Eurovision Song Contest final: Waiting over for fans
The grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest has kicked off in Liverpool, with Sweden and Finland among the favourites to win.
The show aims to reflect the culture both of its host city and last year's winner, Ukraine, who could not stage the show due to Russia's invasion.
Kalush Orchestra, 2022's champions, helped start off the show.
The Princess of Wales appeared playing the piano in a pre-recorded opening video for the final.
Ukraine's 2016 winner Jamala, 2007 entrant Verka Serduchka and the UK's Sam Ryder will also perform.
The UK is being represented by Mae Muller, whose track I Wrote A Song will be the last entry performed before the public vote opens.
"When I walk on stage, I'm going to have to take a second to really centre myself because those three minutes go really fast," she told the BBC.
The show is being presented again by Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham and Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina, with Graham Norton joining them during the voting stage.
Along the way, we'll see a Vogue dancer dressed as a cat, a man escaping from a packing case, and lots of women writhing on the floor (it's a thing, for some reason).
The interval will showcase the "Liverpool songbook" with tracks by John Lennon, Melanie C and Gerry and the Pacemakers performed by former Eurovision contestants.
And for the first time, countries that don't compete will be given a say in the results - with viewers from the US, India and elsewhere contributing a "rest of the world" vote.
Here's what else to look out for on the night.
1) The power of Poe
Austria's Teya & Salena are the first act on stage, with a song about being possessed by the spirit of American poet Edgar Allen Poe, who compels them to write a hit song that earns them a contract with Universal records.
Underneath that, the song's really a commentary on the music industry's mistreatment of songwriters, At one point, the duo chant "zero dot zero zero three", in reference to Spotify's paltry royalty rate. "Give me two years and your dinner will be free," they deadpan.
It's all wrapped up in a slick electropop package that features the chorus, "Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe". Which in German translates as "bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum." Objectively amazing.
2) Finland's cabbage worm
Not to be mistaken for Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, Finnish rapper Käärijä has delivered one of this year's most audacious Eurovision songs.
Cha Cha Cha is an unhinged mix of industrial metal, punishing techno and a happycore video game soundtrack, that talks about the spiritual fulfilment of getting blind drunk and dancing like an idiot.
He illustrates this by dancing like an idiot, in a costume that screams "the Incredible Hulk got stuck mid-transformation".
Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, he revealed that his lime green bolero sleeves have been nicknamed "the cabbage worm", in honour of a chain of Finnish sex shops.
Naturally, this is one of the favourites to win.
3) A mystery guest?
Rumours have been swirling all week that a mystery guest will make an appearance during the grand final. Some say it will be local hero Paul McCartney, others think it's Princess Kate. The only thing we know is that we don't know.
"I thought it was going to be Charles and Camilla giving out the points, but apparently it's Catherine Tate," joked Radio 2's Eurovision commentator, Rylan Clark.
"There has been some stuff happening in rehearsals where it's been a completely closed set," divulged his co-host and Eurovision husband Scott Mills. "There's a lot of secrecy and no-one will tell us what's going on."
"But," Rylan added, "give me two drinks and I'll tell you everything."
4) Sweden's Loreen is set to make history
For months now, Swedish star Loreen has been the bookmakers' favourite to win Eurovision.
She's already Eurovision royalty, having won the contest in 2012, and her latest entry is a precision-tooled earworm called Tattoo.
The lyrics are about a love so deep its engraved on your heart (like a tattoo, do you see?) but the whole thing's just an excuse to show off Loreen's powerhouse vocals, including an excellent "you-hoo-hoo" bit in the chorus.
She sings it while squashed between two giant LED screens - basically a space-age toasted sandwich maker - and while she's usually note perfect, she went a little off-piste in one of this week's rehearsals.
Asked about it in a press conference, the diva smiled and slowly laughed before replying: "Wasn't pitch perfect, darling? What are you talking about?" What a legend.
5) The Adele impersonator representing Lithuania
Mae Muller isn't the only UK hopeful in this year's contest. Nicola Lambrianos - an Adele impersonator from Essex - is singing backing vocals for Lithuania's entrant, Monika Linkyė. What's more, she inspired Monika to take part.
The two performers met in a bar last year and, after striking up a conversation about music, Monika revealed she'd sung at Eurovision in 2015 (she placed 18th with the song This Time).
"I was beside myself because I'm obsessed with Eurovision," Nicola told the BBC. "So I said to her, 'Do you know anyone that could get me a ticket?'"
"I made a promise to get her a ticket," said Monika, "then I went back to Lithuania and wrote the song in one evening."
A couple of weeks later, she invited Nicola to Lithuania to sing in the country's selection process... and they won.
"I saw all this confetti come down, and I looked over at her and said, 'Did we not just joke about this four weeks ago?'" said Nicola. "And now I'm doing Eurovision - a dream I never, ever thought was possible."
Grand final, live, Saturday, 13 May 2023. 20:00 BST BBC One and iPlayer
6) Israel's astonishing dance break
Noa Kirel has been called Israel's Britney Spears - she's scored four number one singles, won five MTV Awards and been a judge on Israel's Got Talent, all while serving a compulsory two-year stint in the Israeli army.
She co-wrote her song Unicorn with Doron Medalie, who composed Israel's 2018 Eurovision winner, Toy. But the real highlight of her performance is a breath-taking, 30-second dance breakdown.
"It's something I'm very passionate about," the 22-year-old told the official Eurovision podcast.
"When I was two or three years old, I used to dance in my living room in front of my family and I was like, 'Clap your hands at the end of the show'."
But although she's studied ballet, flamenco and hip-hop; and danced on some of the world's biggest stages, Eurovision has been haunting her dreams.
"I dream about the performance all the time. Somebody is pushing me to the stage and I don't know what I'm going to do and what I'm going to sing and the audience are all looking at me.
"To be part of it and to represent your country on one of the biggest stages in the world, it's very stressful."
7) The backstage crew are the silent stars
You won't see them but Eurovision's backstage team are the real heroes of the contest. They're in charge of 23,700 light sources, 482 costumes, 150 microphones, 100 wigs, 3,000 makeup brushes - and making sure everything runs seamlessly.
Every act has their own unique look. At various points, the stage is adorned with a vintage Toyota MR2, a giant alien pod, a trampoline, and two nuclear warheads (not real ones, we're assured), And the stagehands have just 53 seconds between each performance to clear the stage and erect the next props.
"The speed is the hardest part, because everybody's requests were pretty far out there," says lighting director Tim Routledge, "but we're here to make their dreams come true."
They've developed some nifty tricks to make it all happen. The stage itself is actually a giant LED screen, which turns into a "map" for all the props between acts.
"We used to mark the floor up with tape, so it got pretty messy," says stage designer Julio Himede. "Now it's literally just an operator with an iPad pushing a button."
"The artist even gets a little 'T' mark on stage to show them where to stand, and then we know the spotlight will hit them exactly."
8) France's secret mascot
All week, French star La Zarra has been carrying a replica of Mr Bean's dark brown, button-eyed teddy bear everywhere she goes.
"He is my mascot," she told the BBC. "Maybe he will be appearing on stage with me. Maybe under my dress."
There's certainly plenty of room under there. La Zarra performs on a giant rising platform, with her dress billowing and cascading down to the floor. It makes her look like one of those toilet roll dolls your gran used to have, only French and glamorous.
Already a huge star in France, La Zarra is hoping to be the one to break the country's 45-year losing streak at Eurovision.
Her song, Evidemment is a chic fusion of Edith Piaf's sultry majesty and Daft Punk's filtered disco, that contains the night's best lyric: "I'm looking for love, but I can't find anything, just like in my purse."
9) Politics seeping in
Eurovision was conceived in the 1950s with the dream of uniting countries after the war, so politics has always been kept at arm's length.
But while Ukraine's President, Volodomyr Zelensky, has been denied the opportunity to speak, the contest includes plenty of other nods to Russia's invasion of his country.
Croatia's Let 3! take to the stage in bloodstained overcoats, performing an anti-war song that's a metaphor for the Russian Federation.
They mock dictators for being "childish" and "psychopaths", with particular emphasis on Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
The "tractor" that's referenced several times in the lyrics is apparently a reference to Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, who has supported Russia in the war and gave Putin a tractor for his 70th birthday.
Czechia's entrant, Vesna, sing parts of their song, My Sister's Crown, in Ukrainian. "My sister won't stand in the corner / Nor will she listen to you," they chant. "We're with you in our hearts."
Ukraine's own entrant, Tvorchi, also make reference to the war in their song, Heart of Steel. A juddering, disorientating slice of synthpop, it was inspired by the siege Azovstal, and the civilians who defended the town's steel works.
10) Australia is really going for it
For the past eight years, Australia have been welcomed into the glitter-flecked arms of Eurovision as honorary Europeans.
The country's affection for the contest goes all the way back to Abba - a national obsession down under - and millions regularly get up at 5am to watch the song contest live.
In 2014, Darwin-born singer Jessica Mauboy was invited to perform in the interval. The next year, Australia was allowed to take part as a "wildcard" entrant.
Their deal runs out this year - but the Aussies are really going for it. Prog metal band Voyager arrive in a blaze of pyrotechnics and keytar solos, with a song that sounds like a cross between Duran Duran and Panic At The Disco.
Lead singer Danny Estrin, who's an immigration lawyer in his normal life, says he's grasping the chance with both hands.
"It's something that I think every artist should strive to do because it is so wonderful," he told the BBC.
"And it also gives people an opportunity to finally see us, whether they like it or not. They are forced to see it. That exposure is so wonderful for a band that comes from a niche market.
"It's a big deal. It's the greatest show on Earth."
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