ESC 1996: Powered by petroleum

Sjúbidú! It’s 1996, the post-nocturnal year. The Norwegian winner of 1995 casts its shadows on Oslo long after the events of Dublin. Four delegations decided to send Celtic (inspired) music to the contest – 4,5 if we count Croatia in. It almost seems like these people thought this is what they have to send to be successful at Eurovision. Well, it paid off for 3/ 3,5 countries. The entire top 3 hasn’t been this homogenous since the beginnings of ESC. And there’s only one song I can tolerate there. But more of this later.

The voting has to be one of the most unique in the whole history of Eurovision. NRK really wanted to show off what they were capable of and fully went for a CGI industrial look. Petroleum industry sends its regards. The procedure itself was highly entertaining: The Spanish spokesperson who didn’t realize Czechoslovakia has already split three years ago. The Finnish spokesperson – my favourite – who didn’t even try to hide the fact that she’s bitter about Finland being constantly neglected by their Nordic brothers – except for Norway of course who were “very good neighbours”. In general this whole Nordic bantering was extremely funny and reached its climax when it was Stockholm’s turn to announce the Swedish points.

Points scattered all over the place. Croatia and Cyprus starting off really strong while Sweden gains momentum later during the voting. Portugal so close to a long awaited top 5 result only to be overtaken by Estonia in the final vote. And a winner who shamelessly declared herself “The Voice”. Well, that title goes to Ingvild Bryn, a weird hybrid between 90s showmaster and red riding hood. During the voting Bryn’s voice reaches extraterrestrial heights and I’d be genuinely shocked to learn if she ever recovered from that. And yes, sometimes I imagine her being crushed by one of these steel nuts.

There’s also Morten Harket, charming as always and in desperate need of boosting his solo career.

And oh yeah, no Germans allowed for the very first and only time. Reasonable after their countless crimes against humanity: Atlantis 2000, MeKaDo, Stone & Stone, … .

So here’s how I ranked the songs from 23rd to 11th place:

23 – Spain: My dog sounds like this when he’s lovesick. How did this get past the qualification round so easily, but Portugal almost struggled?

22 – Switzerland: Can’t remember their song = death sentence.

21 – Norway: Bettan’s revenge. “I evighet” sounds like the lovechild of a Peruvian busker, Angelo Badalamenti and the schlager drønning herself. What a disgusting act of procreation!

20 – Estonia: If you ever feel like torturing me, then this is the song. I absolutely can’t stand this.

19 – Cyprus: Really not my cup of tea. I don’t like his 2005 shake-shake, either.

18 – Iceland: I reckon they tried to do something else, but this has got to be Iceland’s tackiest attempt at dodging the language issue by name-dropping jazz legends and the endless repitition of the song’s title.

17 – The Netherlands: One of the many Dutch anthems played in Amsterdam during Eurovision in Concert. Franklin is a sight for sore eyes. He can arrest me anytime he wants to provided that he doesn’t sing this bore of a song.

16 – Ireland: And here we have the eventual winner. I get that some love it to bits, because of its ethereal vibes, but this just sounds utterly painful to my ears. Quite an unusual breathing technique. Was she practicing for her later quickie with Morten Harket? And I’m not fond of the song as well. It goes “I am the voice…”, “I am the voice…”, … on and on – fine! Once is enough.

Source: YouTube

Likes Norwegian wood: Eimear Quinn, the goldenthroat

15 – Slovenia: Redheads in green should never be seen! Musically the song’s very so-so. It’s got a nice melody, the oboe adds some colour to the song, but the background track is basic and monotonous.

14 – Belgium: Silly lyrics and usually I despise schlager, but I caught myself singing this so many times. It’d be the perfect jingle for a dating game show. Wasted opportunity. Speaking of opportunities, Sweden came in 5th place with the exact same song 5 years later. Life’s just not fair. That’s how the song should’ve been called. Points deducted for the Céline revue costume.

13 – Slovakia: They never got the hang of how to do Eurovision properly, didn’t they? This was Slovakia’s best result. 18th place. I ranked him a little higher as the song’s chorus feels very anthemic, but the rest falls flat sadly.

12 – Greece: Despite being a lazy remake of their 1994 entry – Kostas Bigalis composed it – I actually like this very much. It’s a breath of fresh air between the Swiss bore and Estonian Guantanamo instrument of torture.

11 – Bosnia & Herzegovina: To be honest I can understand why this did so poorly. The song wasn’t good enough to leave an impression and Amila looked like she just got out of her coffin. Hungry for her next victim. But somehow I do like “Za našu ljubav” the same way I liked “Kruna” last year. Note how their lyrics resemble each other: “Duga je noć”/ “Noć je duga”, … , “volim te ja”. I guess I’m a sucker for Southern Slavic ballads unless they are performed by Željko “causing nausea” Joksimović.

And now we come to the real deal:

Turkey – 1 point

double trouble
Source: YouTube

“Dude! I think I’m seeing double! Four Şebnems!”

Turkey, underrated like most of the times back in the day with Şebnem before she had a date with the plastic surgeon. As for “Beşinci mevsim” it’s a lovely ballad. The piano and the accordion make it stand out. Interesting outro with the trumpet slowly fading out. But it’s not my favourite of her three Eurovision propositions (It’s a shame she didn’t go to Birmingham with “Çal”). She’d come back with an absolute smasher next year.

Malta – 2 points

Source: YouTube

“No, Miriam! The mic’s not edible!”

It’s tacky. It’s cheesy. It’s so 90s! Just look at her outfit. The pastel pink in combination with this dazzling green is typical teen fashion in 1995/96. Miriam wiggles her booty like an ovulating bonobo, but instead of oozing sex appeal it’s totally off-putting. However the song is one of my favourites this year. Unlike many Maltese entries of this era this little dance pop tune is quite catchy and her voice reminds me of Marina Diamandis in parts. I think I’m gonna go this far and crown this my favourite Maltese entry ever.

UK – 3 points

Insatiable VaGina
Source: Twitter

Ooh aah…I touch my tralala: Gina G and her Spice Girls, Pastel and Mattel Spice

Eurodance was drawing its last breath on the charts in 1996. So it was just the right time for Eurovision to give it a go. Of course in terms of production this is far from the songs by 2 Unlimited, Cappella or Culture Beat. I like to compare this one to Whigfield, but less childish and more sexually aggresive. What else is there to say: She looked absolutely stunning in that Paco Rabanne dress that barely covered her Gina G-spot. One of the last times the UK really cared.

Croatia – 4 points

just a normal pose
Source: YouTube

“Baby! I’ll be whatever you want me to be tonight”: Maja, the professional.

Funny how this only came 19th in the audio-only final, but came 4th in the final. I’d like to think her enthusiastic performance is the reason why it boosted up that many places. Maja brought out the best of her Balkan waltz schlager. Oooh ahh…just a little bit too much: The screeching was unnecessary and ruins the song a bit. Then there’s the dance routine which is beautifully captured by the camera. Overall a solid Croatian entry. A bit overrated with 4th place maybe.

Austria – 5 points

Sing the devil away
Source: YouTube

Sing Hallelujah: George Nussbaumer and the best choir to ever grace a Eurovision stage.

Everything about it is so dynamic. Right from the very start this song got me hooked and I usually don’t listen to gospel music. But for these three minutes I can deal with it. Even in this Vorarlbergisch dialect that sounds like Klingon. Praise the backing vocalists! Hallelujah! Among them we’ve got Bettina Sorlat and Stella Jones who represented Austria in the following resp. previous year. Stella had a much better song though. Anyway, their choreography lifted the song even more and they support George really well.

France – 6 points

Source: YouTube

It’s Britanny, bitch! Elaine and Kate are from Scotland and Wales respectively.

The second of only two Celtic language songs in the history of Eurovision. I wish we’d get to hear them more often since I love the sound of these languages. Anyway, France went back to where they started in 1990, this time embracing their Breton culture. It had almost all the ingredients needed for a successful outcome: a very good song, a mellow atmosphere and Celtic sounds. The most important one was missing: English lyrics. Of course France couldn’t – and wouldn’t – send a song in English, but I guess it’s because of this language barriere the juries couldn’t connect to the song.

Poland – 7 points

let's do blue filter, because moody ballad
Source: YouTube

What have I…What have I…What have I done to deserve this: Kasia doesn’t know what the heck she did wrong. Neither do I.

Scoring a rather disappointing result in the previous year, Poland went back to basics: dramatic ballads sung by a young, female artist. While I absolutlely loathe our debut entry, this one sounds very pleasant to my ears. However, it took some time to appreciate it and that’s probably why it fared so poorly in the contest. Jacek Cygan, co-songwriter of “To nie ja”, admitted in his autobiography that while writing Edyta’s song he was intentionally using words that would sound harmonic and soft to non-native speakers. In that regard “Chcę znać swój grzech” might sound like consonant salad, but I’ll always prefer this song to “To nie ja”.

Finland – 8 points

Source: YouTube

Look what they’ve done to my song: Lovely Jasmine & The New Radicals.

In 1996 Germans had Jasmin Wagner aka Blossom, the artist formerly known as Blümchen and Finland had Jasmine. Everyone gets what they deserve. Well, not in case of the latter. The results were just another travesty. The guerilla Moomin proclaimed her anticapitalist message “Niin kaunis on taivas” (“Don’t buy anything from Taiwan”) on stage – too radical for the conservative juries.

Dressed up all in yellow, the matching flower pinned to her guitar – she looked so lovely and innocent. Yes, she fucked up that part before the last chorus – anyone who ever struggled with stage fright can relate. Just like Blue I can. Silje Vige f.e. looked like Bambi in front of a truck, but still managed to finish top 5. Puppy license works magic. Not for poor Jasmine whose validity date has expired.

Sweden – 10 points

Can you pay my bills
Source: YouTube

Never before has a request for payment sounded so beautiful: One More Time.

Sweden has sent two Vattenfall sales reps to remind us to pay our electricity and gas bill one more time. Nanne Grönvall looking gorgeous with that fringe while Maria Rådsten looks like she got a discount wig from the tranny flea market.

I can’t describe why I love SWE ’96, but loathe IRE and NOR ’96 at the same time. Sometimes you just feel a connection to someone/something and sometimes you don’t. Norway’s too schmaltzy and Eimear’s voice just puts me off I guess. Whereas “Den vilda” is a pretty, carol like song that could have worked on an Enya album. And I love Enya.

Portugal – 12 points

Winner, actually
Source: YouTube


Lucky girl: Scored Portugal’s best result till 2017 and Colin Firth in “Love, Actually”. I’m jealous.

Portugal, one of my favourite countries in Eurovision yet I don’t like their 2017 winner. To think that Lúcia almost didn’t qualify in the pre-selection round is a joke. This is one of the few Eurovision songs that I prefer in its live version. A lot of praise goes out to the orchestra that gives the song more depth. And don’t forget the backing vocalists who really support Lúcia. I love all these different layers – the change of pace and rhythm, the drums, the cavaquinho parts – that work surprisingly well together. Whenever it comes up I can sing along to it – butchering the Portuguese language. Big, fat 12 points. Obrigado, Lúcia!

So that’s about it. Ireland got their 7th and to date last victory, Morten got laid and Ingvild probably got a restraining order from Constantinos.

15 min of fame and 5 min with Morten
Source: YouTube

Aha! The guy with the guitar gets them all: I hope Morten used a condom.

Thanks for reading!


9 thoughts on “ESC 1996: Powered by petroleum

  1. That was a great read, Dom. Obrigado. 🙂

    On Spain: “How did this get past the qualification round so easily?” – It’s a very interesting song in studio version imo, and therefore I get why the preselection juries let it pass. On the other hand, the live vocals and the lacklustre performance made it look silly and sound ugly on the Oslo stage. But then, the preselection juries were judging studio cuts. That’s the reason too why Israel failed to make it imo. Their sound quality was atrocious.

    And an anectodal p. s.: Back in 1996, I was part of a political cabaret troupe at university. In our 1996 show, one of my parts was Prime Minister Major. I was randomly popping up again and again, trying to sell bits of British Rail: two meters of tracks, a point, a signal etc. Those were the days of privatization. 😦
    We also used two ESC songs in the show: My sister composed a hilarious ESC parody to the lyrics of Charles Coleiro’s ‘Anatomy of a Century’: ‘The eyes are mellowed in a hollow of sweat/sparkling and twinkling the miseries of mankind/vomiting suicide on its death bed’ etc. We performed that using that backing singers routine of Malta 1993. And the lyrics of Iceland 1996 inspired us to do a sketch of a failed peace conference. People were taking planes to all different but wrong places like Skagaströnd and Timbuktu. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. De nada! Und danke für die Blumen! 😉
      On Spain: I think the musical thought and the instrumental realisation don’t form a harmonic alliance. Because as an instrumental it is quite enjoyable – I love the sound of Spanish guitars. I could listen to it all day, all night. It’s just Antonio’s voice that really puts me off I guess.
      And I agree with the live version, too. I don’t see any redeemable quality there. The 17 points he received at the end of the voting were 17 too much. I’d rather have Macedonia in and Spain out.

      And thanks for your small anecdote! Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. Sadly humour is a weapon most people have never learned to use properly.
      The list of privatizations in Britain during the 1980s and ’90s is like a Michael Ende book, a neverending story. The saddest one for me as a car enthusiast was the privatization of British Leyland that marked the beginning of the end of the Rover Group. Quite a nasty story and BMW of course had their fat, little Bavarian sausage fingers all over it as well 😩 .

      And LOL on your parodies. The name Charles Coleiro doesn’t ring a bell. I suppose he’s Maltese? But imagining your sister and you doing the Malta ’93 backings routine puts a smile on my face already. Did you wear the same classy outfits back then? Iceland ’96 is the best blueprint for a good parody. It writes itself, you just need to name-drop whatever comes to your mind and sell it really well. What were the reactions to your performances?


      1. Yes, Mr Coleiro was a Maltese poet, but alas not the best one. If you want to read sth Maltese, I recommend Francis Ebejer’s ‘Requiem for a Malta Fascist’, which is among my favourite novels.
        ‘Three on the Dole (Earning-Related Benefits)’ was our most successful show, and as word got round, even professors started attending the show. And we got a very positive review in Tübingen’s main paper (Tagblatt). Here is their conclusion: ‘Zum Ausgleich muss auch das Publikum leiden, muss ertragen, wie die Show aus dem Ruder läuft, wie die Akteure aus den Rollen fallen oder auch einfach nur, very british und an den Flying Circus erinnernd, leicht irritiert in die Welt schauen.’ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I admit Maltese literature is something I am not familiar with unfortunately. Though I am atm trying to catch up with works from countries that are often overlooked by Western literary canon. Currently I am reading “Straumēni” by Edvarts Virza. After that I’ll give Malta a chance 🙂
        ‘…an den Flying Circus erinnernd,…’ That’s about as high a compliment as you can get! Well done!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We were as proud as a bunch of cookies back then. 🙂
        I don’t think that I have ever read anything from Latvia. Do you recommend Mr Virza’s work?
        Apart from Mr Ebejer’s work, Malta doesn’t offer much in the novel department. Oliver Friggieri’s short stories are worth a read (his brother Joe was my prof at Malta University), and then there is a lot of excellent poetry. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Definitely. Whenever I read a bit I’m finding myself in a sense of peace. “Straumēni” isn’t the right book if you’re craving for sensation. There’s no dialogue. It isn’t about the characters we barely get to know there. It’s merely a description of rural life in 19th century Semigallia. Everything revolves around nature. It determines the rhythm of life and work. One day Mother Nature can be very generous and the other she’s unforgiving. Translated into nowadays things haven’t changed much. No matter how we advance technologically they won’t change.
        Thanks for the recommendations on Maltese literature! 🙂


      5. Sounds like an interesting book. Being a literary historian, I am not much interested in plot but much more in narrative techniques, imagery and stylistic devices.


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