Broadcasting from the birthplace of The Beatles, Eurovision 2023 (BBC One) proved a long and winding road. But after nearly four hours of singing, dancing and the occasional human centipede, Sweden’s Loreen justified her favourite tag to sweep to victory with her song Tattoo.
She had led from the front throughout the jury vote, making, in truth, for slightly dull viewing. The process was particularly painful for British viewers as UK representative Mae Muller finished second last, ahead of Germany’s Lord of the Lost. She may have “Wrote A Song”. Alas, Muller did not pen a smash that registered with Eurovision fans. Her performance also seemed dogged by mic difficulties that muffled her vocals.
There was a flicker of tension at the end of the night when there seemed a brief possibility fan favourite Käärijä from Finland might mount a challenge to the imperious Loreen. In the event, his huge public vote – helped no doubt by that human centipede choreography – was not substantial enough.
Tattoo, a sort of doomy cousin once removed to Katy Perry’s Firework, created history by leading Sweden to its seventh Eurovision. It now stands head-to-head with Ireland at the top of the leaderboard. Loreen also became just the second singer to win Eurovision twice– equalling Johnny Logan, who, by coincidence, was celebrating his 69th birthday.
Before the voting, the excitement was fanned by an interlude performance billed “Eurovision meets Liverpool”. The music of John Lennon (but not the Beatles), Atomic Kitten, Dead Or Alive etc was covered by previous Eurovision contestants.
These included Israel’s Netta, Iceland’s Daði Freyr and 1993 runner-up and native Merseyside native Sonia. It concluded on a moving note with the 2023 Eurovision presenters and contestants joining hands. They then helped Dutch 2019 winner Duncan Laurence with the chorus of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Even Graham Norton was dabbing a tear. Still, a trick was missed by not closing with Jedward singing The Cutter by Echo and the Bunnymen.
That tribute to the Merseyside spirit was a fitting end to the Eurovision week in Liverpool. The final itself was the traditional Eurovision mix of wackiness (Moldova and Croatia) and turbo-charged sincerity (Italy and Switzerland).
In the middle was a clutch of super-charged pop stars. There was the UK’s Muller and Poland’s Blanka. Both were thoroughly eclipsed by Israel’s Noa Kirel, who did well with the public but, as with Käärijä, was overlooked by a jury panel that couldn’t see past Loreen.
The mayhem was skilfully marshalled by the quartet of hosts as semi-final presenters Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham and Ukrainian rock star Julia Sanina were joined by Graham Norton. He brought an agreeable raffishness, having dashed down from the traditional commentary box. His temporary stand-in on voiceover was Mel Geidroyc. She also turned up later dressed as a milk-maid churning butter from behind the presenters (a wink to Donatan & Cleo and their high-dairy content entry for Poland in 2014).
Norton was a household name long before Eurovision came to Liverpool (the UK stepping in on behalf of Ukraine, obviously unable to host). The true break-out star has been Waddingham. Seven days ago, she was a semi-obscure musical theatre trouper best known for playing the anti-hero owner of a football club in Ted Lasso. A trio of Eurovision broadcasts later and she is a national hero. She was at her best here and dealt skilfully with the annoying representative of the Icelandic jury, who came on screen wearing a sex dungeon outfit. “Mate, we’ve just got a small amount of time,” she thundered.
With the final clocking at four hours, the BBC had in total pumped out a total of more than seven hours of Eurovision coverage from Tuesday through to Saturday. Inevitably there were highs and lows. The opening semi-final had featured zany saxophone solos from Malta and the lead singer of Ireland’s Wild Youth squeezed into a bulging catsuit several sizes too small. That which was seen could not be unseen.
The pace had meanwhile dragged on Thursday. The organisers had put all the madcap acts in the first semi. And so the second descended into an extended snooze-fest as one over-earnest belter followed another. So plodding was tempo that it was a delight when the camera turned – for no apparent reason – to someone dressed as Peppa Pig.
No such emergency measures were required in the final. It opened with a reworked performance by 2022 winners Kalush Orchestra. It included a piano solo by Andrew Lloyd Webber – and then, because why not, another one by Catherine, Princess of Wales.
From the first quavering note to the climactic voting, this was Eurovision chugging on all pistons. If only the voting had been more exciting and Loreen’s victory less of a foregone conclusion.
Still, though Mae Muller may feel she was hard done by, nobody wins Eurovision by accident. And with Tattoo, Loreen has forever left her mark on the world’s most-watched music broadcast.