Red Eurovision


It's a gloomy start in Liverpool for Eurovision 2023.

by Allen Therisa in Eurovision

Cha Cha Cha.
Cha Cha Cha.

What on earth is going on with the Eurovision Song Contest?

Anyone who sat through the first semi-final of 2023's contest from Liverpool last night would have been struck by how familiar the show's format has now become, but also how dark and doom-laden this year's BBC-produced contest is.

This, in stark contrast to the joyous, chaotic, exuberant staging of the annual show, when it was hosted by Italy last year (perhaps one of the highlights of recent Eurovision competitions).

Part of the sour, gloomy atmosphere that dominated this first of three television outings for the 2023 contest came from the presentation and production of the semi-finalist entries themselves, which, despite the BBC's frenetic staging, were dominated by nihilistic sentiment and introspection (Israel's unicorn-obsessed high-energy shake-down aside).

But this downbeat mood also came down to the BBC's production design and staging. Clearly reflecting the recent cultural impact of Sam Smith's recent lurch into pop-demonic surrealism, which set dominant media from Twitter to (God help us) The One Show alight, 2023's first semi-final was a festival of red blanket lighting, firey backdrops, zippered black leather costumes and nihilistic pop operatics, all shadowed by apocalyptic, nightmarish lyrics and production.

Amongst the red-draped highlights from last night's dark running order were:

Malta - The Busker's Dance (Our One Party), a nightmarish retread in comfortable sweaters, of Moldova's iconic 2017 hit Hey Mamma by SunStroke Project

Serbia - Luke Black's Samo Mi Se Spava, a horror video game brought to life

Croatia - Let 3's Mama ŠČ!, a middle-aged, heavily-made-up ironic electro mash-down in a dress

Moldova - Pasha Parfeni's Soarele și Luna, a howling, tin-whistled, double-horned psycho-drama

Sweden - Repeat offender Loreen with Tattoo, on her second Kate Bushesque outing following her 2012 win with Euphoria, this year working an Alien vibe with essentially the same entry as before

Czechia - Vesna's power-saluting girl power in pigtails, with My Sister's Crown

Finland - The charismatic Käärijä with Cha Cha Cha (clearly in pole position to win the competition), presented as a hallucinogenic clip-show from 2009's Dutch horror movie Centerpede.

With popular culture now being very much upstream from politics and all-pervasive throughout all levels of society, Eurovision, which used to pride itself on being above politics or political statements, is clearly reflecting the current downbeat catastrophisation which has gripped the West since the inception of the lockdown disaster in 2020.

Despite its dedication to maintaining the show as a non-political event, the UK's hosting of Eurovision, in place of Ukraine that was unable to do so following its 2022 victory with winning entry Stefania for rather obvious reasons (coquettishly referred to as "the war" throughout the first semi-final) was punctuated throughout by references to that country's national suffering. This social solidarity extended to the brandishing of the now ubiquitous Ukranian protest colour scheme of blue and yellow, taken from the country's national flag and popular on Twitter (for slightly obvious reasons), throughout the show and which framed the downbeat mood of the evening.

In the mid to late 1990s, Eurovision went through a serious crisis of confidence (termed rather bitchily afterwards as its "mid-life crisis" by hardcore fans), partly prompted by the repeated victories and hosting of the contest by Ireland between 1992 to 1994. The unexpected opening-up of Europe following the collapse of Eastern Communism and the radical realignment of the continent's politics that this historical event provoked then led to a rebirth for Eurovision itself coming into the new millennium.

Ironically, it was Ukraine's hosting of the contest in 2005, following Ruslana's Leather and Whips victory with Wild Dances the previous year that, together with associated technical and presentational innovations in the contest's broadcast from 2000 onwards, led to the expanded and rejuvenated format of the competition which has dominated its staging ever since.

Is Eurovision again ready for reinvention in terms of its production and presentation, with Ukraine again central to that change in direction?

Judging by the 2023 competition, it could well be.

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