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Eurovision 2023 final review: Liverpool takes the song contest up a notch

Loreen triumphed for Sweden and the UK’s Mae Muller flopped in a dazzling show overshadowed by the ongoing war in Ukraine

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson
Features Editor, UK
Loreen singing with her hand on a lit up square
Photograph: EBU / Chloe Hashemi
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The drama. The glitter. The absolute bonkers-ness of it all. We’ve all been paying extra close attention to the Eurovision song contest this year – not least because it’s been held right here in the UK, on behalf of last year’s winners Ukraine. And while there was undoubtedly a bittersweet tinge in the air – the night was dotted with reminders of the ongoing war with Russia – the overarching mood of the evening was one of solidarity, hope and joy. Tempos were taken up a notch, pulses were raised and many, many notes were hit. 

Tonight’s show at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena was the culmination of a week of celebrations, including two semi-finals which confirmed the 26 acts who qualified for the grand final. Although we’d seen many of the artists already, there was new material too. The so-called Big Five – the countries that contribute the most financially to the competition – plus Ukraine were automatically guaranteed a seat in the final, meaning we were seeing six performances for the first time. This included the UK’s entry: 25-year-old Mae Muller with her catchy electro-pop number ‘I Wrote a Song’. 

Mae Muller performing on stage
Photograph: Sarah Louise Bennett / EBUMae Muller

The night kicked off with a fiery performance from 2022 winners Kalush Orchestra, followed by the flag parade, which saw each entry catwalk to boisterous fans, interspersed with performances from historic Ukrainian contestants like Go_A,  Jamala and Verka Serduchka. Flames shot metres into the air and lights flashed excessively, setting the tone for an evening full of high-budget FX and extra stage design. The arena had been transformed into what felt like a giant, futuristic spaceship, or the opening ceremony for a serious camp version of The Hunger Games 

Our hosts – Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham, Graham Norton and Julia Sanina of Ukrainian rock band Hardkiss – appeared to be having just as good a time as the audience, dancing and cheering and singing along. They changed into one sequinned costume to the next, cracked heavily-rehearsed jokes and at points struggled being heard over the roars of the crowd. 

Australia: Voyager - "Promise"
Photograph: Chloe Hashemi / EBUVoyager

The standouts were largely the upbeat, clubby tunes: anything that could turn this massive arena into a buzzing dance floor. Belgium’s Gustaph brought us ‘Because Of You’, a 1990s-inspired dance track with voguing projections and an irresistible euphoric hook. Poland’s Blanka gave us a Y2K-esque pop banger sung in a rasp reminiscent of old-school Rihanna and topped off with a fiery dance routine. Mae Muller rounded off the performances in a similar upbeat vein, but unfortunately her shaky vocals didn’t quite do the track the justice it deserved. 

Then there were the grittier entries. Germany’s Lord of the Lost performed ‘Blood and Glitter’, singer Chris Harms wearing a neon-pink latex get-up showing off one heavily tattooed leg – he wouldn’t look out of place in the queue for Berghain. Its heavy guitar riffs were topped with deep, growling lyrics and a healthy dose of screamo. Australia also went for a live band, with three guitars blasting catchy 1980s riffs, its appealing, synthy chorus introducing an onslaught of flashing lights. The Voyager singer – with his very Aussie long hair and tache – arrived on stage to cheers in a Miami Vice-style Toyota, and was clearly a crowd favourite. Ukraine’s entry, TVORCHI, a synth-and-vocal R&B duo accompanied by swaggering dancers and captivating pyrotechnics, also received the loud cheers we’d all expected, delivering a strong performance.

For the most part, breaking away from poppy genericism paid off – and let’s be real, weirdness is what Eurovision is all about

There were also plenty of ballads. Some were sleepy, belting out tired lyrics about ‘strength’ and ‘power’, which seemed to emerge as a running theme in many songs. But France’s entry, La Zarra, sung a fast-paced disco-tinged number on top of pumping bass, hitting all the notes and sparkling in a tall, elevated, sequinned dress which lowered her down to the stage with an appropriate sense of theatricality. Sweden’s Loreen – a favourite to win and the 2012 winner, back again for a second shot – also went down the ballad route, with predictably lavish vocals and drama. She squirmed between two raised wooden blocks as projections of storm clouds whirled around her and synths built to a climax. It was powerful and excellently executed – but not quite ‘Euphoria’. 

As far as weirdness went, there sure was a lot of it. Finland’s Käärijä finished their show with a raunchy human-centipede dance – the song, ‘Cha Cha Cha’, went down a treat with the fans (think Underworld meets Nicki Minaj). Austria’s nod to Edgar Allan Poe – a critique of music-streaming royalties – was even more surreal, and again it worked. Moldova brought horned dancers and frantic flute playing, Serbia’s Luke Back closed his apocalyptic video game-inspired production with a chilling cackle and Croatia’s entry saw the band Let 3 strip down to their underwear in front of two golden missiles. For the most part, breaking away from poppy genericism paid off – and let’s be real, weirdness is what Eurovision is all about.

Finland: Käärijä - "Cha Cha Cha"
Photograph: Chloe Hashemi / EBUKäärijä

During the first interval, the UK’s 2022 entrant Sam Ryder performed his new track, ‘Mountain’: a decent, easy-listening rock song with an electrifying guitar solo. Glittering in a gold sequin suit and accompanied by ballroom dancers and thumping drummers, the performance will no doubt gain him legions of new fans after he produced the UK’s biggest Eurovision success in more than two decades last year.

The final interval act was a nod to Liverpool’s contributions to pop, sung by six previous Eurovision acts – Italy’s Mahmood, Israel’s Netta, Iceland’s Daði Freyr, Sweden’s Cornelia Jakobs, Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands and Liverpool’s Sonia, who came second at Eurovision in 1993. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ closed the medley, and it was quite the show: all of the contestants and presenters stood behind Laurence while the audience waved their phone torches in the air.  

@timeouttravel Eurovision 2023 in Liverpool is kicking off and fans have strong opinions on who should win… #eurovision #liverpool #eurovision2023 #spain #sweden #traveltiktok ♬ original sound - Time Out Travel

Hearing the likes of John Lennon followed by Dead or Alive followed by Atomic Kitten was a joyful reminder (if we needed one) of just how much pop music is ingrained into the fabric of the Scouse city. With that in mind, it couldn’t have been much better as a host. Locals welcomed the world with warmth and handfuls of glitter, the sun was shining and the vibes were immaculate basically everywhere you went.

Ukraine: Tvorchi - "Heart of Steel"
Photograph: Chloe Hashemi / EBUTVORCHI

Tensions were running high when the votes finally trickled in. Waddingham made it clear there was ‘no booing in our house’ when the jury votes from each participating country came in via video call. Sweden’s Loreen took first place, followed by Israel and Italy in the top three. These scores were then combined with the result of the public poll – and, for the first time ever, people from countries outside the contest were able to vote too. This turned things around, rocketing Finland to the top of the leaderboard. They narrowly missed out on the crown, though, and came runners-up: Loreen was crowned a deserved champion, for the second time, to a massive eruption of applause.

The theme of this year’s Eurovision was ‘United by Music’, and it most definitely delivered. With a large handful of talent from Ukraine and videos reminding us of the country’s cultural history and its links to the wider world, there were nods to the conflict throughout, but it never dampened the evening. It has been the first time a nation has hosted the contest on behalf of another, and this Eurovision was richer, more diverse and more interesting than any other edition in recent memory. Here’s to another belter somewhere just as joyous on the Continent next year.

Read more: What hosting Eurovision means to Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ community.

Plus: Meet the Ukrainian refugee women who made Liverpool their home.

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