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Which 2023 National Finals Sent The Right Artists To Liverpool? Written by on May 24, 2023 | 3 Comments

As we settle in for the Eurovision summer, let’s take a moment to look back at the various National Finals in 2023 and the acts they selected to go to Liverpool. Ewan Spence picks out the broadcasters who made some smart choices to find Song Contest success.

Sweden was right to choose ‘Tattoo’

There was no alternative. Sweden’s Melodifestivalen this year had one song from the list of 28 that could have done the business, and the Swedes chose correctly. The level that Loreen was above the rest of the field was mind-blowing. One can easily get distracted by the big-budget staging and assume that everybody was razzle-dazzled by the TV screen rather than the music, but such a narrative isn’t true when a unanimous group of journalists all called ‘Tattoo’ as the one on first listen back on Wednesday, February 22nd.

The resulting effect is similar to what played out in the results at the Eurovision Song Contest. Compared to all other challengers the performance was in a league of its own and yes, there were people everywhere who maybe preferred song X or song Y, but few in Sweden nor Europe denied that the production of Loreen’s three minutes on stage deserved to go to the Song Contest and deserved to be the favourite to take the crown.

There are other reasons that this was the correct winner of Melodifestivalen. It is brilliant to see American Song Contest-winning composer Cazzi Opeia take the trophy and may we see much more of her epic compositions going forward. It is brilliant that it brought back Loreen to the Song Contest, a fairytale few would have been able to imagine after she didn’t qualify for the 2017 Final of Melodifestivalen. But more than all it is going back to the song – we can look back to Melodifestivalen and how this smashed the already sky-high expectations with both public vote and streaming data and now with the Eurovision winner platform I dare suggest it could be ‘Tattoo’ that ends up out of Liverpool 2023 with the biggest hit of the Contest for many years.

A number 2 on the UK charts won’t hurt that cause.

Finland was right to choose ‘Cha Cha Cha’

Quite simply a force of nature, that connected with the public around the world. When we talk about how big the stage is for the National Finals, Käärijä is the perfect demonstration, walking out of the studio not just with a ticket to Liverpool, but also becoming a recognisable face in the Finnish music industry and beyond. Then he did it all over again at the Song Contest, searing himself into the retinas and eardrums of everyone who saw ‘Cha Cha Cha’.

UMK has been delivering for the last few years and it has become the ‘must get on this show’ ticket, but once every ten to fifteen years in every country someone comes along to rip up the rule book and can make a run for the Glass Microphone. Käärijä was Finland’s moment, and if any other artist had won Melodifestivalen, the Finnish government would be trying to buy a stadium just outside Helsinki for Eurovision 2024.

Käärijä and Loreen are now inextricably tied together. Finland and Sweden gave us the yin and yang of the Eurovision Song Contest, showing us how every song at Eurovision has to find its own balance between art and craft of music alongside the promotional and commercial reality of the industry.

You can’t have the success of Käärijä without the success of Loreen. Between them, they made this year’s Song Contest one for the history books that will be studied endlessly for as long as the Contest is with us.

Spain was right to choose ‘Eaea’

Blanca Paloma’s victory blindsided most of the Spanish press at Benidorm Fest. In the studio version, few expected it to have anything to connect to the audience and trouble any of the established contenders that were already hitting the charts in Spain.

Then Blanca rehearsed for roughly 100 journalists on Thursday 2nd February. The room fell silent as Blanca started before the wave of complex rhythms and harmonies moved all of us, and built towards a maddening crescendo of anguished power and strength that few before have ever witnessed.

I don’t think I have ever seen a reaction to a rehearsal as powerful as that one. From that moment on the press bubble had almost unanimously decided that the Spanish representative should be Blanca and anything else would be completely wrong.. With a voting system that was dominated by an in-arena jury of fellow Eurovision bubble members, sat just in front of all the journalists willing Blanca on with every ounce of breath, Blanca stormed the votes in the Semi Final and eventually in the final of Benidorm Fest.

I was asked a lot during the days in between the Semi Final and Final of Benidorm Fest if Blanca Paloma was the right song to send for Spain. Even though the Spanish press almost all pushed that narrative, many of them did share that exact doubt about the televote across Europe that we witnessed in the Eurovision Grand Final. Yet my answer was the unchanging each time:

“There is no song at Benidorm Fest likely to win Eurovision in Liverpool this year. Therefore you should send something that you believe is quality and support letting that quality shine on stage”.

I can entertain the thought that Agoney or Nicco could have squeezed themselves into a Top Five position at Eurovision with a (very) fair wind, but none were ever coming close to Loreen or Käärijä. Spain chose something that wowed many and taught a new culture across Europe in ways that make Eurovision stronger because Eurovision is bigger than the scoreboard.

I only hope those same Spanish media peddle the very same narrative throughout the off-season. Benidorm Fest is a format that can deliver quality for Spain and I believe they will become one of the continent’s powerhouses over the next decade should they keep up this momentum. ‘Eaea’ winning because of its quality should only make the brand proud.

Italy was right to choose ‘Due Vite’

Some years, the marathon of Sanremo is a plethora of delights, with massive musical moments after every commercial break. In other years it feels like 3.45pm at an Italian Music Trade Show, lost in the twilight time between lunch and ‘is it acceptable to leave early?’. 2023 felt like the latter.

There were names in Sanremo 2023 that we’re going to hear again and again, names that will make their way to the Eurovision Song Contest in the future (yes, we’re looking at you Madame), but there was nothing that felt like it could stand out with something distinctive at the Song Contest. Given that, there’s nothing wrong in going with a handsome Italian man with a brooding Italian ballad to stand in the middle of the stage, and everyone knows without checking that this is the Italian entry.

Marco Mengoni has been through the circus before, both at Eurovision ten years ago and the marathon of Sanremo. He knows how to perform to a crowd and deliver what they are wanting. ‘Due Vite’ isn’t a monumental song, it doesn’t stray far from the standard formula of the Italian male ballad, and Mengoni is more than happy to stay in that space.

And Italy, arguably effortlessly, picks up an unexpectedly strong result that, thankfully, fell short of winning. RAI delivered the best result possible… strong, but without any danger of having to host the Contest twice in three years.

Norway was right to choose ‘Queen of Kings’

The early money was on Ulrikke Brandstorp to wave the Norwegian flag in Liverpool. ‘Honestly’ was a wonderful song with a personal connection to Ulrikke and her time during lockdown that she couldn’t help to bring that emotion to the stage. Yet the song itself would have struggled to stand out in Liverpool, and would have drawn comparisons to other entries, notably Estonia’s ‘Bridges’ for good or for ill.

There was something else on offer though. From the very first listen to the audio track, through the Semi Finals, and on to the “yes, we’re ready to host Eurovision’ Grand Final, there was only one song that really, really wanted the win at MGP. ‘Queen of Kings’ had a driving beat that was easy to fall in love with, blending mystical tones and a sea shanty with a driving bass line and a catchy chorus. The package is all there, even the infectious giggle of Alessandra added to the charm outside of the three minutes.

Is it deeply artistic? No. Is it casting a focused light on the human condition? Perhaps. Is it fun? Definitely.

And when did it become a success? Long before we reached Liverpool. ‘Queen of Kings’ tore up the various viral charts, for a time you couldn’t move on Tik-Tok without coming across it being used as a backing track, and it was picking up tens of millions of plays following the MGP win. And in the week after Eurovision, Alessandra had a Top Ten in the UK charts.

Norway quietly walked away from Liverpool with a fifth place in the Grand Final, the country’s best result since Margaret Berger (yes, even better than Keiino), and a bona-fide international hit. The team at NRK must fancy their chances at a victory next year.

Belgium was right to choose ‘Because of You’

Remembering that the Belgian broadcasters take turns, VRT had two years to think about the National Final format to find the best song. There was a long creative process on the television shows, with artists bringing two songs before each artist ended up with one song. A look behind the scenes, rather than going straight to a one-shot National Final, gave us time to fall in love with all the entrants, but especially Gustaph.

And he never stopped. He was proud to be visible, proud to be himself, and proud of the message that ‘Because Of You’. We never stopped either, and as Liverpool grew closer and closer, more and more people discovered Gustaph, his infectious smile, and a song that was incredibly accessible.

Would anyone else have the same warmth as Gustaph from the National Selection? Probably not. Liverpool 2023 without Gustaph would have been a far greyer place.

As for results, the whole of Gustaph’s team should take a bow. For smaller broadcasters qualifying out of the Semi Finals and getting through to Saturday night is huge. To then get into the top ten in the Grand Final, after the shock National Final win… the results on paper match the results in our hearts.

Croatia was right to choose ‘Mama ŠČ!’

Sometimes art works on multiple levels, and the Eurovision Song Contest is no different. Take Croatia’s decision to send the band Let 3 with ‘Mama ŠČ!’. On the surface, it was another ‘wild and wacky band’ doing silly things on stage with fun lyrics.

On the other hand, it was a political satire, snuck into the Song Contest under the guise of being a bit of fun. And if you think that’s far-fetched, grab a coffee and settle in with Catherine Baker’s deep dive on Let 3 from earlier this month). Frankly, their performance could have gone any way; from being left back in the Semi Finals, to an ignominious appearance on Saturday, to somehow getting themselves on the podium by charming everyone. A thirteenth place in the Grand Final, the eponymous left-hand side of the scoreboard, was ambitious…

Remember that Croatia had not qualified for Saturday night since 2017 and ‘My Friend’, a long time between appearances. That’s the win for broadcaster HRT. As for Let 3, they got people across the world talking about them. Did you have to explain what the song was about to a friend of a friend late on Saturday night when this madness was performed? If so then Let 3’s purpose was achieved.

Estonia was right to choose ‘Bridges’

‘Bridges’ felt like more of the same from Estonia, as Eesti Laul continues to lean into conservatively safe songs over the last four years. Much like Sweden, the strategy was to heavily lean into the jury vote to collect as many points as possible, and then try to hold on to a high placing when the televotes started to come in.

Given the absolute dominance of Finland and Sweden in the televote for the ‘popular’ vote and the more technical delights of Italy, Estonia has played a blinder. Fifth place in the jury was a quiet success, and it sneaked into the Top Ten, albeit with a 19th place from the televote.

‘Bridges’ is a reminder that there’s more than one way to get a Top Ten finish, and you don’t need to go all out on spectacle to create a moment.

Liverpool 2023 was a Contest for the ages, with a great mix of songs in the National Finals. Which Finals do you think made the right choice? Did you enjoy any of the songs left behind? And who do you want to see try in 2024? Let us know in the comments.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

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Have Your Say

3 responses to “Which 2023 National Finals Sent The Right Artists To Liverpool?”

  1. I’m afraid Belgium and Estonia made the biggest mistake by sending Alika and Gustaph instead of Cherine and Ollie.

  2. Webmaster says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes. And also yes.

  3. Stephanie Saczawa says:

    I would have to disagree with you about Belgium, John Christian. Sure Chérine was a huge favorite among the Eurofans, but her staging in the national final was awful. Gustaph was written off by the bubble from the start, he let the performance do the talking and it resonated enough for the juries and the Belgian public to make him the winner despite not winning either side of the vote. When you look at his performances in Liverpool, he brought the house down each time (I honestly thought he deserved more points from the public in the final than what they gave to Croatia and Poland). His consistency, infectious charm and amazing performance gave Belgium its first top 10 finish since Blanche and the second-highest placing Flemish entry in the semifinal era (behind Tom Dice’s 6th in 2010). Gustaph was truly the underdog story of the 2023 ESC season in my mind

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