — but you’ll have to tune in and decide for yourself which acts have decided to go down that route.
Meanwhile, Eurovision has been steadily growing in popularity worldwide. The competition’s been broadcast in Australia for over 30 years now, and the country’s been taking part since 2015. New Zealand also absolutely understood the assignment when they crafted the Europop classic “Open Up” by Two Hearts, making a compelling case for the country to join the contest. And last year, streaming service Peacock broadcast Eurovision in the United States for the first time and will do so again this year, as friends in New York tell me gay bars galore are hosting live viewing parties for the grand final.
But is it all sunshine and rainbows? No. For one, the ticketing has been controversial.
Ticketmaster — which is also under fire for the ticketing of some fusty dusty event the weekend before — angered some fans with the speed at which tickets sold out in the first round, only to later release another batch after many had made alternate plans.
“It’s like when I try to drunk-purchase something online and the buying process isn’t straightforward, so I just don’t bother,” said one fan. “And then I get an email a week later like, ‘HEY, you left an item in your cart! Use this code for 30 percent off your purchase!’ But they’ve missed their shot, I’m horrible and sober now, I won’t buy it regardless. Eurovision feels the same.”
Tickets are also more expensive than they’ve been in recent years. “The ticket prices are insane now. I paid €50 each to go to the live semis in Lisbon — people are paying £80 to go just to a semi rehearsal. Costs for the final are higher than Madonna tickets,” said Tyron, 31, a fan of the contest.
In a statement to NBC responding to the fan-reported glitches, a Ticketmaster spokesperson said the site didn’t crash, despite some reports, stating that “Ticket sales were unaffected, and thousands of fans secured their seats for the Eurovision Song Contest, which is now sold out.”
But whether you’re one of the lucky ones heading to Liverpool, hosting a party at home — it is, after all, a spectacle created to look great on television — or just enjoying the highlights on social media, it looks like it’s going to be a special year. And above all, let’s hope that if Ukraine win, they can welcome the contest back in peace and safety.
The Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 will take place in the Liverpool Arena on Saturday, May 13.