Eurovision final 2023: Blood and glitter, a middle finger and Edgar Allan Partridge. It’s magnificent

Patrick Freyne: This year’s trends are tethering your dancers, starting your song lying down, and no longer being maligned as silly and uncool

It’s the early 21st century, and the Eurovision Song Contest has won and all other music lost. Now that it is no longer maligned as silly, unserious and uncool, musicians all over the world salivate about the scale of the Eurovision spectacle. From Liverpool, Alesha Dixon, Julia Sanini, Hannah Waddingham (who is hilarious) and Graham Norton (“Welcome our Graham,” Marty Whelan says on RTÉ, keeping him in his place) present on behalf of last year’s winner, Ukraine (although the European Broadcasting Union rejected a proposed speech by Volodymyr Zelenskiy as being too “political”).

The delightful chaos begins. Austria’s Teya & Salena sing as behind them Edgar Allan Poe’s massive head emerges from a typewriter. “There’s a ghost in my body and he is a lyricist, it is Edgar Allan Poe and I think he can’t resist,” they sing, before going on to complain, in song, about streaming-royalty rates. This is arguably more Edgar Allan Partridge than Poe, but it’s also magnificent.

Poor Mimicat, a Portuguese singer in a red feathery dress, has to follow this with a jaunty song about mere love. She sashays gamely, flanked by dancers who punctuate her lyrics with rhythmic affirmation. Switzerland’s Remo Forrer has his dancers tied together with ropes so they don’t wander off. Tethered dancers are a theme this year. Remo risks controversy with his catchy song, Watergun, by suggesting that war is bad instead of hewing to a safe centrist line that says exactly 50 per cent of wars are bad. At one point the dancers swoon. Then they run off. I see why he tied them up initially.

Blanka from Poland’s 1980s ska banger Solo features the first outbreak of Eurogibberish this evening. “Now I’m better solo, solo, I never let me down, didi-down-down-down,” she sings, adopting the official language of the European Union. (“We’re not going to bring interest rates down, didi-down-down-down,” to quote Christine Lagarde.) Later, the UK’s Mae Muller sings a catchy synth-pop metasong about the songwriting process that features the words “Da-da-da-da-da-di”, which is either Eurogibberish or a reference to the patriarchy.


Serbia’s Luke Black is the first of three performers who begin their acts lying down. He also dresses like Oscar Wilde’s goth nephew. His masked robotic dancers are tethered by long tubes that he yanks from their backs, causing plumes of smoke to flood the stage. “I just wanna sleep forever,” he sings. “Another of these fellas taking it easy,” Marty says.

Later Armenia’s Brunette (named after her hair) also lies on the floor, and Loreen from Sweden begins her performance lying down too. In fact she seems to be trapped between two horizontal pieces of set design. “She’s lying in a tanning machine to start with, or it could be a sandwich maker,” Marty says. “With violins playing and the angels crying, when the stars align then I’ll be there,” she cries. This is, coincidentally, how I RSVP to party invitations. “I don’t care about the pain, I’ll walk through fire and through rain, just to be closer to you,” she sings, with a level of melodic passion that helps me understand why my Eurovision song Let’s Get Married for Tax Purposes never made the cut.

France’s La Zarra is not lying down. She is, instead, 20ft tall. She sings Évidemment, a disco torch song, over the course of which she descends due to an elevator concealed in her long dress. As she finishes the French flag appears behind her and there’s an eruption of sparks from the ceiling. This is presumably because French electricians are on strike.

Male Eurovision singers are fierce proud of their arms. Cyprus’s Andrew Lambrou dons a suit with no sleeves and sings about being a survivor. This is tempting fate, because the aforementioned electrical problems mean there are several fires onstage. Soon there are huge plumes of flame. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh,” Andrew screams tunefully. Later Italy’s Marco Mengoni also has bare arms. As he sings we can see, in the background, men falling from steps (they bounce) probably trying to fix the electrical issues of which I wrote earlier.

Käärijä from Finland’s outfit, in contrast, covers his arms but does not cover his chest. It’s a look that makes a statement. That statement is: “My arms are warm but my chest is not.” He begins his performance inside a big crate and later sits atop his tethered dancers, who groove beneath him like a pink centipede. “Cha cha cha!” he sings, and I can’t help but agree.

The platonic Eurovision song blends folk melodies with electrobeats and asks the question, “What if Enya was in Scooter?” Blanca Paloma from Spain sings the kind of folk tune that a Game of Thrones character might sing about a famous dragon. Albania’s Albina & Familja Kelmendi plead with one another in powerful voices before shaking red handkerchiefs for a bit. Alessandra from Norway dresses like a Nordic superhero with a cape and crown and hits the highest note of the evening.

Everyone has a gimmick. Czechia’s Vesna swing long ponytails. The singer of Australia’s Voyager sits in a real car. Belgium’s Gustaph wears a big hat and big pants. Alika from Estonia has a self-playing piano. “Now I see myself building up a world of bridges,” she sings, in tribute to EU infrastructural projects.

Some acts are vague and inexplicable. Slovenia’s Joker Out, a bunch of perfectly pleasant floppy-haired gentlemen, are basically your cousin’s band. “Still with the band?” I say to Joker Out to make conversation. Monika Linkyte from Lithuania sings a gentle ballad while cryptic pagan symbols swirl behind her. Israel’s Noa Kirel informs us, in song, that she has the power of a unicorn. She doesn’t explain what a unicorn’s powers are, but presumably they’re “trotting” and “rolling around”. Lest we doubt her, she asks, “Do you wanna check my DNA?”

And then there are the aggressively weird acts. Pasha Parfeni, wearing a dressing gown like a Moldovan Lebowski, sings before a large pulsating eye as horned women ululate and someone dressed as a rabbit demon plays the pipes. This is a normal Saturday night in Moldova.

The synth duo Tvorchi, from Ukraine, perform cyborg-themed industrial pop while the stage erupts with flame and LED lights glare. “Sometimes you just got to know when to stick your middle finger up in the air,” they sing, which feels apt.

The singer with Germany’s glam-metal outfit Lord of the Lost wears skeletal wings, eye make-up and a red PVC jumpsuit. “Blood and glitter, sweet and bitter, we’re so happy we could die,” he sings. These are, as you know, the first words of the European constitution. “This man has a tattoo of a man’s face on his leg, and I’m no stranger to that sort of carry-on,” Marty says.

Croatia’s Let 3 dress in military drag to sing about how horrible dictators are, as their big heads appear with swirling kaleidoscopic eyes on the screens behind them. They strip to their underwear and are joined by an evil-looking man with two huge missiles. This is probably the future of journalism.

There’s a nice mid-show performance featuring Eurovision greats singing the Liverpool songbook; they are, rather movingly, joined by people singing in Kyiv for You’ll Never Walk Alone. There’s the usual voting palaver, with local characters from all over Europe – “We could be here till Friday,” Marty says – followed by the tense addition of a public vote. Eventually, through the tedious power of democracy, the winner is ... Sweden. Fair enough. She was stuck in a toasted-sandwich maker earlier.

Patrick Freyne

Patrick Freyne

Patrick Freyne is a features writer with The Irish Times