In 1997, two Dutch Eurovision bloggers founded an online joke award for the “worst-dressed” Eurovision contestant on their web site The House of Eurovision. Belgian blog Songfestival.be — which took over the award in recent years — has now decided to suspend the Barbara Dex Award.
In 2019, the site changed the content of the award from “worst-dressed” to “most striking outfit”. Although it wasn’t meant to shine a bad light on contestants, the award remained a topic of fierce debate. The criticism accelerated even more when Norwegian singer TIX won the award in 2021.
As a result of the ongoing debate, Songfestival.be has decided to put the award on ice. The Belgian blog remains in search of a replacement contest. In a statement on their site, the Songfestival.be editors write:
“In 2017, we, Songfestival.be, took the award over with everything that came with it. From that moment, we had the full autonomy and we have tried — emphasising tried — to change the connotation of the award to “most striking outfit”. But, admittedly, we could not work away the negative side to it. Only one option remains: we are stopping the presentation of this award.”
“As stated earlier, the rebranding of an award that has been around for many years, has shown itself to be impossible. The last thing we want as a web site is to hurt people. In the past years, the negative comments have made us realise that it is the time to stop this award. The name of the award will forever be associated with something ‘ugly’.”
Barbara Dex Award: what was it?
Belgium’s Eurovision 1993 singer Barbara Dex made quite the splash with her costume. It remained a discussion point in the Benelux fan community throughout the decade. The Flemish songstress had stitched her costume herself, and neither the press nor fans felt that it fit the occasion.
The award grew during the 2000s, when the spirit of the Western European fan community changed. With the entrance of new countries, many Western European states started to struggle on the scoreboard. The award became used as a way to laugh at “strange” Eastern European kitsch.
Among the Barbara Dex Award winners were t.A.T.u., Verka Serduchka, Milan Stankovich, Rona Nishliu, Conan Osiris and TIX. An overwhelming majority of its winners came from Eastern Europe.
Criticism on the Barbara Dex Award
The award has come under increased scrutiny from the Eurovision community in recent years. Some have said it’s culturally offensive, since it tended to mock Eastern European contestants, while others said it demeaned artists’ creative efforts more generally. Still others pointed out that the award inadvertently encouraged bullying, body shaming and racism.
The shortlist frequently included a disproportionate number of people from minority backgrounds. In 2021, Eden Alene, Senhit and Manizha were among the seven shortlisted acts to receive the prize.
In the 2010s, cultural barriers faded away and the blog community changed rapidly, which prompted questions about the award’s credibility. The award, which was in its original form rooted in negativity, remained a byproduct of the 2000s fan community.
What do you think about this decision? Are you happy that the Barbara Dex Award is now in the past? Let us know in the comments down below!