Welcome to the second part of our Wiwi Roundtable, where wiwibloggers Chris Halpin (UK), Ori Schneider (Israel), Mike Bos (The Netherlands) and Robyn Gallagher (New Zealand) are talking about Eurovison 1998. If you missed Part One, then follow the link here to catch up.
Chris: Of course, if we’re talking about dresses, we have to talk about our winner — the embodiment of “Diva” herself, Dana International. Obviously Dana was a huge talking point at the time of the contest, as the contest had never had a transgender entrant. She made sure to steal the headlines where she could too, including when she held up all proceedings when she decided to add some bird-like accoutrements to her new Gaultier dress before the encore.
I’ve always loved “Diva” as a song – and actually, I think re-watching it shows that the performance stands up too. Dana has never been the greatest vocalist, but the tighter shots (including some rarely seen wipes) and the backing singers’ simple but effective routine hide most of the flaws (which were more pronounced during her 2011 performance of “Ding Dong“).
That being said – I maintain it’s not the best song of the night. My personal favourite (and one of my all-time favourites) is Edsilia’s “Hemel en Aarde”, which was probably done in slightly by the language rule. Indeed, Dana mostly got around that by having a much simpler chorus that was effectively accessible in all languages. If Imaani was the UK finally sending a culturally relevant song, Edsilia was one step further than that. A really great tune that doesn’t get enough credit, in my opinion.
So, was Dana the right winner? We’ve already said that she was very much a televote-driven winner — which is topical given how we all thought that about Conchita too, bringing up another question about why Dana may have won.
Mike: Do you know what “Hemel en Aarde” is about?
Chris: I do not – I know it translates as “Heaven and Earth” but that’s it!
Mike: It’s about love, of course – it’s ESC after all!
Ori: I think that Dana was the right winner. I’m not even talking about the song, but about everything that happened to the contest later that resulted from her victory. Having the UK or the Netherlands as winners would mean a whole different history of ESC between 1999-2014. Dana made this connection between the contest and the gay community clearer than ever. If it hadn’t been for her, there’s a possibility that many future participants would never find their way to this contest, including Conchita Wurst.
But if I ignore everything else and only talk about the songs — I think the Netherlands had the best song and performance in the contest. The song was built perfectly in musical terms. It was modern and catchy and is still played at Eurovision parties even now. Edsillia gave an energetic performance with tons of charisma. Too bad that just like Dana, she wasn’t able to recreate this when she came back to the contest with “On Top of the World“.
Robyn: That’s an interesting comment about Dana International’s win opening the contest more to gay performers. I have an old issue of The Face magazine where they report from Riga in 2003. It’s noted that by 2003, Eurovision had well and truly become an important event for the gay community, and the article reckons it’s always the gays that find the cool cultural stuff first. This was no slow evolution – 1998 started a revolution!
Did Dana International and “Diva” deserve to win? Well, yes and no. In purely technical terms, “Diva” wasn’t the best song and Dana wasn’t the best singer. But Eurovision has always been more than just that. It was also the performance that got the arena excited and it broke from the monotony of previous acts. For the viewers at home, it was a chance to use the new televote to support the sort of contestant that would not necessarily have won under the previous jury-only system.
My pick for a non-Dana winner would be Imaani. Unlike a lot of songs in the competition, “Where Are You?” actually sounds like a contemporary pop hit from 1998, not some ’80s reject.
Chris: We seem to agree on the “better” songs – certainly Israel, the UK and Netherlands. Ori is right, of course, that 1998 and 2014 do have the bookends of Dana and Conchita. I’d probably agree that Dana opened the contest up for acts like Miss Wurst. Her natural, over-the-top flamboyance was more of a shoe-in for the likes of Sestre, DQ and Verka Serduchka to be “accepted” instead of Conchita, but the link is obviously still there.
I’d like to go back to something that Mike said earlier on about not being a fan of the commentators. Whilst I certainly became more critical of Terry Wogan in his later years, I think he actually thrives in his role here. He seems almost positive compared with how he became, and at least he’s game for a laugh. The same goes for Ulrika Jonsson. Whilst neither of them are the best presenters the show has ever had, they’re certainly better than average in my books. Then again, maybe I’m looking at the hosting with a bit of homeland pride . What do you think about how it was all staged and hosted?
Robyn: The worst thing I could say about Ulrika is that she doesn’t seem to be able to stand still. She’s always shifting from side to side like she really needs to pee!
I’d previously only heard Wogan’s commentary from shows in the ’00s – where he’d started to get tired of it all – so this show was a nice surprise. Maybe he was just feeling generally more proud of the whole thing and reined in the sarcasm! But one thing I don’t miss is how he always talked over the song’s introductions.
Mike: Well I watched only the last few Wogan years with his commentary and he had to say stupid things about everything that was not in favour of the UK, especially saying that countries which get stuck in semis shouldn’t have the power to vote. That was awkward because at least the UK always qualifies! Ulrika was nice until she made the joke about the Dutch spokesperson. When someone is annoying, like the Finnish spokesperson this year, you can make fun of them, but not that kind woman!
Robyn: In defence of Ulrika’s comment to the Dutch spokesperson, Wikipedia says it was a misunderstanding. The Dutch lady had said something that no one heard due to noise from the audience, and Ulrika was replying to to that. It explains why Ulrika looked surprised and bewildered at the audience’s reaction!
Mike: Ok, I’ll have to watch that part again – if it’s true I have no arguments to hate Ulrika.
Ori: Well, in contrast to most of you, I’ve always liked Terry and Ulrika as presenters. Maybe it’s just because men with British accent are a serious weakness of mine, but I always thought Terry was cute, with his jokes and casual comments. It seems like it was very easy for them to decide about the male presenter back then, Terry was probably the natural choice for the job. Ulrika is also gorgeous. I like the fact that she’s wearing a very simple dress and still looking fab and classy. Unlike many presenters nowadays, it doesn’t seem like she’s mindlessly repeating some lines someone wrote for her. She, too, acts naturally and seems comfortable.
Chris: At least you’re not all saying we did a terrible job! That’s all that we have time for on this occasion though, so we shall have to leave 1998 behind! Thanks for your thoughts and joining me on this edition of the Wiwi Roundtable guys!