The English city of Liverpool hosts the musical extravaganza that is Eurovision on Saturday after the UK agreed to host the song contest instead of 2022 winner Ukraine due to the war. 

With songs of love, torment, peace and likely sequins aplenty on eye-popping costumes, performers representing 37 nations battle it out in a city synonymous with pop royalty.

The hometown of The Beatles and other big names in music in northwestern England stepped in after the UK came second to embattled Ukraine at last year's contest.

Just months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Kalush Orchestra won the world's biggest live music event with "Stefania", a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

Carrying the hopes of Ukraine at the 2023 event is electronic music group Tvorchi, with the song "Heart of Steel".

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Inspired by the nearly month-long resistance put up by Ukrainian fighters at Mariupol's besieged Azovstal steelworks, singer Jeffery Kenny said the song "symbolises strength... courage".

Even as it geared up for Eurovision in recent weeks, the group had to contend with shelling and air-raid sirens at home as it tried to perform.

- Sweden favourites -

Despite huge sympathy for the group at Eurovision, observers and bookmakers agree a second win for Ukraine in a row is unlikely.

Sweden, again being represented by 2012 Eurovision winner Loreen, is the favourite to take home the crown, with the love song "Tattoo", ahead of Finland's energetic "Cha Cha Cha" by Kaarija in his signature neon green bolero jacket.

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The UK last year had hoped to end a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot with "Space Man" and its high notes belted out by the affable, long-haired Sam Ryder.

In the end, it had to keep its feet on the ground with second place.

This year's UK contender Mae Muller hopes to win over the judges and viewers with "I Wrote a Song" about getting over a broken heart.

France, which has not won a Eurovision contest since 1977, is placing its hopes in Canadian singer La Zarra and her electro-disco number "Evidemment" ("Obviously").

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Despite having cancelled two concerts recently in Amsterdam and London for personal reasons, the singer has said on social media that she is "more than ever determined to carry with pride and love the colours of France".

- Royal seal of approval -

But politics is often not far from the surface at Eurovision.

Croatia's song, "Mama SC!" by the mustachioed Let 3, is a thinly veiled attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Switzerland's singer Remo Forrer has opted for a more traditional message of peace with his entry "Watergun".

Performing for the 6,000-strong audience, the entrants take the spotlight on a stage designed by Julio Himede, who has said the idea behind it is "a wide hug, opening its arms to Ukraine, the show's performers and guests from across the world".

Ahead of Saturday's Eurovision 2023 crowning, the stage -- which boasts 700 video tiles and 1,500 metres (1,600 yards) of LED lights -- has already received a royal seal of approval.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla visited the site shortly before their coronation.

Eurovision takes in performers from across Europe and Central Asia, as well as Israel and Australia.

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Two semi-finals are scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday to whittle the field down to 26 countries for Saturday evening's big final.

The so-called Big Five main financial backers -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- as well as the previous year's winner automatically qualify.

The British government has sought to reassure over concerns recently raised in parliament about interference attempts blamed on pro-Russian hackers at last year's event.

"The National Cyber Security Centre are world experts at understanding attacks and providing incident response for the most serious of attacks," minister for technology Paul Scully said.

As part of events around Eurovision, the port city of Liverpool has also unveiled a monument designed to be a "symbol of hope" for Ukraine.

The aluminium statue of a man holding up a book, from which a dove takes flight trailing a Ukrainian flag, is to remain for the time being in Strawberry Field, the garden surrounding The Salvation Army children's home that gave its name to the Beatles' psychedelic hit.

But it won't stay in Strawberry Fields forever -- the statue is to be sent to Ukraine once peace returns.

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