Happy National Day, Belgium! Today, as we pause to celebrate the Nationale feestdag / Fête nationale, we are reminded of the many delights of Belgian culture—beer, chocolate, waffles, diamonds and, of course, music. The nation that hosts music festivals like Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter has also given us some fabulous pop stars, including Stromae, Vaya Con Dios, Helmut Lotti, Kate Ryan, Milow, Milk Inc, Axelle Red, and Lasgo. That’s why it’s so shocking to us that Belgium faces a serious struggle at Eurovision every single year.
Belgium has often signed its own death warrant. At Eurovision 2009, it fielded a second-rate Elvis impersonator in the form of Patrick Ouchène. Europe made it clear that this was not her cup of tea, and the song finished next to last in its semi-final. That was just one year after Ishtars’ ‘O julissi’. With an ‘It’s a small world’ theme, it suited Disneyland better than the Eurovision Song Contest. It finished second to last in its semi.
A loyal competitor since 1956, and a notorious non-qualifier since the introduction of the semi-finals, Belgium has won Eurovison just one time—when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, in 1986. Sandra Kim was only 13 when she won that year, and today she would be relegated to Junior Eurovision. But her joyful ‘J’aime la vie’ (‘I love life’) remains one of the nation’s most beloved ESC tracks. Then came years of shame. It was only after Tom Dice in 2010 that Belgium realised that she could once again mean something in Eurovision terms. At that point both state broadcasters — French-language RTBF and Dutch-language VRT — got serious. We approve—even if VRT may have overdone it with its marathon 2014 selection.
Recent history (since 2008):
2014: Axel Hirsoux – Mother, 14th place with 28 points (semifinal)
2013: Roberto Bellarosa – Love kills, 12th place with 71 points (final)
2012: Iris – Would you, 17th place with 16 points (seminal)
2011: Witloof Bay – With love baby, 11th place with 53 points (semifinal)
2010: Tom Dice – Me and my guitar, 6th place with 143 points (final)
2009: Copycat – Copycat, 17th place with 1 point (semifinal)
2008: Ishtar – O julissi, 17th place with 16 points (semifinal)
How many times did Iris ask you ‘If you would’ in 2012? 11 times
How many points did Belgium receive from The Netherlands between 2008 and 2014? 37 points, including one set of 12 points
How many points did Belgium give to The Netherlands? 36 points, including one set of 12 points
The number of times Copycat threw his name at you in the song? 19 times
How many years in a row did Belgium miss out on the final prior to Tom Dice? 5 years
How many times has Belgium qualified for the final since the semifinals were introduced in 2008? 2 times
Best scoring entry:
Tom Dice – ‘Me and my guitar’
Belgium was optimistic about Tom’s chances, but as suits the down-to-earth Belgians, they waited patiently to hear Europe’s verdict. He didn’t just qualify for the final: he won the first semi-final, and then placed sixth in the grand final. Belgium was ecstatic. After Eurovision Tom toured Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium, and passed out copies of his limited edition album “Teardrops”. In 2010 he won the ‘Radio 2 Zomerhit-award’ in the category of best performance (given to him for Eurovision 2010).
‘So maybe I should get a nine to five, I don’t wanna let it go, There’s so much more to love’. No, Tom. Don’t you ever let go of that guitar to get a ‘nine to five’. Ever.
Worst scoring entry:
Copycat with ‘Copycat’.
It was through an act of mercy that Armenia awarded Belgium one point, sparing Copycat (aka Patrick Ouchène) from the dreaded nil points in its semi-final. The copycat concept was a little bit too obvious, and rendered him a bit of a, well, copycat. Elvis is still too much of a legend for the audience to appreciate a parody (if you take a closer look at the lyrics, they actually suggest that Elvis is a parody of Patrick). Elvis is dead, but Copycat lives on: he still brings his typical Rockabilly-country sounds to the people as part of the band ‘Crystal & Runnin’ Wild’. On the 31st of January they appeared at Belgium’s ‘Humo’s Rock Rally’ with the song ‘Free The Demons’.
I’ve got a great idea, I will change things on my own, I see my vision very clear, Wouldn’t wanna be another clone’. Maybe we should have a manual of things that are a great idea for Eurovision and things that are not.
Despite its rather dark history, Belgium did come close to victory on a number of occasions. In 2003, Urban Trad (with Sanomi) came second, only two points behind winner Sertab Erener. Tom Dice seemed on his way to a victory during the broadcast in 2006, but came sixth in the end with ‘My and My Guitar‘. Jean Vallée came second in 1978 with ‘L’amour ça fait chanter la vie‘. And every Eurovision fan knows who is coming next. Kate Ryan, the bookies’ favourite to win it all, deserved more in 2008 than 12th place in the semifinal.
And here’s what Team Wiwi have to say about Belgium’s recent performances:
Mike Bos: I feel like Europe never understood the goodwill of Belgium at the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite Belgium’s varied music and artists, Europe only loved Belgium when they sent a child with a way-too-high voice! After getting stuck in the semis—even with national treasures like Xandee and Kate Ryan—Belgium lost its way until Tom Dice in 2010. We need to look closer at that one, because every time the Low Countries bypass circus acts and send their best acts to Eurovision (Tom Dice for Belgium, Anouk and Common Linnets for The Netherlands) they do well. The Netherlands found their way back to the Eurovision finals during the last two years. I hope the Belgians learn from the Dutch and do the same!
Sopon: Belgium, like the Netherlands, has been stuck in a rut since producers introduced the two semi-final format. However, while the Netherlands has found a new formula for success, Belgium has stuck with its old ways. Since I am completely sickened by white-guy-with-a-guitar songs, I’d say Roberto in 2013 was by far the best Belgian contestant in a long time. He was modern, fresh, and in the end, the song was pretty good, too. I also must give a shoutout to Axel, who has the most impressive voice I’ve ever seen on a guy. I knew he would win Eurosong as soon as I saw his audition, but VRT messed up his chances with the world’s most hokey song since “#selfie”. Other memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons acts include Ishtar and that godawful Elvis impersonator.
Wiwi: Tom Dice? Overrated. He may have brought Belgium its best finish in a while, but he left me passed out on the floor. But not even he reached the lows of Iris. She was only a teenager when she competed in Baku, so I’ll blame her parents and her team for letting her sing such a dull song. When she sang, “What did you do when my house was empty?” I wanted to shout, “I passed out because your song came on!” My favourite act, by far, was Roberto Bellarosa. It was a pleasure watching him move from shy, awkward and out-of-tune to a dark horse that managed to bring Belgium to 12th place.
Denise: Eurovision is known for neighbours voting for neighbours. When it comes to Belgium, I’m a really, really bad neighbour. I hate (yes, hate) most of their songs. The only one I loved was Tom’s “Me and My Guitar,” which I still listen to. Apart from that one amazing song, there is one “okay” number. Roberto had a bad start when he introduced his 2013 song, but he really improved. Losing the awkward dancers would almost have made me love the song. I know this is about songs from 2008 on, but I have to say: I LOVED Kate Ryan’s “Je t’adore”. Are we still friends my dear Belgium?