ESC 1999: Whoops, Dragović!

Shalom, olam! Welcome to Israel, land of synchronized dancing.

No more orchestra! Eurovision received its long due makeover. Jerusalem ’99 was giving Europe a taste of what was to come in the next couple of years. On the down side: The backing tracks. Losing the orchestra was a sign of the times. Hopes were high for more variety in genres. Instead it opened the doors for the most generic songs in Eurovision history. On the plus side: The reinstalled language rule proved to be a better take at creating artistic freedom that unfortunately turned farcical with the dominance of English songs at Eurovision in recent years.

The problem with Eurovision 1999 really becomes evident when it’s the interval act who steals the show. Dana let all the dancers do the work for her – she is and will always be a diva – and lip-synched for her life to an opulent medley of “Dror Yikra” and the Stevie Wonder cover “Free”. But the best was yet to come. Just before handing the trophy to victorious Charlotte, Dana has gone tits up with it – again getting all the attention. Hilarious! The broadcast should’ve stopped right there.

It was the first threesome in the contest’s history. Behaving as if diarrhoea has suddenly struck the fidgety ladies Dafna and Sigal staged a musical number which has to be the longest and most extravagant toast ever, oozing sapphic energy. I bet they’ve already opened several bottles of kosher wine before that. The more I’m amazed nothing got spilled on their tuxedos. Yigal, Israel’s gay answer to Bruce Willis played the role of Mr. Serious Business very well, but his monotone voice made following the voting procedure a tedious job.

The scoreboard is a nightmare for a mole like me. Also coins for points? Well, the Israelis don’t take themselves too seriously. A shoutout goes out to the spokespeople, celebrities in their own right: There’s Cologne’s sweetheart, actress Renan Demirkan (“Shveeeeden, two points!”). Jan Chojnacki’s death stare at Yigal for mispronouncing the Polish capital. Uncle Colin from the UK who assumes that everyone watching wants to know how many calls the BBC can handle in five minutes and just which London landmark he’s sitting in front of this year. And then there’s that old bird from ‘biutiful Norway’ who clearly thinks it should have been her who presented the show in ’96 and not shouty Ingvild Bryn.

My favourite, Spain: Way to go, Hugo! That glass of wine wouldn’t have survived three seconds if that were me, either! God, how I miss that bantering these days. The voting is no longer what it used to be. But sadly this is true for Eurovision in general.

If you’re wondering about the article’s title: It’s not only a reference to Croatia’s sloppy faux pas, but more so an homage to the sadly no longer existing fansite Whoops Dragovic whose merciless reviews gave me hours and hours of uncontrolled laughter. Cheers…or L’chaim I guess.

23. Norway: Van Eijk – “Living My Life Without You”

In 1999 N*SYNC were making their annual visit at Norwegian Microbiology Centres where scientists secretly took a sample of skin from each of the members and cross-fertilised it with Peter André’s DNA in an attempt to create the ultimate entry for Eurovision. Unfortunately they chose to take their sample from that goatee guy, thus creating clumsy Stig who could neither dance nor sing.

22. Israel: Eden – “Happy Birthday”

Oh, crikey…what a downfall for Israel in terms of song quality and this went top ten? At least this was the group that broke the three-year run of host countries coming second, but still… . Just before they went on stage, devious Dafna tipped a large jar of scorpions down the pants of each member, and they spent the whole performance trying to turn the art of itching into a complex piece of choreography also known as the Cliff Richard syndrome. I can’t…wine, give me strength.

21. The Netherlands: Marlayne – “One Good Reason”

The middle eight part is the best thing about this song, but I find this completely forgettable. It starts quite nicely with a little Natalie Imbruglia “Torn” string plucking, but the rest is so dull and repetitive. It’s the epitome of why I don’t like this era of Eurovision.

20. Ireland: The Mullans – “When You Need Me”

Apart from their somnambulist ballad these sisters are famous for being a medical mystery. The Mullans have been on an NHS Waiting List since the early 80’s for a complex operation to have the Blarney Stone surgically removed from their throats. They’re still waiting.

19. Denmark: Trine Jepsen & Michael Teschl – “This Time I Mean It”

Ah, yes: Denmark. The 90’s Scandie wildcard that shared a similar fate with Finland. It sounds very boy band appropriate, but like Norway they couldn’t find enough people willing to put up with this “As Long As You Love Me” copy. I’m a horrible person, but all I can remember are Michael’s dashing good looks. The way he ignored Trine’s saggy milk factory really got me hoping. Call me, Michael. I’m waiting for you.

18. Malta: Times Three – “Believe ‘n Peace”

In my 1972 review I struggled a bit in writing something nice about their entry – in fact I struggled to write anything at all about it. So I’m going to make more of an effort with this one.

There’s certainly a little trash charm about it, but look at these lyrics. What’s going on, Malta? One of your official languages is English. You can do better than this! I guess each member has a unique talent which distinguishes them from the other girls in the group: one is good at carrying luggage, one looks old enough to get served at the bar and one can sing.

Sorry, Malta! I really tried! Wine refill!

17. France: Nayah – “Je veux donner ma voix”

It’s a tragicomic one. The artist is by far more interesting than the song. Nayah is not only a woman who wears deceased poultry on top of her head (for further evidence please watch the national final performance), no, she’s a member of an alien-worshipping cult. You can also book Nayah as Céline Dion at a corporate event, birthday party or sect initiation ritual. A woman of a million faces, but still: Non, je ne veux donner mes douze points…ou quelques autres points!

16. Spain: Lydia – “No quiero escuchar”

Speaking of belief in extraterrestrial life: Spain sent an alien from planet Testcardia whose only purpose was to put mankind to an everlasting sleep with her ballad “No quiero escuchar” and I am gladly following her plea! Lydia did have her portable communication device tucked into her knickers, but thought twice about revealing it. It read, ‘I’m sorry about the look, but PLEASE vote for me.’ in Hebrew, English and French and Spanish.

E.S. phone home!

15. Slovenia: Darja Švajger – “For A Thousand Years”

It’s no secret that I dislike Švajger’s eurovisionary efforts. One wonders if she felt like trying to improve her personal record or if the national final was just a rare opportunity to sing on TV.

It would turn out that three of the recent rule changes would affect “Še tisoč let” in different ways. To begin with, the song would’ve benefitted from a live orchestral performance. Second: The lyrics were translated into English, which was ok, but her diction leaves sufficient room for interpretation. Because when she’s supposed to sing ‘I tremble in your arms’ all I hear is ‘I trample in your ass!’. However the biggest problem for that foul-mouthed lady was that the jury was replaced by televoting in all but four countries. A trend that slowly started in 1997. Slovenia received some of their highest marks from Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ireland and Lithuania – all of which still used juries.

14. Sweden: Charlotte “The Girl” Nilsson – “Take Me To Your Heaven”

These Swedes. They know how to celebrate an anniversary. First in 1984 with The Herreys 10 years after “Waterloo”, then 1999. Guess we know the winner of ESC 2024? I think it’s quite extraordinary that a dansband song proved to be this popular all over Europe. A genre so tied to its home country. Charlotte rose to fame as the lead singer of Wizex and would leave the band after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute with her record company. After winning in Jerusalem she had signed to Sony BMG to embark on an international career, but “Take Me To Your Heaven” didn’t manage to convert its Eurovision to chart success with only a few exceptions.

I’ve never been a fan of hers. It’s too much of an ABBA tribute to make it enjoyable for me. Drömhus, the runner-up in Melodifestivalen ’99, would’ve been my pick. However, the winsome valkyrie gave a sterling performance – I gotta give her that. Hair flip for the win! A cunning vote-grabber and always remembered as the girl who was left standing there when Dana International fell on her ass.

Her victory was not only overshadowed by an envious diva. Shortly after Eurovision the Malexander murders shocked Sweden. Moreover Charlotte faced more legal issues. David Brandes – known for producing Vanilla Ninja and Germany’s Kiev nightmare (The Prequel) Gracia Baur – sued her for plagiarising one of his productions. More accusations would follow. La Nilsson went into hiding and came back as cyborg Perrelli to terminate them all.

“Pretty in Pink” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

13. Poland: Mietek Szcześniak – “Przytul mnie mocno”

Mietek “that name will give you a fucking high score in Scrabble” Szcześniak had no intention to enter the contest. It was his record company pushing him into the pre-selection round, beating three established artists in the process (one of them being Piasek who would represent Poland in 2001). 1999 wasn’t the best year for ballads and this one’s no exception. My award for Best Male Vocals would go to him though.

12. Estonia: Evelin Samuel & Camille – “Over The Water Blue”

They really were lucky to close the show, because the song is the sort of music that slips past without you noticing. Between 1996 and 2002 Estonia was on a roll, but I never approved of their most successful phase at the contest. It’s a pretty and pleasant song, but I just can’t warm up to this.

11. Portugal: Rui Bandeira – “Como tudo começou”

Latvia’s last minute withdrawal in 1999 let Portugal enter Jerusalem via the back door. Hooray! It’s a shame there’s barely anything I can latch on to that would make me enthusiastic about the song. The chorus – the best part except for his shampoo ad-worthy hair – sounds like “Baby Jane” by Rod Stewart, but the overall song has an easy listening 90’s radio music air to it, something you would hear from Mike + The Mechanics or Eros Ramazotti. Hmmm…more wine!

Iceland, 1 point: Selma – “All Out Of Luck”

Selma was worried that any mischief she may have got up to in a former life would catch up with her onstage in the holy city of Jerusalem, and so ordered her dancers to wear raincoats in case a plague of frogs should shower down on them during their performance of “All Out Of Luck”.

Almost to the last, Selma dueled with Charlotte Nilsson for the victory. Iceland’s whole population gathered on Paul Oscar’s S&M sofa to watch their only realistic chance of taking the trophy home crumble. After the final, Selma did nothing to hide her disappointment and to the assembled press she said that her song pointed to the future while the winning song looked back. Sorry, dear, not with that uber-chirpy dittty.

Björk zero: Same stylist. Zero taste in fashion.

United Kingdom, 2 points: Precious – “Say It Again”

Now on to the randomly put together Tesco definition of the Spice Girls: Precious. Lead singer Louise Rose was the only one to give the song a hint of personality. She successfully graduated from the Lananeeneenoonoo academy of girl group grooming (“Breathe before!”). Little did she know that there was someone lurking in the background waiting for her time to shine. It’s Jenny Frost, known for being a pesky Kerry Katona repellent replacement during Atomic Kitten’s most successful phase in the early 2000’s.

In the battle of the girl groups this is by far the winner, but it’s still pretty basic to make a stronger impact on my ranking. After learning that they were just extras in Eurovision 1999’s cast they didn’t give a damn and it showed. No surprise the old giant was losing his grip. The UK had gotten away with it before, but as of this year, everyone was allowed to choose a language freely and they no longer had the advantage of being one of the few countries that could sing in English.

Spice Girl wannabes: Precious

Germany, 3 points: Sürpriz – “Reise nach Jerusalem – Kudüs’e seyahat”

After accidentally falling into a vat of radioactive tinfoil during a guided tour of Ralph Siegel’s gold certified records, the members of Sürpriz acquired the mysterious power of being able to dance and sing in four languages.

This power was utilised to the fullest by Siegel who is a keen Green party supporter and composted his very own composition: “Wo geht die Reise hin?” by Harmony Four. If Corinna May wasn’t allowed to enter the contest then this definitely shouldn’t have gotten there, either. Angry Corinna fans The German OGAE fan club almost would’ve prevented its participation, but Siegel handed the independent EBU jury enough money…I mean evidence…to erase all doubts. The song itself is obviously pandering towards the hosts, but I just can’t help myself from liking – not loving – this.

Separated at birth: Tekken teenie Ling Xiaoyu & Baby Sürpriz

Bosnia-Herzegovina, 4 points: Dino & Béatrice – “Putnici”

For me this is all about the instrumentation. Points for originality. I like the fact that it’s Bosnia & Herzegovina thinking outside the box and fusing two languages without sucking up to the host nation. However the chorus is just a beginner’s level French lesson, conjugating the verbs avoir and être. I wish I would’ve known that song in seventh grade! Not a fan of Dino’s “rapping” either. But Béatrice wore silver and white the best. “Putnici” marked the only instance that a country with a top ten result wasn’t saved from the yo-yo league. Boo!

Practiced French oral: Dino & Béatrice

Cyprus, 5 points: Marlain – “Tha’ne erotas”

Oh, Marlain…where do we start? “Tha’ne erotas” was a fairly strong song and represents a genre I love. Back in the summer of 1999 Alice Deejay’s vocal trance hit “Better Off Alone” was the first CD I bought and this reminds me a little of it. I don’t speak a word of Greek, but I assume she sang about her erotic fanny. As a matter of fact so erotic that her lover left a sticky gift on her cleavage. Alenka Gotar’s hand sperm detector would go nuts. This and Marlain’s iffy vocals did not prove to be the biggest televoting magnets. Still, two points was a diabolical showing for this stirring number, but there ain’t much anyone can do about that now. Thus the FFF (Fan favourite fail) was born; Usually a blonde disco bunny (Kate Ryan, Selma in 2005, Suzy) in desperate need to resurge their career. Speaking of which: Selma took all of Cyprus’ points nunchucking Marlain who came right after her.

Nine years later Marlain competed again in Cyprus’ national final with “Rejection (Set Me Free)”, but it was the song that she performed the following year that really got me into following the pre-Eurovision season: “Mr. Do Right One Night Stand”, a trashtastic pseudo hard rock gem that featured the Diesel Sisters (Best band name ever!). I wonder what happened to them… .

Fresh from an impromptu bukake session: Insatiable Marlain

Turkey, 6 points: Tuğba Önal & Grup Mistik – “Dön artık”

“Dinle” raised the bar too high for this to become equally successful. Not even the leg bribe could salvage the result. Tuğba was a little out of breath which isn’t a sürpriz considering how relentless this song is. The main problem for me was the backing track. No matter how much you raised the volume, it all sounded too thin.

“Dön artık” was still a good song, the little disco shake-shake sister of “Dinle”. Tuğba continued the divaesque tradition of demanding applause before the first note – Dana started it in 1998 – and had both stage presence and a good voice. The group accompanying her was off-key and could’ve been ditched though.

Tusen och en natt: The Musical

Croatia, 7 points: Doris Dragović – “Marija Magdalena”

Throughout the 1990s, Doris was one of the country’s biggest names. Guess she felt pretty confident about the thing: Tonči Huljić had written a bombastic and highly effective disco pacifier and “Marija Magdalena” won a landslide victory at Dora. Croatia sailed up as one of the favourites before Jerusalem ’99.

The Croatian delegation had used a gap in the EBU’s regulations. No pre-recorded voices may be used during any performance, but Croatia used orchestras in their national final and if pre-recorded choral singing was played via synthesizer, it was technically an instrument instead of singing. Right, EBU? Well, not really. It looked silly when there would be a lone female (!) choir singer on stage, but you could obviously hear a huge male choir on the recording. If you attempt to cheat, then please do it right.

In my opinion the EBU should’ve raised a note of caution prior to the contest, but as they often do they like to keep their mouth shut and watch things happen. It was only after the contest that the EBU decided to punish Croatia. Without changing the official result, points were deducted for Croatia when calculating the averages that decided who was allowed to participate and who would sit out. It never affected their next participation though.

Watch and learn, Tony Wegas! The fabulous Doris Dragqueenović

Austria, 8 points: Bobbie Singer – “Reflection”

Now you might be asking: Why do you have The Netherlands that low and Austria so high? It’s the same type of song. Well, imo this has a cute and quirky charm to it and I’m a sucker for catchy and simple melodies. I love the pre-chorus and the whispering bits. Songs like these competing at international level wouldn’t make a lasting impression anymore. A little more varied chorus wouldn’t have harmed the song, but overall it’s enjoyable and in a weak year like 1999 a spark of hope.

Bobbie Lichtenstein Austria

Lithuania, 10 points: Aistė – “Strazdas”

Ah! What an opening act! Lithuania’s song thrush (Cheers to Diggiloo!) was inspired by Sigitas Geda’s poem of that same name who in return was inspired by 18th century poet Antanas Strazdas and that’s where the circle closes. Lots of meta levels that would make Inception look like a fart joke…this review practically writes itself. Unfortunately my Lithuanian is more than just rusty, so no analysis at this point. It’s in Samogitian, a dialect spoken in the western part of Lithuania. “Strazdas” would’ve been a perfect fit if it had been part of Liet International, a song festival for regional and minority languages.

Aistė looks very lonely on stage, but she makes that up with her marvellous voice and presence. Her short but impressive portrayal of a windmill – challenging the gigantic wingspan of Charizard – did not gain her extra points from the Netherlands…tsk…uncultured swines. The outfit is a choice! Cycle shorts? Budget problems? I suppose she did a charity cycle all the way to Jerusalem to raise money for Lithuania’s next entry. Lovely!

Laundry fail #whenyourclothesdon’tevenfitanymore

Belgium, 12 points: Vanessa Chinitor – “Like The Wind”

On a random note: She looks a lot like German schlager singer Claudia Jung. I can’t believe she was 22 at that time. Maltese visagist? The last of its kind. Celtic influenced songs were no longer en vogue in Eurovision. This song in particular reminds me of Enya’s “Carribean Blue”. Three years earlier and it would’ve put a waft of worry among the favourites to win. But it’s 1999 and the zeitgeist demanded up-tempo pop songs. Anyway, “Like The Wind” was definitely wasted on the slot of doom.

And OMG! They’re Zelda fans! At least the guy pretending to play the ocarina! It looks like an exact replica of the legendary Ocarina of Time. I can already hear Epona coming… .

The Legend of Vanessa: Ocarina of Douze Points

Thanks for joining me on this *burp* review! Hic!

6 thoughts on “ESC 1999: Whoops, Dragović!

  1. Fun as always to read, Dominik! 🙂

    Also, “trashy charm” perfectly encapsulates why Malta got one point from me in a year filled with slow, uninspired dirge. Thanks for putting it better than I could myself

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I tried watching the full contest when the Eurovision YT channel had it up for a week, but wasn’t that impressed. Just going through the song playlist was fine, however imo.

        Personally, I’m hoping for something a bit older for the next revisit 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As I said the other day, this is probably my least fave esc edition: too many songs I can’t stand, too many bad/kitschy stage performances (on an already ugly stage) and too few songs I really enjoy.

    PS: thanks for the Diggiloo Thrush reference Dominik! They are missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They really are! It’s a shame they stopped.
      For me 1999 marked the beginning of a very dark era of Eurovision. I dislike 2000 more, because I don’t like any of the songs that competed then. I don’t know if it was a good idea to ditch both the orchestra and the language rule at the same time. It’s never good to rush things. Getting rid of the language rule was needed, so they could’ve done that and make the orchestra an optional addition. Back in 2015 I thought what a wasted chance that there hadn’t been orchestral live music. It would’ve looked amazing on stage! Or think of Kaliopi or Rona in 2012.

      Liked by 1 person

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