Who to watch and what to expect: An overview of Eurovision 20238 min read

 In Baltics, Blog, Caucasus, Central Europe, Culture, Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, War in Ukraine

As Lossi 36’s self-proclaimed Eurovision expert, I am here to provide the background and all the news from Eurovision 2023 you need, as well as place my bets on who will take home the trophy this year.

In 2022, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the competition with their song “Stefania,” a tribute to the mothers of Ukraine. It has since become a song connected to the war effort, and while critics claimed the win was largely due to the ongoing war, my opinion still stands that it was an excellent song. Due to Russia’s ongoing invasion, including continuing attacks on the civilian population and Ukraine’s infrastructure, this year’s contest was deemed unsafe to be undertaken in Ukraine itself. Several countries, including Poland and Sweden, showed interest in taking on hosting the event, but in the end, it went to the United Kingdom, as they came in second place. While Glasgow was given the title of “UNESCO City of Music” in 2008 and was one of the final contenders for hosting, the honour ultimately landed on Liverpool.

Liverpool is a twin city with Odesa, which has been exposed to several brutal attacks by Russia, and it seemed fitting that the city hosting the competition would be linked to Ukraine. The UK broadcaster BBC has planned the event together with representatives from Ukraine’s broadcaster UA:PBC.

The participation of Central and Eastern European countries in the past few years has gone down rapidly. For obvious reasons, neither Russia nor Belarus are competing this year, and Hungary seems to be standing by its decision not to participate anymore. In 2023, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and North Macedonia were also added to the list of countries no longer participating, most likely due to financial reasons. Both energy costs in Europe as well as the increased participation fee, due to Russia’s participation ban, have affected the entrance costs for smaller countries. Thus, it is turning into a bleak year for Eastern European Eurovision participation this year. However, the remaining countries are still delivering some europop bops that I am excited to share with you.

The first semi-final

Croatia: Let 3 — “Mama ŠČ!”

In the first semi-final on Tuesday, we can expect to see some of my favourite entries this year. First up is Croatia’s Let 3 performing “Mama ŠČ!”, a song that avoids the contest’s rules regarding entries not being political by using various allusions to both the Russian Federation and Putin. The lyrics “Mama kupila traktora ŠČ!” (En: Mommy bought the tractor ŠČ!) is perceived as being a reference to the close relationship between Belarusian leader Lukashenko and Putin, especially with regards to the war in Ukraine, by directly alluding to the tractor Lukashenko gifted to Putin for his 70th birthday. A repeated word in the song is psychopath, which may refer to Putin; however, due to the rules of the contest, the connection is not made clear in the song.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny — “Soarele și luna”

Up next is Moldova’s “Soarele și luna,” performed in Romanian by Pasha Parfeny. The song, featuring big drums and fire-inspired staging (like any solid Eurovision entry should), is a techno-folk piece reminiscent of the Ukrainian artist Go_A who competed in the contest in 2021. If this music genre is not your vibe, you might still consider giving Moldova a vote based on the background singers’ hair styles, which seem to be defying gravity. Parfeny previously represented Moldova at Eurovision when it was held in Baku in 2012, and ended up in 11th place. Let’s see if this year he is more successful. Interestingly, much of the competition this year is the same, with the winner of 2012, Loreen, representing Sweden again.

Czech Republic: Vesna — “My sister’s crown”

The Czech Republic’s Vesna are performing “My sister’s crown,” which seemingly is trying to aim for the most languages in a song — it is being performed in English, Ukrainian, Czech, and Bulgarian. It is a song of sisterhood, one that colourfully attacks gender inequality. The message is delivered via strong vocals and folk-inspired harmonies in the chorus, as well as a fun rap section. The mix of Central and Eastern European traditional music with more modern elements has proven to be a hit in the past, not least with “Stefania” last year.

While discussions of whether or not Finland is somewhat Baltic might be considered, Finland’s Eurovision entry should either way receive an honorary mention, with its aggressive chacha-dancing and electronic rap. Azerbaijan, Latvia, and Serbia are also all competing in the first semi-final. However, all three have somewhat forgettable songs, apart perhaps from Serbia with its electronic goth vibes, manic laughter, and zombie-inspired dance moves.

The second semi-final

Georgia: Iru — “Echo”

In the second semi-final on Thursday, the starting field feels somewhat weaker than Tuesday’s. However, there are some highlights, such as Georgia and Albania. This year, Georgia chose to send an experimental pop song, and if the music video is anything to go by, there could be an interesting staging of the song featuring a lot of sweeping textiles and background dancers.

Albania: Albina Kelmendi — “Duje”

Albania is sending a full family business with the song “Duje,” performed by the Kosovo-Albanian singer Albina Kelmendi along with five of her family members (they took care in making sure they are within the Eurovision rules, which allow a maximum of six people to perform on stage during a performance). The song features strong vocals, and as long as the awkwardness and lack of confidence seen in the performance at the Albanian national contest has been rehearsed away, it should be a Eurovision hit.

Armenia: Brunette — “Future Lover” / Slovenia: Joker Out — “Carpe Diem”

In Armenia’s entry “Future Lover,” artist Brunette just wants to do “cute little things, like drink smoothies at near cafes.” This is expressed via a dramatic ballad which grows musically with the orchestral background, and which surprises the listener through introducing some rap as well. To balance up all the female vocals, Slovenia is providing a full boyband with a catchy pop-rock song.

Estonia: Alika — “Bridges” / Lithuania: Monika Linkytė — “Stay”

Estonia is yet again showing the world that they know how to sing, with a ballad that is nice, but not really that exciting. Their Baltic neighbour Lithuania’s entry succeeds more in the ballad section, with interesting harmonies and an upbeat chorus.

Poland: Blanka — “Solo”

The Polish entry has seen a fair amount of controversy, with its win in the Polish national competition having been accused of corruption. Even though petitions to replace the winner with the runner-up were made and gained some traction, Blanka will represent Poland in Liverpool with the song “Solo.” Given that it is not the strongest entry, we will have to see if the viewers think it deserves a spot in the final or not.

Also competing in the second semifinal is Romania, with the rock song “D.G.T. (Off and On)” by the singer Theodor Andrei, accompanied by some scantily clad background dancers.

The grand final and my final thoughts

As Ukraine won last year, their entry is spared the semi-finals and will, together with the big five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK), go straight to the final. The entry representing Ukraine goes under the name Tvorchi and consists of Andrii Hutsuliak and Nigerian-born Jimoh Augustus Kehinde. The two met at university and have been making music together since 2017. Theirs is an electronic song, and was chosen to represent Ukraine in the Ukrainian national contest, which took place underground in a bomb shelter.

Any good Eurovision song contest should feature traditional instruments, upbeat europop, a few ballads, pyrotechnics, and one or two songs that are a bit boring and thus the perfect snack break. This year’s Eurovision seems to deliver in all these aspects, and as per previous years, there are sure to be some songs that will stick. Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is permeating this year’s Eurovision too, both in theme and songs. From my view, the Balkans are especially delivering this year, and as it has been over 15 years since a Balkan country took home the victory (last time was Serbia in 2007) it might be time for the contest in 2024 to be held in Zagreb or Chișinău.

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