Sweden won the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool early Sunday morning, with Israel’s Noa Kirel finishing in third place.
The win for Sweden’s Loreen, with her power ballad “Tattoo,” marked the Scandinavian country’s seventh-total win at the competition, tying it for most overall victories with Ireland. It was also the second Eurovision win for Loreen, who took home the top prize at the 2012 contest with “Euphoria” — becoming only the second artist to ever win twice. Finland took second place, and Italy fourth.
Kirel, 22, finished with 362 points overall — 177 from the juries and 185 from the televote. Israel received top marks from the juries of Italy, Azerbaijan, France, Armenia and Poland, and finished the jury vote in second place overall. Among just the audience vote, Israel finished in fifth overall. The third place finish for Israel is the best showing for the country since Netta Barzilai won the competition in 2018 with “Toy.”
After completing her powerhouse performance on Saturday night, Kirel broke down in tears just before exiting the stage.
“Wow, I don’t have the words to explain how exciting it was to represent my country when millions of eyes around the world are watching every movement and note,” Kirel said in a statement shared by the Kan public broadcaster following her performance.
After the final results were announced, Kirel said she was “so proud to complete this incredible journey in the top 3!” adding that she was thankful “for the privilege to hold the flag of Israel on the biggest musical stage in the world.”
— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision) May 13, 2023
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: “Good job Noa Kirel, you’re ‘phenomenal,'” quoting a line from the song. “For us you’ll always be number one.”
The decision to send Kirel, a famous and experienced pop star at home, marked a change for Israel after seven years of sending novices selected via a reality TV singing competition.
The grand final got underway Saturday just as a tentative ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad went into effect, although sporadic rocket fire and subsequent IDF strikes in Gaza continued as the show progressed.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday before taking the stage, Kirel said she felt a desire to make Israelis proud of her as things were tense back at home.
“I feel their backing and their support and I want to give them back the support, specifically right now with everything that’s going on… to hug them and to represent [them] more than any other day,” she said.
Israel’s jury gave its “douze points” — the maximum 12 points available — to Sweden, awarded 10 points to Norway and eight to Finland. The jury vote was announced from Jerusalem by singer Ilanit, who represented Israel at the Eurovision 50 years ago, at its Eurovision debut in 1973. The full televote breakdown allocation of both the final and the semifinals will not be available until later in the week.
For the first time this year, viewers from around the world were able to cast their votes in the competition — even from countries that do not participate in the contest. The “rest of the world” votes were tallied up together and given the weight of one country.
Barzilai herself was also on hand Saturday night in Liverpool, as one of “six iconic past Eurovision acts” to take to the stage for an interval performance – while the votes are being cast and tallied. The Israeli singer performed a cover version of the 1985 hit “You Spin Me Round” by the Liverpool natives band Dead or Alive.
On Friday, Culture Minister Miki Zohar issued a call on social media for Israel’s supporters around the world to vote for Kirel
“I’m calling all of Israel’s supporters, all over the world — let’s win the Eurovision together!” Zohar said in the video message. “Vote for Israel, and the power of the unicorn.”
Kirel’s song, which she co-wrote alongside Doron Medalie, Yinon Yahel and May Sfadia, lauds “the power of the unicorn, out here on my own,” which the singer has said is a message of acceptance and self empowerment.
While she didn’t win, the pop singer’s participation in the contest has boosted her international profile, and the song “Unicorn” has gained traction around the world.
Out of all the 37 semifinal performances posted on the Eurovision’s YouTube account, “Unicorn” was the third-most watched, with 3.4 million views by Saturday night. On Spotify, “Unicorn” was the ninth-most listened to Eurovision song this year, with more than 6.4 million plays, according to the streaming platform. On Instagram, Kirel gained the most amount of followers over the past week of any of the contestants, adding more than 95,000 new followers, according to data released by MyBettingSites.
The 2023 contest was held in Liverpool, after Ukraine won the competition last year, but was deemed unsafe to host the event amid its ongoing war with Russia. The UK’s BBC worked to include many Ukrainian elements in the live shows, showcasing singers from the country and highlighting its sites in the “postcard” videos which introduce each contestant.
Israel has won the Eurovision Song Contest four times since it began taking part in 1973: first in 1978 with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” by Yizhar Cohen; then a year later with “Hallelujah” by Gali Atari and Milk and Honey; again in 1998 with “Diva” by Dana International and most recently in 2018 with Barzilai’s “Toy.”
Roy Elman contributed to this report from Liverpool.