As a longstanding fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, I’m pleased this year’s entry from
the Netherlands will again be in Dutch. But why?
The Eurovision Song Contest
Based on Italy's older San Remo Song Contest, the Eurovision Song Contest was organised for the first time, in Switzerland, in 1956. One of its aims was to make further good use of the expensive Eurovision television network, linking Europe's public television services. This network was first used to major effect to bring the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London to viewers in countries such as France, the Netherlands and Germany. It was also designed to enhance European cooperation and understanding through song, entertainment and a certain degree of competition.
A total of seven countries, including the Netherlands, took part in the first contest, won by host Switzerland. By 2008 that total had risen to 43.
Ireland has won the contest most times: seven.
The Netherlands has been victorious on four occasions.
Famous winners include: ABBA, Celine Dion (for Switzerland), Dima Bilan, Katrina & The Waves (UK), Vicky Leandros (for Luxembourg).
Famous songs include: Volare, Waterloo, Congratulations, Eres Tu, Love Is Blue, Fairytale, Diva.
To start off with, the Netherlands has won the contest with a song in DUTCH on no less than three occasions. It was also the first country to win the Eurovision Song Contest twice – in DUTCH. Two wins (1957 and 1959) in just the first four contests – both times in DUTCH. Is my point getting home?
The third win came in 1969, when a song in DUTCH tied with songs in English, Spanish and French. Up to 1976, judged on victories alone, Dutch was actually the second most successful language in the contest, after French and leaving English, German, Italian, etc., all trailing.
The Dutch won the contest only once more, in 1975. That song was in English, but only just (“Ding-a-dong every hour, when you pick a flower, even when your lover is gone, gone, gone..." ?!?). Personally, I think the Dutch version made much more sense and would have won anyway.
In recent years the Dutch have done badly at Eurovision, with songs in English, one in a nonsense language and a highly popular - at home - but unsuccessful song in Dutch in 2010. And whilst winning songs at Eurovision now come almost always in English, there was one recent and notable exception, Serbia’s winning song in Serbian in 2007.
A win that helps make my point: a win in an ‘obscure’ language is still possible. It may not happen every year, but it is possible, and a quality song in Dutch could do it.
It may take some skill to come up with a beautiful or even just a good lyric, but a good one in a mother tongue is surely preferable to a mediocre or bad one in English? I’m not saying every Netherlands’ entry for Eurovision should be in Dutch, but songs in Dutch are no less valid or worse than ones in other languages (judge for yourself, watch one of the videos below).
The rule that wasn't, until...
It was pointed out to me that singing in languages other than your ‘own’ was not permitted back in the early days of Eurovision.
This, however, is not strictly true; for years there simply was no rule about the language, countries just stuck to their own because that ‘came naturally’ in those days – until some Austrian slipped in a refrain or two in English and then some clever Swedes slipped in a song entirely in English; all in the 1960s.
In fact, as I’ve shown, they have won song contests and could do again. And, win or no, you can always release an English or, for that matter, a Sanskrit version, too. Heel de wereld (All the world, Dutch entry 1958... okay, so it bombed) is your oyster!
So, I applaud Dutch broadcaster TROS – now providing the Dutch entry for the second time - for defending het Nederlandstalige lied (the Dutch song). I just hope this year’s Eurovision entry – written and performed by three-man group 3JS and to be chosen this coming Sunday - will do well.
Judging by the fragments of the five songs I have heard so far, we might just be in for a quality song this year and it will be in DUTCH. Hoera! (Hooray!).