Holland loves Eurovision, but Eurovision voters don’t seem to love Holland. Bogdan Honciuc, one of our Romania correspondents, asks whether Amsterdam can sort itself out ahead of ESC 2013.
The Dutch are as crazy about Eurovision as they are about their national football team. However, unlike Oranje, who finished second at the World Cup two years ago and remain favourites to win Euro 2012, the Netherlands’ Eurovision contestants rarely make an impact. That’s a pity: Given all the Dutch enthusiasm, they would be fabulous hosts of Eurovision. They’ve thrown a pre-Eurovision concert in Amsterdam each year since 2009, and this year more than 20 contestants jumped at the chance to promote their songs in Eurovision’s heartland. But before the Dutch host the real event, they have to win it. Unfortunately they could not be farther from a triumph.
It’s not like they haven’t been trying. Ever since 1975, when the band Teach-In last won the contest with the catchy “Ding-A-Dong”, Dutchies have thrown plenty of resources, and a whole lot of effort, into scoring another victory. But they’ve had limited success. Their highest finish since ’75 was Edsilia Rombley’s fourth place finish in 1998 with “Hemel en aarde”. Even more disappointing are their dismal placements since the introduction of the Semi-Final system in 2004. Since then the Netherlands have only made it to the Grand Final once, in 2004. And even then Re-Union only managed to climb to 20th position. This year marked the eighth consecutive year Holland failed to qualify for the final.
Maybe they are trying too hard? Indeed, the Dutch have attempted everything. One year there was a national Eurovision-style contest with five (!) semifinals and a mix of televoting and jury. The next year one band sang six songs and the audience voted for the winning tune. And then there were six artists performing the same song and the public voting for the winning representative. There have been big names (like De Toppers, pictured at top). And there have been unknown artists (Tim Douwsma, Pearl Jozefzoon, and Kim de Boer) who had to duel with each other. Confused yet? So too are the general public, who don’t know what to expect next.
The Toppers perform “Shine” at Holland’s Nationaal Songfestival 2009:
The emerging explanation, which has also been voiced in the U.K. and France, is that, with the inclusion of the so-called Eastern bloc, the Western countries are the collateral victims of bloc voting. But how do they explain the recent triumphs of Norway, Germany and Sweden, or the successful positions of Italy, who finished 2nd and 9th in 2011 and 2012, respectively? In reality it comes down to the song and the performance itself. Look at Sweden’s “Euphoria”. It’s a progressive, catchy, club-friendly dance hit, and Loreen is unquestionably an innovative artist whose stage presence took our breath away. It’s also taken the European charts by storm.
By contrast let’s look at this year’s Dutch entry. Joan Franka, a former “Voice of Holland” contestant of Turkish descent, won the Nationaal Songfestival with “You and Me”, a cute ballad about the nostalgia of childhood. She chose to perform the American country-like song wearing a Native Indian headdress, raising a lot of eyebrows in the process (an issue that Joan addressed in an interview with Wiwibloggs), behind a literal wall of flames. And herein lies the problem. Despite the singer’s undeniable vocal ability and charm and an admittedly fine tune that topped the Dutch national chart the week after its release, the end result was a kitschy mess. It may have resounded with Dutch audiences, but it left many Eurovision semi-final viewers bewildered. The Netherlands became, once again, the laughing stock of the contest. Twitter exploded. Cher became a trending topic (click here to see why). And no one paid attention to the cutesy song. In the end, Joan Franka tanked and went home empty-handed. She didn’t even win the Barbara Dex Award.
So the problem is complex and it varies from year to year, just as the strategy changes. Perhaps the real problem is that, as much as the Dutch will hate me for saying this, the Netherlands is not chock-full of musical talent that goes down well abroad. Currently, its only major musical exports are Anouk (who expressed her willingness to participate in 2009 if asked—but no one did) and the big trio of DJ’s: Armin van Buuren, Fedde le Grand, and Tiësto. Maybe these guys—and not the likes of De Toppers—should be invited to represent the Netherlands in 2013?
Europe is ready and willing to give Holland 12 points for a catchy tune. The Dutch just need to produce it.