Eurovision 2023: Getting to know Gustaph
Back in January Gustaph, whose real name is Stef Caers, emerged as the surprise winner of Eurosong 2023 - the Belgian selection show for Eurovision. The singer who specialises in dance music has had a long and varied career in the industry. Gustaph has been part of a band, is a vocal coach and teacher at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, and has even been part of Eurovision before. With these interesting facts, let's find out more about the artist who will be representing Belgium in this year's Eurovision.
Gustaph was born in Leuven, which is the Flemish part of Belgium, on 5 July 1980. Ever since he was a child, Gustaph has been obsessed with Eurovision. His favourite act from the contest is Imaani's 'Where Are You?' which represented the United Kingdom in 1998, and finished second. Gustaph has stated in an interview that the club-like feel of the song best represents the genre of music he hopes to bring Eurovision himself.
In an interview with the podcast The Euro Trip Belgium's Eurovision entrant revealed that he first began making music at the age of 13, and signed his first record contract at 17. At the beginning of his professional music career Gustaph also studied at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent, where he completed both bachelor and masters degrees. While he was there he released his debut single 'Gonna Lose You' in 2000 under the name Steffen, which peaked at number 22 on the Flemish music charts.
After his second single 'Sweetest Thing' had less success, Gustaph began to focus more on producing and songwriting. He mentioned to The Euro Trip he did this to focus on being a musician first rather than a pop star. He then made jingles for radio stations and also was a backing vocalist and pianist for several artists.
When he was 28, Gustaph adopted the name he now performs under as he began to explore the electronic house scene. Shortly afterwards he joined the band Hercules and Love Affair, which is a dance music project created by American DJ and singer Andy Butler. Gustaph was the lead vocalist on several of the band's track, and remained part of the group for seven years.
Whilst he was with Hercules and Love Affair, Gustaph released two solo singles in 2011 'Same Thing' and 'Jaded'; then in 2014 he was a featured artist on Blende's 'Running'.
Previous Eurovision stints
Gustaph's first interaction with Eurovision came ahead of the 2016 contest when Flemish Eurovision broadcaster VRT asked if he would like to take part in their national final. However he declined, recalling it would have been too much to combine preparing for the competition whilst still touring with Hercules and Love Affair. Belgium would ultimately be represented by Laura Tesoro with 'What's the Pressure', which finished a respectable tenth place in the Eurovision Final.
Gustaph then went to Eurovision twice as a backing vocalist, both times supporting Belgian entries organised by VRT. In 2018 he was a backing singer for Sennek's 'A Matter of Time' which finished in 12th position in semi-final 1, and therefore failed to qualify. Gustaph returned in 2021 to support Hooverphonic's 'The Wrong Place' which qualified for the Eurovision Final, where they came 19th.
According to Gustaph himself, these experiences as a backing vocalist inspired him to make it a "personal vendetta" to become a main performer on the Eurovision stage. What particularly appealed to him to take part was the fact that everyone in the audience knew all the songs performing and that the atomsphere was very inclusive.
On November 8 last year Gustaph was announced as one of the seven acts chosen by VRT that would vie to represent Belgium at Eurovision 2023. One of the other duos, The Starlings, included Tom Dice who had previously represented Belgium at Eurovision 2010 with 'Me and My Guitar' and finished sixth.
The seven acts took part in heats called Songclub from 9 to 13 January, where they each performed two songs and chose which one to perform in the final based off the advice from their fellow contestants. Gustaph performed 'Because of You' on January 12 and 'The Nail' on January 13, before opting to choose the former.
The final was held on January 14 at the Paleis 12, where Gustaph and the six other acts performed the songs they had decided upon in the Songclub stage. Gustaph performed 'Because of You' with two backing singers who he mentioned were two of his best friends. He also stated that his husband organised the stage visuals and backdrop.
The result was then decided half by televoting, and the other half by a fifteen member jury that included Alexander Rybak (Eurovision 2009 winner from Norway), Laura Tesoro (Belgium 2016), Jeremie Makiese (Belgium 2022) and Nikkie de Jager (Eurovision 2021 host).
Gustaph finished third in the juries behind Chérine and Gala Dragot, and second in the televoting behind The Starlings. However it was enough to edge The Starlings out by a single point overall, and win the ticket to represent Belgium at Eurovision 2023.
The 'Because of You' performer was extremely delighted but also surprised with his victory. When asked by the Eurosong host how he felt after being declared the winner, Gustaph said:
"I'm speechless , I really didn't expect this. But I'm super happy. Thank you to Flanders and everyone for voting. I can't believe this. I'm having an out-of-body experience ... or am I sleeping in the couch?"
In an interview after the show, Gustaph stated that while he was "very happy" with the blueprint for the performance and staging, his team would be looking to build on it as the stage in Liverpool is bigger and so their act would stand out more.
What is the meaning behind 'Because of You'?
According to Gustaph his Eurovision entry aims to encourage people to accept who they are and be who they are. He mentions to The Euro Trip 'Because of You' is about "the celebration and the pure joy of being yourself". Gustaph wrote the song with Jaouad Alloul, and as they are both queer, 'Because of You' was initially composed to inspire others in the LGBT+ community. However this message has broadened to encourage everyone to have self-acceptance. Another message of the song is to celebrate the people you have in your life that support you and accept you for who you are. Gustaph has described these people in an interview as one's "chosen family". This song about acceptance and tolerance should fit in well in an event as diverse and expressive as Eurovision.
Gustaph will perform for Belgium in the first half of the second semi final on May 11.
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