Eurovision 2011 Preview: Netherlands and Belgium

Today’s Eurovision preview showcases the efforts of two old-stagers – indeed, both the Netherlands and Belgium were among the seven countries who took part in the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 (the other five, for the record, were France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Switzerland). Both have had their ups and downs over the years, but are still there, every year, representing Benelux; Luxembourg, despite having more wins to their name than any country other than Ireland, haven’t taken part since 1993.

The Dutch were one of the most successful Eurovision nations in the early years, with four victories to their name (interestingly, 1957 winner Corry Brokken came last when she returned the following year, a feat which Germany’s Lena will be hoping to avoid). More recently, however, they’ve struggled to make an impact. They haven’t made the Top 10 since 1999, and haven’t got past the semi-final stage since 2004. After the retro camp of the last couple of years, they’ve decided to play it “straight” this year, with the internally-selected 3JS and the song Never Alone. And it’s very dull. Competent, sub-U2 rock music, but very dull. I fear it’s going to be another year yet before Pays-Bas are final contenders once more:

Belgium’s Eurovision fortunes have been more chaotic over the years, a great result one year often leading on to a terrible one the next – or vice versa, as happened when last place in 1985 was followed by their one-and-only win in 1986, courtesy of 13-year-old (or 15, as she claimed to be at the time) Sandra Kim. They also hold the dubious distinction of being the first-ever country to score nul points, back in 1962 – although this was in the days when a stingy scoring system meant zeroes were not uncommon, and therefore not such a talking point. Like the Dutch, the Belgians have really struggled since the introduction of the semi-final qualifiers – until last year, that is, when Tom Dice swept to victory in his semi-final and ended up finishing 6th in the final. This year they’re continuing their trend of recent years for more idiosyncratic entries, so here’s a capella group Witloof Bay (the star member of which, both vocally and visually, is the bloke with the bow-tie and the very long sideburns) and their song With Love Baby:

As something genuinely different from the rest of this year’s offerings, I’d really like to see that get through the semi-finals – hopefully it’ll strike a chord with audiences.

Classic time now, and a vast array to choose from for both tonight’s entrants. The Dutch entry I’m picking is from 1974 and probably one of the most famous non-winners of all time. It’s hard to think of a more visually mismatched pair than Mouth and MacNeal. She looks like she’s escaped from the New Seekers; he looks like a Yeti; and this being 1974, their backing band look like Mud (and the puppets, well…). But try and get through watching I See A Star without tapping your foot. I dare you:

As for Belgium, I’ve decided to go for this, their 1980 entry, in which Telex (Belgium’s answer to Kraftwerk) tried to drag Eurovision kicking and screaming into a shiny new decade of electropop. Sadly, the juries were having none of it and they finished near the bottom of the pile. However, the years have been rather kinder to this than to many other entries of a similar vintage. So here is Eurovision (pronounced, for the purposes of this exercise, “Ur-o-vizyon”):

Pure class. Although the business with the camera at the end audibly left an already non-plussed audience slightly less plussed than before.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we go from two of the founding nations of the Eurovision Song Contest to two of its more recent members, Slovakia and Ukraine. See you then!

Chris x

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