Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Unicorns, smoothies and Edgar Allan Poe: 14 songs to listen out for at Eurovision 2023

Croatia’s Let 3, Sweden’s Loreen, and Finland’s Käärijä.
Croatia’s Let 3, Sweden’s Loreen, and Finland’s Käärijä. Composite: PR


Loreen – Tattoo
With a fringe so powerful it made Claudia Winkleman’s look meek and retiring, Loreen won the Eurovision song contest in 2012 with Euphoria, which has a good claim to be the competition’s greatest song of all time. Tectonic plates have collided with greater dynamic subtlety but Loreen’s beseeching vocal was electric, even moving and her crab dance became the stuff of legend.

Now she is back to try to become the first woman to win twice, and the bookies think she has it sewn up already. The fringe is a little more feathered – didn’t her stylists know the story of Samson? – and Tattoo is maybe 10% less formidable than Euphoria, but still: Loreen’s voice remains sensational, going from breathy mids to adrenaline-pumping highs and she has the superhuman stage presence of a Gaga or Beyoncé. A true pop star and a noticeable cut above the rest.


Käärijä – Cha Cha Cha
Loreen is a very tough act to beat, but if anyone can do it, it’s Käärijä: he has the hard stare and bowl cut of a Berlin sex club bouncer and his song is by some mark the best this year. An unhinged mashup of trance, anarcho-punk and glam metal about how spiritually fulfilling it is to get extremely drunk, it bludgeons you with two minutes of pure cartoon violence before dropping a chorus of completely wondrous pop perfection. The arena crowd – especially those from north-west England, the spiritual home of hard dance – will absolutely lose their minds to this.


Tvorchi – Heart of Steel
The cheers will also be deafening when Tvorchi begin: this contest rightfully belongs in Ukraine after Kalush Orchestra won last year. That win was secured thanks to voter solidarity – which could very easily happen again – but in a normal year Kalush Orchestra’s stirring, showboating folk-pop banger Stefania could easily have triumphed anyway, and it continued a brilliant run for Ukraine since they arrived in 2003: qualifying for the final every year, they’ve netted 11 Top 10 placings including three wins and two runner-up spots. With a funkily bumping Flume-esque beat, Heart of Steel was inspired by the siege of the Azovstal steel works and while the duo can’t be too didactic thanks to Eurovision’s rules on political expression, the song’s themes of stubborn resolve and self-definition (“Sometimes you just gotta know / When to stick your middle finger up in the air”) are as clear as day.


Teya & Salena – Who the Hell is Edgar?
These are the opening lines of Who the Hell is Edgar?:

There’s a ghost in my body
And he is a lyricist
It is Edgar Allan Poe
And I think he can’t resist

You have my attention, Teya & Salena. Pray continue. Ah, your song is about being possessed by the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe who compels you to write gothic pop lyrics and carries you to a major label recording contract? And your incredibly catchy chorus goes “Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Edgar Allan, Edgar Allan Poe”? Douzeiest douze points ever.


Blanka – Solo
Here’s some Euro-tropical ska that’s about as authentically Caribbean as a tax exile in the Cayman Islands, but it’s cheerful enough. Blanka will also win the “dad hovering awkwardly in the living room doorway” vote, while other regulation hotties include Cyprus stud Andrew Lambrou whose song is a bit Unimaginative Dragons; Italy’s Marco Mengoni who you sense is telling you something very passionate about the light in your eyes; and Israel’s Noa Kirel who does an impressively athletic dance routine that’s like Flashdance in high heels, but her song’s real attraction is the entirely sincere claim in the chorus: “I got the power of a unicorn.”


Let 3 – Mama ŠČ

Whether it’s dancing grannies for Russia or unicycling gnomes for Moldova, Eurovision needs moments that make you feel as though your mid-contest Chocolate Orange has been laced with psilocybin. Croatia bring that vibe this year with a punk group who dress up as lipstick-smeared totalitarian dictators, with one of them driving a sit-on lawnmower. Mama ŠČ has the simple catchiness of a nursery rhyme, but it houses one of the political allegories that occasionally flies under the radar of the ostensibly apolitical Eurovision: the tractor in the lyrics is symbolic of how Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko – who once gave Putin a tractor as a birthday present – aided Russia in their war on Ukraine. Rather more prosaic anti-war messaging comes from Switzerland’s Remo Forrer and his dull-but-sturdy Watergun (“I don’t wanna be a soldier, soldier / I don’t wanna have to play with real blood”).


Brunette – Future Lover
The guiltiest pleasure of Eurovision for British people is laughing at the English-language lyrics of rival nations. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s probably a symptom of our utterly pathetic post-imperial smugness. But still, Future Lover rhymes “likes me enough to kiss my face” with “cute little things, like drink smoothies at near cafes”. The lyrics actually end up being much better than the generically uplifting poetry that’s often at Eurovision – Brunette soon delivers a fraught high-speed rap as her anxiety to find love consumes her.


Reiley – Breaking My Heart
Eurovision can sometimes feel like it’s playing catchup to the big UK-US pop trends of a couple of years before, but Reiley is one of the entrants who feels as if they actually come from 2023. His song brazenly rips off both I’m So Tired by Lauv and Troye Sivan and the vocal effects of Francis and the Lights – but his lovely falsetto makes it an effective heist, and his androgynous beauty will have tweens frantically mashing the voting app.


Pasha Parfeni – Soarele şi Luna

With an antler-wearing priestess, a masked flute-playing dwarf and ethereal twins doing backing vocals while gazing into mirrors, Moldova get a full house for A24 folk-horror bingo with this superb pounding track. Clearly influenced by the last two Ukrainian entries, which have mixed folk elements with techno and hip-hop respectively, the pagan-robed Pasha Parfeni sings in Romanian “the sun and the moon will hold our wedding crown” before a hoe-down and blood sacrifice (latter implied). Parfeni is a Eurovision lifer who represented Moldova in 2012, co-wrote and played piano for their 2013 entry, and has put himself forward four other times but his mum presumably told the organisers to let someone else have a go.


Alessandra – Queen of Kings
Another folkloric be-robed anthem here – trend alert! – with Alessandra telling a Game of Thrones-type tale of an all-conquering queen rampaging across the “north and southern seas” and leaving a trail of Nordic symbols and girlboss signifiers in her wake: “A firestone, forged in flames / Wildest card, run the game”. The grog-chugging heartiness of a sea shanty done with the drum programming of an Ibizan tech-house producer, Queen of Kings will whip up a storm in the arena, and alongside Loreen’s Tattoo has already become a multimillion-streaming hit.


Luke Black – Samo Mi Se Spava
The 31 acts outside the Big Five countries who automatically make the final thanks to their financial support – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – will have to make it through semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday. Luke Black may struggle given that his song is more of a dramatic reading than a show of melodic vocal prowess, but it’s more interesting than most: a Nine Inch Nails-style cyberpunk track about nihilism and apathy in the face of a collapsing planet. The staging is great – Black rants “war, violence, rage, virus” in Serbian as he disassembles zombie-replicant backing dancers – and his camply evil giggles, groans and stares are the stuff of memes.


Blanca Paloma: Eaea
As one of the Big Five, Spain can afford to experiment (a tactic that the UK incidentally never opts for) and deliver a bold and engaging entry this year. The influence of Spanish superstar Rosalía is obvious in how this song updates flamenco with analogue-techno effects percolating far off in the mix, and in the keening, near-ululated delivery of Paloma, who has this year’s most interesting vocal timbre. There’s no real tune per se, but the song wraps around you like a fluttering bolt of cloth. Eurovision eagerly tells us her songwriting is “based on the idea of a rite or ceremony that connects us with what is pre-rational and instinctive; through experimentation and experience, Blanca seeks to explore the parts of our soul that go beyond words. As a child, Blanca raised a duck in her bathtub.” OK, thanks for that.


Lord of the Lost – Blood & Glitter

Australia’s Voyager do have a very entertaining guitar v keytar solo-off in their song Promise, but of the heavy rock entries this year Lord of the Lost have the edge. Imagine Nick Cave or Future Islands auditioning for a Broadway musical about Kiss and you’re sort of there with the lead singer, while the “pyow! Pyow!” synth noises are brilliantly stupid.

United Kingdom

Mae Muller – I Wrote a Song
The UK was very much the Millwall FC of Eurovision in that everyone hated us and we didn’t care, until last year, when Sam Ryder’s stratospherically uplifting Space Man carried us to second place. Turns out we just needed a good song, and we have another one this year – though not quite in the same league. The clever-clever metatextuality of I Wrote a Song is offset by the most traditionally Europop backing of the year, and a canny wordless chorus; Muller does the best “strutting around with the girlies acting like you don’t care about your breakup when you actually sort of do” since Dua Lipa in New Rules. Alongside Loreen and Noa Kirel, it’s proper pop, and as she’s closing the show, Muller will hopefully surf a decent wave of votes.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.