March 20, 2023

Eurovision By Year 1986 – 2000


Another year and another style of presenter: after the flooziness of Desiree in 84 and the saucy charms of Lill, we were back to the more traditional with another 1966 entrant, Asa Kleveland, who had finished one place behind Lill. We were back to old style introductions of the artists; Iceland making their debut got a warm response and proceeded to present a song that sounded really promising and then just fizzled out. The contest had opened with the 500th entry to be performed in Euro-history, by Sherisse Laurence competing for Luxembourg. Laurence was another one of the Canadian contingent brought in for the contest by the smaller nations. She could be seen on UK daytime TV in the 80s co-presenting a show called “Circus Circus”. Belgium won of course with 13 year old Sandra Kim, whose age prompted a short-lived protest from second-placed Switzerland (whose song was like a prototype for Celine’s ” Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi”). There were to be more child performers in 1989 before Eurovision went back to being adults-only.


1987 saw a record twenty two countries turning up in Brussels. The UK hit an all-time low (or so we thought!) when Rikki Peebles self-penned song “Only The Light” crawled home in 13th place despite gaining marks from 13 of the 22 juries. This may or may not have prompted the BBC to abandon the jury system for Song For Europe the next year. 1978 hit-maker Plastic Bertrand (“Ca Plane Pour Moi”), from Belgium became the latest member of Luxemburg’s foreign legion. However, anything vaguely punky has never gone down well at Eurovision: Finland 82 and 92, Belgium 83, and even the fantastic-plastic B couldn’t change the pattern. Johnny Logan, of course, takes the Eurovision crown for a second time, a bit more sober than 7 years before, but still “loving you, Ireland”. The Swedish entry had to be renamed “Boogaloo” due to it’s original title including a reference to Coca-Cola.


Arguably the most successful star to emerge from Eurovision came along in 1988, but it was a close thing. (OK, so Abba, Julio, Olivia and Cliff are up there too, but in sheer worldwide sales terms, can they match Celine?). Ms Dion appeared in a startling white jacket with matching tutu, which may have cost a few votes. Interestingly, after three rounds of voting the lead was held by a certain Lara Fabian (for Luxemburg), who 12 years later is seemingly being groomed as the new Celine. The UK had it’s best result since 1981, with the powerful “Go” performed by Scott Fitzgerald, and written by Julie Forsyth, daughter of veteran British entertainer, Bruce. The advantage swung to Switzerland only on the very final, Yugoslavian jury, a fact which Mr Forsyth would bang-on about for quite a while. We also had the first instance of a former presenter returning to compete when Yardeni Arazi (presenter 1979) sang for Israel. Several had gone from performing to presenting, but only Arazi took the further step back to performing (she was part of Chocolate Menta Mastik in 1976).


This was the absolute nadir for little-brat performers, both Israel and France submitting pre-pubesecents to deliver their songs. There was a rumour going around that the contest had been pre-recorded and that Israel’s song had won. Total nonsense of course, but some heavy bets were apparently placed (and lost) on Gili and Galit. Henrik Krogsgaard struck a blow for conductors by forsaking his baton during the Danish entry and joining in as a backing singer/dancer. The impossibly old fashioned song romped to a top 3 position, once more emphasing how cutting-edge Eurovision could be as we approached the 90s. This contest produced perhaps the least popular (and obvious) winner, ever. It was great for Yugoslavia to win after a couple of top-6 results the previous two years, but what appeal the song has has remained a mystery to most of us the last two decades.


Ladies and gentlemen, Azucar Moreno from Spain bring you the first song of the bright new decade….oops!. The tape machine came on at the wrong point, and after a few seconds, the Spanish duo realised what had happened and stormed off, wringing their hands. I’ve always thought though that matters weren’t helped by this entry being perhaps the second most instrumental entry ever (after Norway 95). The previous year had brought unprecedented change in Eastern Europe, and even though those countries were not yet eligible to compete, this years set of songs surpassed even 1979 for hymns to peace, love and understanding. The UK caught the end of the teeny-boom by sending 15 year old Emma, who was well and truly upstaged by the fabulous Miriam Stockley on backing vocals. This was also the year when Finland submitted a song in Swedish – well it is one of their official languages. The song “Fri” by Beat has a unique place in history as the only song ever to be both performed last (historically perhaps the most favourable draw) AND finish last.

1991 ROME

Italy had won in 1990 and so this rather reluctant competitor had to stage the contest. It was not, it has to be said, the most professional production ever. Co-hosts were their two winners Gigliola Cinquetti and Grecian 2000 Man, Toto Cotugno, who completely lost it during the voting and had to be practically carried by Gigliola and the inscrutable scrutineer Frank Neff. There were also cameramen darting about, on-camera, during the songs which was really distracting. This was the last contest until 1998 when frothy europop had a foothold before the classic (mostly Irish) ballad style took over. Yugoslavia’s oxymoronic Bebi Doll kicked things off and 19 songs later, Samantha Janus came on like Bebi’s daughter sporting perhaps the tartiest Euro outfit ever. Game on? Don’t think so. We had the first tie since 1969, and what do you know, they’d actually thought of a tie breaker. In indecent time, Sweden were declared the winners prompting Carola for a bit of impromptu trampolining in the green room. It was perhaps unfortunate for the image of the contest that a ground breaking effort like France’s mesmeric entry didn’t win, but rules are rules, and Carola was due some luck after the fabulous “Framling” missed out eight years earlier.

1992 MALMO

The contest came to Malmo and a rather disappointing set of a Viking ship and a very sober pair of charisma-free presenters. Serbia and Croatia had been at war and conflict in Bosnia-Herzogovina was imminent as Yugoslavia bowed out with a very strong ballad by Extra Nena that finished 13th; a very rare case of a country suffering due to politics. Most voters have tended to disregard international politics when casting Euro-votes. The Anglophone language bias, as expounded by Mr Wogan, was re-emphasised when Ireland, UK and Malta took the top three places, although it could be argued that all three were strong songs. The UK’s Michael Ball was later to state that he would rather stick pins in his eyes than compete in the contest again. Malta came a strong third with a very sentimental ballad. Why is it that every female singer in Malta is either a nubile dolly-bird or a, shall we say, fuller figured diva? I have to say that for me, 1992 is probably my favourite year in as much as liking so many of the songs. In addition to the English language songs and Yugoslavia there were strong ballads from Italy, Austria, Germany and a bit of sauce from Switzerland’s Daisy Auvray. Merethe Troan of Norway pre-empted the Olsen Brothers by chuckling during her song but could only make 18th.


Ireland looked beyond Dublin and came up the the most unlikely venue ever, even topping 1982’s Harrogate. The Green Glens Arena in Millstreet in South-West Ireland near Kilkenny and Cork, prompting headlines like “Eurovision to be staged in a cowshed”. Definitely a “bellows by the fire” venue, but very satisfactory. Two artists from 1979 popped up again, Denmark’s Tommy Seebach (now with a band) and Finland’s Katri-Helena (now with a hyphen). There was massive media interest before the contest in the entry from Bosnia-Herzegovina, indeed the fact that they were competing at all in the circumstances. Their song, “The Whole World’s Pain” was indeed about the war and many commentators believed that they would sweep to victory on a sympathy vote. This looked a possibility when the second jury, Turkey, awarded them 12 points and they took the lead. However, not for the first, or last time, voters ignored political sentiment; Bosnia were only to collect another 12 points all night and finished 16th. After the preponderance of the English language the year before, a few countries tried to sneak some English into their lyric without breaking the rules: Croatia’s entire chorus was in English and the rather alarming Israeli group Shiru broke into English at the climax of their contribution while mother elbowed her way to centre stage.


This contest saw a cataclysmic shift in emphasis as a phalanx of new entrants from Eastern Europe were allowed in at the expense of the countries finishing bottom. It’s ironic from a year 2000 perspective that the countries that did least well of these were the Baltic ones, Estonia sending what sounded like a 1970s Finnish entry stuck in a time capsule and Lithuania a guy who looked like a refugee from a leather bar. On the other hand, Poland and Hungary finished in the top 4 but have not come close since.
Interest in Russia was so low that the selection took place on a low-key, late-night music show. The video clip was extremely amateurish too; watch it carefully and Youddiph’s head momentarily disappears in mid verse behind a prop. Even so, I had a sneaking regard for the melody. I rang the poll for the OGAE UK magazine and was met with sniggering incredulity when I allotted my douze to Russia. Then the big night: the arrangement, the frock, the whole performance. Yes and don’t forget this is the largest country in the whole world here, taking part in Eurovision!. Well, it finished 9th which was good enough for me, and I still love it to bits. The presentation by RTE was a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous: the former including a fabulous “city skyline” backdrop and of course the legendary “Riverdance” interval act that became a 90s cultural phenomenon; the latter epitomized by the idiosyncratic Gerry Ryan whose command of the French language was bizarre to say the least.


Hurrah! Eurovision’s 40th birthday and we were treated to a collage of old clips. This was to be repeated in a more random way in 2000, but this first one was ordered chronologically and certainly stirred some memories, although RTE decided to zip through 1981 to 1986 at a rate of knots and ignore 1983 (admittedly when they did not take part) altogether. There has been so much agonizing over the years about the language rule, and yet in 1995 Norway were allowed to enter what was basically an instrumental. Now I think personally that over the years Norway has been down-voted more than anyone, but “Nocturne” had a built-in advantage over the “songs” in the contest and should have never been allowed to enter. The United Kingdom overhauled it’s selection procedure this year and came up with some real, semi-credible pop songs. The winner was the rap song “Love City Groove” by the group of the same name, and they did well enough to inspire future rap attempts by Denmark in 1997 and Germany (sort-of) in 2000.

1996 OSLO

Fading pop-star attempts to revive career by presenting Eurovision!. Morten Harket swallowed his credibility by co-presenting the event with a lady with a Welsh-sounding surname, Ingvild Bryn (who seemed to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, probably due to her rather arrogant and patronising behaviour during the voting?). This year we had, for the first time in ages, a Euro song that was not only an American and worldwide hit, but also launched a career (well OK, not a long one). The UK’s “Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit” remains a bona-fide dancefloor anthem. Maybe with televoting, a better draw and a less ragged vocal performance, it might have been challenging ? We can only speculate. Anyone tuning in about two-thirds through the songs could have been forgiven for thinking we were watching another review of previous contests. Slovenia, Netherlands and Belgium each presented songs (and fashion statements) that were firmly rooted in the 70s (or even earlier).


International teen heart-throb attempts to destroy career by presenting Eurovision! Well, I guess Boyzone weren’t exactly Oasis in terms of credibility. We were back for the third time at the Point in Dublin, and no for the first time, two English language songs dominated proceedings. At one point (no pun intended) the UK’s “Love Shine A Light” received five consecutive 12 points, a record under the current scoring system. This contest was notable for how well the “old” countries performed; the traditional powers of (Western) Europe who had been mainstays of the contest: UK 1st, Ireland 2nd, Italy 4th, Spain 6th, France 7th. Contrast this with 1999/2000 when Spain and France would be demoted if not for their “big 4” protection and Italy seemingly having lost interest for good. The Eurovision Song Contest has long had a huge number of gay fans revelling in, well the sheer campness of the whole event, but a bit like Coronation Street, there had never been anything explicitly gay (unless of course I’ve missed something). This year, bringing up the rear (!) was Iceland’s openly gay Paul Oscar, sat on his sofa and stroking his thighs. Somewhere in Israel, something was stirring………


This was a contest and a half. For the first time the venue had a stadium feel and the bands of supporters around the NIA certainly gave the night a new dimension. Those of us who have endured Terry Wogan’s commentary every year hearts sank when it was announced that he was to present. At least we could get some pleasure in Dana International snubbing him at the end after his less than flattering comments about her. Ulrika Jonsson was brilliant, her supposed faux-pas with Connie van den Bos was nothing of the sort (play the tape and it’s the Dutch lady who says “long ago” before Ulrika does). The remainder of the entries paled into insignificance next to the triple-whammy of Dana/Guildo/Chiara. Dana ain’t the greatest singer in the world but the song brought the arena to life and we had that sideways dance to boot. Guildo tested out the strength of the furniture and had the audacity to approach the Queen Mum of Eurovision, Katie Boyle. The stage hands had to race against the clock to replace Guildo’s load of bells with Chiara’s candles but they made it just in time. This was the first time that the majority of countries used televoting. Apart from Croatia’s entry (which seems to have assumed tantric-like status with many Eurovision fans), the first seven songs scored very badly, a pattern to be repeated the next few years.


Another Eurovision in Jerusalem, twenty years after the last one, and a nice mix of the traditional and modern. A long march around the historic sites to open the show and Dana International climaxing a rather preposterously OTT interval presentation. Israel’s first win had coincided with the advent of a double-handed presentation in 1978, and this year we were regaled with three presenters!. It all seemed a bit too much, maybe it was an excuse for the “march” into the arena and the rather bizarre ad-break interval routine of the two ladies toasting “life” with glasses of red wine covered in cellophane to protect their frocks. At long last, the EBU bowed to the inevitable and for the first time since 1977, any language could be used. On the whole it was the countries of Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Baltic and the Benelux who took advantage of this. Surpriz, Surpriz, the contest ended up being a two-way fight between two of these, Sweden’s brazenly retro “Take Me To Your Heaven” and Iceland’s more contemporary “All Out Of Luck”, which featured two male dancers (a ploy to be copied by Russia the following year, with similar results). This year also featured a great deal of intrigue (and I must stress we are only talking “alleged” here). There were rumours that one of the Maltese trio mimed her whole performance and that the Lithuanian votes were announced in the wrong order (Ireland 12???). What we do know is that Croatia did infringe the rules with a backing track with some male vocals on. They got their wrists slapped and their point score adjusted (for future calculations on who’s in and who’s out).


Welcome..Europe!. Oh my God, this is enormous!. And it’s only gonna get bigger. By 2000 they had a big screen at the side of the stage for those guys in the bleachers who can’t see the stage ( a screen which seemed seriously out-of-synch when it slipped onto camera but I will happily stand corrected by anyone who was there). Co-presenter Kattis carried on the tradition of Swedish women in leather dresses after Ulrika two years earlier. Was there ever a contest when you just knew, after a song, that IS the winner. “Fly On The Wings Of Love” was the classic case of a performance, just three minutes, changing everything you thought about a song. The lead singers charisma, the laugh, the vocoder bit, the light-pens in the audience, the fireworks, it was a tour-de-force that had me bowled over after I had only previously regarded the song as one that might steal a few of the wrinklies votes from Ireland’s “Millennium of Cheese”. The most fascinating thing about Eurovision 2000 was the absolute chasm (we’re talking Grand Canyon here) between those countries, mostly in Northern Europe, who are sent poppy, televoter friendly songs in English and those countries sticking with the traditional songs, that may well reflect their culture better, but are not going to vacuum up votes in the age of free-language and televoting. The sophisticated ballad that needs a few listens to kick in (like say France, Switzerland 2000) was being ignored in favour of crowd-pleasing instant catchiness. How the more traditional countries reacted to the challenge would be one of the more interesting aspects of Eurovision in the years to come.