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The 68th Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Malmo, Sweden, this year.

It’s a spiritual homecoming of sorts with Sweden’s supergroup Abba – who are the most famous band ever to come out of the contest – crowned the winners 50 years ago.

Loved and loathed in equal measure for its euro pop earworms, evocative power ballads, and eye-watering novelty acts, there’s no clear frontrunner for this year’s show – meaning it’s all to play for.

The political elephant in the room is of course Israel’s participation in light of the ongoing Gaza war, with many artists encouraged to boycott the event due to their participation.

As it stands, no act has withdrawn from the contest.

So, with 37 countries heading into the semi-finals ahead of a grand final featuring 26 songs on Saturday, who might we see take first place on the night?

The top three

Croatia is currently the country to beat, with Baby Lasagne (real name Marko Purisic) singing Rim Tim Tagi Dim.

The 28-year-old bleach-blonde frontman says the title doesn’t translate as anything, other than a catchy repeated riff, but a serious theme lies beneath the full-on performance.

Croatia's Baby Lasagna with Rim Tim Tagi Dim. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU
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Croatia’s Baby Lasagna with Rim Tim Tagi Dim. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

The song describes the tension of young Croatians leaving their homeland to seek better opportunities abroad, through the character of a farm boy who leaves his home – and his cat – to become a “city boy”.

Another hot favourite is Switzerland, with Nemo singing The Code.

The 24-year-old non-binary performer draws on their childhood opera singing to pull together an impressive song which scales rap, rock, drum ‘n bass and classical opera.

The message in this one is self-acceptance and the freedom for each one of us to live our lives openly and without fear of judgement.

Switzerland's Nemo with The Code. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU
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Switzerland’s Nemo with The Code. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU

Meanwhile, a song that’s been growing in popularity is Ukraine’s Teresa & Maria sung by Alonya Alonya and Jerry Heil.

Alonya, 28, is a well-known rapper in Ukraine, while Heil, 32, found fame on YouTube and appeared on the country’s version of X-Factor.

Utterly hummable, the folk-inflected anti-war song paying tribute to Mother Theresa and the mother of Christ has a strong heritage and shares a songwriter with Kalush Orchestra’s winning 2022 entry Stefania.

Ukraine's Alyona Alyona & Jerry Heil with Teresa & Maria. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU
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Ukraine’s Alyona Alyona & Jerry Heil with Teresa & Maria. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU

In with a chance

Also in the running is Italy with Angelina Mango’s La Noia, which translates as “Boredom”.

The 23-year-old told Italian rock magazine Rockol that while boredom is often seen as a negative thing, she sees it as a time for self-discovery, adding: “Between a life of highs and lows and one of boredom, I will always choose one of highs and lows, but I will always leave myself time for boredom too.”

Italy's Angelina Mango with La Noia. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU
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Italy’s Angelina Mango with La Noia. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU

Meanwhile, Netherlands act Joost has by far the biggest earworm of the crop with Europapa – a song that will delight and infuriate in equal measure. Indeed, one early review of the song proclaimed it was so bad, it had the power to “put you off music forever”.

Despite the silliness of the happy hardcore-infused pop song and the OTT nature of his shoulder-pad-enhanced performance, 26-year-old singer Joost Klein had a heartbreaking inspiration for the song – the loss of both his parents by age 13.

Netherlands act Joost with Europapa. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU
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Netherlands act Joost with Europapa. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

The track is about an orphan who travels around Europe trying to find himself, as his father taught him to believe in a Europe without borders, celebrating the national food of each nation en route.

Host country Sweden is also seen as having a chance for back-to-back wins, represented by Norwegian twin brothers Marcus and Martinus Gunnarsen performing their presumptuously titled song Unforgettable.

Sweden's Marcus & Martinus with Unforgettable. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU
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Sweden’s Marcus & Martinus with Unforgettable. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU

But Eurovision voters – made up equally of public votes and a jury of music experts – will of course be the judge of that.

Other notable mentions include France’s Silmane giving a heartfelt rendition of Mon Amour and Ireland’s Bambie Thug singing Doomsday Blue – a song she’s described as “an electro-metal breakdown”.

France's Slimane with Mon Amour. Pic: Corinne Cumming/EBU
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France’s Slimane with Mon Amour. Pic: Corinne Cumming/EBU

Ireland's Bambie Thug with Doomsday Blue. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU
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Ireland’s Bambie Thug with Doomsday Blue. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

What about the UK?

As one of the “Big Five” (the countries that contribute the most to the EBU along with France, Germany, Spain and Italy) the UK is guaranteed a place in the final. Plus, as the host nation, Sweden gets an automatic pass too.

This year the UK are represented by ex-Years And Years star Olly Alexander singing the dance-pop track Dizzy.

Performed in a glass box full of boxers, quirky choreography and a catchy refrain have placed it in the top 10, but we’re unlikely to be contenders for the top spot.

Indeed bookmakers reckon the UK are more likely to come last than nail the top spot.

UK's Olly Alexander with Dizzy. Pic: Corinne Cumming/EBU
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UK’s Olly Alexander with Dizzy. Pic: Corinne Cumming/EBU

Controversy this year

There have been calls on the European Broadcasting Union EBU to ban Israel from competing in the show, due to their ongoing ground offensive in Gaza.

An apolitical organisation, the EBU has said Israel will remain in the competition.

In comparison to Russia’s removal from the show back in 2022 due to its invasion of Russia, the EBU say Israel’s broadcaster Kan hasn’t broken any rules. They say Moscow was banned for using their broadcasting channels as a tool for political propaganda multiple times.

Israel's Eden Golan with Hurricane for Israel. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU
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Israel’s Eden Golan with Hurricane for Israel. Pic: Sarah Louise Bennett/EBU

Normally strong Eurovision contenders, four-time winners Israel is represented by 20-year-old Eden Golan, and ranks in the top 10. But how the public will vote for them in the second semi-final heat on Thursday remains to be seen.

Golan’s song Hurricane was Israel’s third proposed entry after contest bosses rejected their first two songs over lyrics deemed political.

More than 34,000 people have been killed, and over 78,000 have been injured in Gaza since the conflict began, according to Gaza’s Hamas-led health ministry.

Israel retaliated after Hamas fighters killed more than 1,000 Israelis and took hundreds of hostages in attacks on 7 October last year.

Any other songs that have stirred up a fuss?

Spain’s entry, Zorra, by husband and wife act Nebulossa, has drawn controversy because its title can be translated as an anti-female slur.

While it’s been officially translated as “Vixen,” it’s a term used in Spain which would translate in the UK as “Bitch” or “Slut”.

Spain's Nebulossa with Zorra. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU
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Spain’s Nebulossa with Zorra. Pic: Alma Bengtsson/EBU

Lyrics include: “If I head out solo, I’m a bit of a bitch/ If I’m having fun, I’m the biggest bitch/…When I get what I want (bitch, bitch) /It’s never ’cause I deserve it (bitch, bitch) … Well, she’s been empowering herself, And now she’s a picture-perfect bitch.”

The Feminist Movement of Madrid has called for it to be withdrawn from Eurovision, saying it insults women and is not suitable for a family audience.

Singer Maria Bas has argued her lyrics describe how a woman is referred to as a “zorra” no matter what she does, and that the song highlights society’s double standards, reclaiming a word that is weaponised against women only.

Spain’s prime minister added his twopenneth this week, saying he liked the song and joking about how right-wing critics might have preferred the national anthem used during the Franco dictatorship as Spain’s Eurovision submission.

The hard-right Vox party hit back by saying Pedro Sanchez would prefer to listen to the communist anthem The Internationale.

The Eurovision semi-finals are on Tuesday and Thursday evening, ahead of the grand final on Saturday night.

Sky News will be in Malmo with updates, a live blog, and all the biggest news from the contest as it happens.

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Bruce Springsteen cancels shows over ‘vocal issues’

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Bruce Springsteen cancels shows over 'vocal issues'

Bruce Springsteen has cancelled a series of dates due to “vocal issues”, days after performing in what he described as “hellacious” weather in Sunderland.

The US star, 74, postponed shows in Marseille, Prague and Milan over the next fortnight, with his European tour set to resume in Madrid on 12 June.

In an Instagram post on Sunday, he said he was “recuperating comfortably” and he and the E Street Band “look forward to resuming their hugely successful European stadium tour”.

With “further examination” and “consulting”, the statement also said, doctors determined Bruce “should not perform for the next 10 days”.

Springsteen had played at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on Wednesday, where he admitted the weather was particularly wet.

As he was honoured at London’s Ivor Novello Awards on Thursday, he said: “We just… came out of the plane in Sunderland last night, (it was) hellacious weather.

Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock

Ivor Novello Awards, Portrait Studio, Grosvenor House, London, UK - 23 May 2024
Bruce Springsteen with his Fellowship of The Ivors Academy and Sir Paul McCartney pose in the Studio at The Ivors with Amazon Music - May 23, 2024 in London United Kingdom. (Photo by Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

23 May 2024
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Sir Paul McCartney presented Bruce Springsteen with the Fellowship of The Ivors Academy. Pic: Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock

“Driving rain storm, the wind blowing, blowing, blowing, and standing… in front of me, in the rain, I realised: these are my people.”

Springsteen also treated the audience to his song Thunder Road, after Sir Paul McCartney presented him with his Ivors Academy fellowship.

New dates for his postponed shows will be announced shortly, according to his Instagram account, and anyone seeking a refund “will be able to obtain it at their original point of purchase”.

Read more:
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Nicki Minaj fans blame venue – not her arrest – for gig cancellation

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He rescheduled dates in August last year in the US after he was taken ill, and cancelled planned concerts in March 2023 over other issues.

His first major tour in six years saw him play a headline gig in London’s Hyde Park in July 2023.

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Nicki Minaj fans blame venue – not her arrest – for last minute gig cancellation

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Nicki Minaj fans blame venue - not her arrest - for last minute gig cancellation

Nicki Minaj fans who queued to see her in Manchester only for her arrest to lead to the concert being cancelled at the last minute have blamed the beleaguered venue for the fiasco.

Ticketholders queued outside the Co-op Live arena from as early as 9am on Saturday and were allowed inside at 7pm.

Minaj, however, had been arrested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on suspicion of possession of “soft drugs” and was not released until 9pm – when the gig was due to start.

Once inside, her fans, also known as Barbz, claim security staff told them she was already in the building. But at 9.40pm promoter Live Nation announced the event was being cancelled.

Nicki Minaj at the Met Gala in New York earlier in May. Pic: AP
Image:
Nicki Minaj at the Met Gala in New York earlier in May. Pic: AP

Alvin Christie, 29, from Liverpool, was among those who had camped out since Saturday morning.

He said: “I would say it was very poorly managed. When we arrived… they were actively telling fans that she had arrived and that everyone was going to dance tonight.

“For a lot of people that were asking those questions, that’s obviously [keeping] people’s hopes up. I understand that maybe they wanted to get people into the arena for health and safety risks to stop people being outside.

“But I think most importantly, they maybe could have advised people as soon as they’ve known that the show was postponed and we should be turned away when we’re outside the arena, rather than holding loads of people in the arena.”

Mr Christie said he does not blame Minaj, and says fans wanted her to be “in a good place” for the show.

“Die-hard Nicki fan” Charu, who also travelled from Liverpool for the concert, said the evening was “so ridiculously disappointing”.

“My sister and I had been looking forward to this for months. I’m in the middle of taking my medical school exams and I had been working around this day and was so looking forward to it,” they said.

“People around us said they’d travelled from Ireland and Scotland, paid for hotels for the night in Manchester, which is not cheap.

“So the fact that tickets will be refunded or still valid for another concert doesn’t really put into perspective the time and money that we have all spent on this night.”

PABest A view of the Co-op Live arena in Manchester. The £365 million venue, the biggest indoor arena in the UK, has postponed its opening numerous times after rescheduling performances from Peter Kay, The Black Keys, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, as well as shows by Olivia Rodrigo scheduled for this Friday and Saturday. Picture date: Thursday May 2, 2024.
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Co-Op Live arena in Manchester. Pic: PA

No toilets for those queuing for hours

Fan Eileen Allardyce also claimed there were “no toilets” while she queued outside from around 4pm.

“I’m very disappointed, more so [with] the venue because, obviously, everyone was unravelling on social media, everyone knew what the situation was and the venue completely let us down,” she said.

Dutch Police told Sky News Minaj was detained and eventually fined for “illegally exporting soft drugs from the Netherlands to another country”.

The rapper claimed she arrived at her hotel in Manchester early on Sunday after spending “5-6 hours” in a cell in Amsterdam.

She then invited fans to her hotel, where according to videos on social media, she spoke to the crowds outside.

“I wanted to honestly tell you that I love you,” she said.

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On X, the 41-year-old said the venue was “willing to go past 11pm”, but unidentified members of staff had “succeeded at their plan to not let me get on that stage tonight”.

A new date should be announced on Sunday, she added.

“One July option & one June option is currently being discussed. I’ll find a way to not only make up the date with the performance but I’m going to create an added bonus for everyone that had a [ticket] for this show. Promise,” she wrote.

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The new £365m Co-op Live arena has been plagued with problems even before it opened on 14 May.

The 23,500-capacity venue was originally due to open with two Peter Kay stand-up shows on 23 and 24 April, but that was pushed back when problems emerged at a test event headlined by Rick Astley.

The arena then planned for US rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie to open the arena on 1 May, but that was called off an hour before his performance, when the ventilation system fell from the ceiling.

The ventilation issue meant scheduled performances by US pop star Olivia Rodrigo and British band Keane were also postponed, while a series of shows by Take That were moved to the AO Arena elsewhere in Manchester.

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Sir Elton John’s next album ‘won’t be his last’, songwriting partner says

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Sir Elton John's next album 'won't be his last', songwriting partner says

An album of “incredibly personal” new songs from Sir Elton John won’t be the singer’s last, according to his long-term songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. 

“It’s a pretty amazing project, very cool…it tells a lot of stories and it’s incredibly personal, but it’s certainly not final.”

Few details are known about what fans can expect from Sir Elton‘s new music, but the legendary lyricist says he thinks it will be released before Christmas.

Bernie Taupin speaking at an event earlier this week. Pic: Mark Allan
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Bernie Taupin speaking at an event earlier this week. Pic: Mark Allan

“It’s all done, it’s all in the can and ready to come out, I think, at the end of this year,” Taupin told Sky News.

While Sir Elton, 77, announced his retirement from touring last year, bowing out with a performance on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, Taupin says they have no plans to stop making music together.

“You always think ‘is the next album going to be the last?’ but, I think, both Elton and I, we just have this creative drive and we have this ultimate total love for music on every different level.”

Taupin, who’s lived in California since the 70s, has been back in England after being invited to speak at The Other Songs Live, an evening celebrating songwriters old and new.

More on Elton John

“Anything that nurtures talent, you know, gets my ear,” Taupin insists.

He remains one of the most successful lyricists in the world, having collaborated for more than half a century with Sir Elton, selling more than 300 million records globally, and together writing more than 30 albums.

Bernie Taupin receives the Musical Excellence Award from Elton John during the 38th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 3, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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Bernie Taupin receives the Musical Excellence Award from Sir Elton John at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last November. Pic: Reuters

And while Taupin’s lyrics are firmly embedded in modern pop culture, he says he struggles to explain what his secret is.

“It’s very difficult for me because, in a nutshell, my answer is I don’t know, I just do it.”

Bernie Taupin receives the Musical Excellence Award during the 38th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 3, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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Bernie Taupin told Sky News Sir Elton’s next album won’t be his last. Pic: Reuters

But one thing he’s certain of is that it’s a skill a computer just can’t replicate.

“I loathe and detest the whole idea of AI… from a creative musical standpoint, it cannot write songs as well as the human heart can because it’s got no heart.

“I’ve seen the product of AI, you know, when they’ve said write a song in the style of so-and-so and it’s complete shit.”

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For Taupin, one-half of one of the world’s most successful songwriting partnerships, he’s not ready to be written off by technology.

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