In May 2019, Duncan Laurence took hold of the Eurovision trophy after claiming victory for the Netherlands with his song “Arcade”. The first victory for the Dutch in 44 years, the country had to wait a long time for this moment.
Indeed, if we look back on the history of the Netherlands at Eurovision, it hasn’t always been an easy journey. From being a Eurovision grand power in the early years, to eight consecutive non-qualifications and now finally their fifth victory – there’s been some ups and downs.
We thought we’d take a look back at what the Netherlands has gone through over its 60 years of participation in the contest, how they ended up winning in 2019 and whether there’s anything that other nations could potentially learn from the country’s Eurovision journey.
A history of the Netherlands at Eurovision
The Netherlands, founding father of Eurovision (1956 – 1959)
Eurovision was founded by seven European countries, the Netherlands being one of them. At this point, everything is very clear and simple for the Netherlands. Choose a singer, write a Dutch song and off you go to the host city. The selection at that time was done via the national selection format Nationaal Songfestival and was organised by broadcaster NTS. This national selection format would be used by the Netherlands all the way up until 2012.
At the second edition of Eurovision, in 1957, the Netherlands secured their first victory with the song “Net Als Toen”, sung by Corry Brokken. Two years later, the country was victorious once again with the song ‘”n Beetje”, brought by Teddy Scholten.
Two more victories for the Netherlands (1960 – 1975)
In the following years of Eurovision, the Netherlands had very little to worry about. Some last places aside (De Spelbrekers, Annie Palmen, Ronnie Tober), the Netherlands was doing relatively well in the contest.
Two more victories mark this era for the Dutch. Lenny Kuhr won Eurovision as part of the four-way tie of 1969 with “De Troubadour”. Six years later, Teach-In brought the Netherlands their fourth victory with “Ding-a-Dong” in 1975.
Thirty years of ups and downs (1975 – 2005)
In the thirty years after Teach-In’s victory, the Netherlands had some ups and some downs. The best result in this period was thanks to Edilia Rombley, who finished fourth in 1998 with “Hemel En Aarde”. Meanwhile, Willeke Alberti brought the country their worst result in 1994, placing 23rd with her song “Waar is de zon?”. Throughout this period, the Netherlands still used Nationaal Songfestival as their selection method.
Dutch broadcaster NOS was responsible for the Netherlands’ participation in Eurovision from 1970 until 2006. However, in 2006 the broadcaster decided that the Eurovision Song Contest would no longer be part of its core tasks. Additionally, the broadcaster had to financially reorganise itself.
It wasn’t initially so easy to find a broadcaster that wanted to take over the Eurovision responsibilities. In the end, TROS came forward and, as of 2009, became the Eurovision broadcaster for the Netherlands. However, TROS had no prior experience of handling the song contest and would have to learn it the hard way.
The dark eight non-qualifying years, an inexperienced broadcaster (2005 – 2012)
From the early 2000s, it went downhill fast for the Netherlands. There are perhaps two reasons for this. Firstly, the introduction of the semifinal in 2004. Between 2005 and 2012, the Netherlands failed to qualify to the grand final eight years in a row – the longest non-qualification streak of any country.
The second reason is the change of broadcaster from NOS to TROS in 2009. The new broadcaster perhaps lacked experience. They took over Nationaal Songfestival from NOS, but they weren’t really ‘feeling’ and understanding Eurovision. Under TROS, the national selection brought forward De Toppers, Sieneke, 3Js and Joan Franka.
A particular low point for Dutch fans is how the 2010 selection unfolded. Songwriter Pierre Kartner had written the song “Sha-La-La-lie”, which was internally selected. The national selection was organised in order to choose the singer, but the results lead to a tie between Sieneke and the band Loekz. Pierre was asked live on television to make a decision, but he found it too hard. The presenter tried to convince Pierre to make a choice, but he continued to resist. Finally, out of despair, he chooses Sieneke. This final decision was based on no solid reasoning. Instead, Pierre made the choice just to put an end to it.
At that time the Dutch viewers and fans lost all hope. Polls showed that in some regions 59-95% of the Dutch population no longer wanted the Netherlands to participate in Eurovision. The Netherlands knew that changes needed to be made, but they didn’t really know how to go about doing so.
Anouk goes against TROS and revitalises the system (2013)
Even after another year of not qualifying in 2012, broadcaster TROS still wanted to use Nationaal Songfestival as their selection method for Eurovision 2013. However, Dutch superstar Anouk then entered the room. She was willing to participate for the Netherlands, but wanted to be selected internally. That meant a year without a national selection. Initially, TROS didn’t seem to be interested and wanted her to participate in the national selection. But Anouk refused and didn’t want to back down either. TROS and Anouk ended up facing off against each other, but it’s a tie, nobody wanted to give in.
During this period, there was also trouble internally at the broadcaster. TROS had worked with production company Talpa, owned by John De Mol, on the 2012 national final. But, the following year, Talpa attempted to put forward only its own artists for the selection. TROS tried to include some of its artists, but failed. The fight between TROS and Talpa reached a deep point. From then on, TROS subsequently wanted to organise the national selection with Eyeworks, a rival of Talpa.
However, Anouk was still a part of the story, and she wanted John De Mol to be involved. This divided the people at TROS into two camps: the people who wanted Anouk, with John De Mol, and those who wanted a national selection without Anouk. In the end, it was only because two TROS employees (Daniel Dekker and Remco Van Leen) dared to go outside the boundaries and secretly seek contact with Anouk’s manager that things started to move and Anouk was selected to sing “Birds”.
The Common Linnets: So close, yet the victory stays out of reach (2014)
Anouk’s qualification to the Eurovision grand final and top ten finish in 2013 set two things in motion. The first one is that TROS started to realise that selecting internally may be the better choice instead of a national selection.
The second thing is that artists already famous in the Netherlands started to take Eurovision seriously. They were no longer afraid to approach it. In that regards, Ilse DeLange and Waylon wanted to give it a try. They formed The Common Linnets and were selected internally with the song “Calm After The Storm”. The outcome was a second place finish in 2014. The Dutch Eurovision fans never saw this coming, but embraced it nonetheless.
The Netherlands becomes a strong Eurovision competitor (2014-2018)
In the years following, the Netherlands grew to become a fairly strong competitor at Eurovision. In the five years after Anouk’s participation, the Netherlands qualified to the grand final on four occasions – twice finishing in eleventh place, one second place, one time 18th. This was a luxury for the Netherlands compared to the eight years of non-qualifications that the country had previously endured. With the improvement in results, the Dutch public started to believe again that the country could be a big name in the contest.
Duncan Laurence with “Arcade”: The Dutch #DareToDream (2019)
In January 2019 it was officially announced that Duncan Laurence would represent the Netherlands at Eurovision that year. After Anouk, The Common Linnets, Douwe Bob and Trijntje, it was as a surprise that the broadcaster chose an unknown singer. Doubts started to run high. The question was raised of whether the national selection needed to come back.
However, Dutch Eurovision fans were assured a bit by the fact that Duncan was proposed to broadcaster AVROTROS by Ilse DeLange. The Netherlands had trust in Ilse, as she seemed to know what she was doing in 2014. Fans had to wait until March 7, and then “Arcade” was released. A fifth Eurovision victory later, and the rest is history.
What can other countries learn from the Netherlands’ Eurovision journey?
1. Never give up
The first lesson we can learn form the Netherlands? Literally, never give up and stick around. The Netherlands had times of doubt where Eurovision fans (and the whole nation for that matter) wondered if it still had a place in the song contest. Although viewing numbers remained high, the Dutch audience continued to lose faith in the possibility that they would ever lift the trophy once again.
The Netherlands, however, persisted and remained a part of the contest, even after eight consecutive non-qualifying years. For other countries, like the United Kingdom and Germany in particular, remaining persistent is the key element. A series of poor results now doesn’t mean things will never improve. It’s just a phase and it’s important to keep that in mind.
2. Have an internal locus of control
Secondly, it’s important to have an internal locus of control. The mistake the Netherlands made for a long time is that they blamed non-qualifying, or not winning, on external factors. For example, the Dutch fans pointed fingers on the fact that other countries bloc voted (despite the fact that the Netherlands has had a hand in that too…hello Belgium!).
Comments were also made that the Netherlands didn’t have a specific musical/cultural heritage like other countries do (Serbia, Russia, Poland …). This is again not relevant – Sweden generally doesn’t showcase its cultural heritage either but consistently performs well (unless you classify pop songs under heritage). Another argument was that the contest became too big. With too many countries involved it became impossible to stand out.
None of these reasons really qualify. Ultimately, the Netherlands either sent non-appealing songs, or just wasn’t trying hard enough. Anouk eventually came to the rescue and found the sweet spot for the Netherlands. Sometimes it just takes one strong woman with some attitude to tell you what you have been doing wrong all these years. The UK is currently making the same mistake, blaming the bad results on Brexit and other external factors. While in fact there are just simply many other internal reasons why the UK is having the worst of times at Eurovision.
3. Dare to experiment
This brings us to the last matter. It’s important that you dare to experiment. Nothing is more deadly for your participation in Eurovision than playing it safe and making Eurovision a routine. Anouk and her song came as a shock for the Netherlands. The song wasn’t Eurovision, people wondered if Anouk was even Eurovision. The national selection was suddenly off the table. The Common Linnets also did it their way, nobody saw them coming until they slapped us with a second place. In that regards: Salvador Sobral’s song was also out of the normal for Portugal in 2017, and we went to Lisbon the following year thanks it.
The United Kingdom also needs to dare to try other things. For example, the UK has a massive history in pop-punk bands and rock bands (Queen, The Rolling Stones, Greenday, Oasis, The Verve, Radiohead, …). Yet, they insist on sending light pop songs that don’t really leave an impression. Although the UK has sent some very talented singers, such as SuRie, Michael Rice and Lucie Jones, if the song they go to the contest with isn’t memorable then the votes still won’t come their way.
Maybe it’s time to have an introspective look and try to experiment a bit, just like the Netherlands did. Try a different type of music, or a different type of selection format. Call Simon Cowell and ask him if The X Factor can be a national selection. Anything. Just try to come out of your comfort zone, while you stick to something you are naturally good at, for example pop-rock for the UK.
The Netherlands has done best with simple staging, dreamy haunting songs and most importantly, dumping the national selection format. It dared to experiment and to search for what it’s good at. The result was a qualification after eight years (Anouk), a second place (The Common Linnets), six qualifications in seven years and finally a victory (Duncan Laurence). Seems like a pretty good outcome, if you ask us.
What do you think about the Dutch Eurovision journey? Do you think other countries such as the UK and Germany could learn something from The Netherlands? Let us know in the comment section below!