Eurovision Song Contest 1999 Review

And here we are, turning over a new page. The orchestra has been dropped and so has the language rule. Only 23 countries took part this year, mostly out of security concerns from what I’ve heard. This means that Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Iceland and Lithuania got to return, but Finland, Greece, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland had been relegated. Originally, Latvia was going to make a debut this year, but their broadcaster decided not to due to high financial costs of travelling to Jerusalem (at least it isn’t Tel Aviv, huh? 2019 flashbacks), so Hungary was allowed to take part instead. But their broadcaster decided to withdraw as well, again, due to financial reasons, so Portugal was given a reprieve for one more year, even with that 0 points in their track record.

Preface

Welcome to Jerusalem! The contest is going to be hosted in the same venue it was in 1979, but it feels considerably more cramped, . We open with a CGI montage of flying over all of the participating countries before landing in Jerusalem. After that, we’re treated to another montage, this time of touristy places, set to a music that feels really familiar to me, and not just from having seen it before. It really feels like I’ve heard it before in the real world. Though I suppose it’s pretty generic, so perhaps thats the problem.

I’m watching this with Russian commentary, because why not. Ripped from VHS, of course, ugh. Still, I’ll probably suffer through the low-quality video because I’m quite tired of Terry Wogan. One thing I’d like to remark is that the Russian commetators emphasise that this is a song contest, not a singing contest multiple times. They also explain why the orchestra is missing and confirm that Latvia and Hungary are missing because of financial reasons.

Finally, we get shown some extended shots of the audience, flying all sorts of different flags, including flags of non-participating countries like Greece, something that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays (sadly, I always loved to play a game of spot-the-Venezuela-flag). Also, while the tickets to Birmingham were sold for £60 each (and just £20 for the dress rehearsal), this time, the audience was invite-only, just like in 1997 and before. The two female hosts walk through the audience to join the male host on stage, greet us all in English and French, have some other shenanigans on stage (and not just on stage, like interacting with Terry Wogan in his commentator booth), praise Dana (International, not the 1970 winner), Izhar Cohen, Gali Atari, and oh my god just start already. Even though it’s only 3 minutes longer than the opening sequence last year, it feels more like 3 hours longer. But finally, we do indeed proceed to the songs. But before that, let me discuss two topics: the language rule and the orchestra (I guess it’s a bit hypocritical of me to complain about drawn-out openings).

I think that dropping both was the right move. I know some people miss the orchestra and go mad over the idea of countries not singing in their native language, but it was an important move to make ESC more marketable and mainstream. The problem was that ESC barely produced hits at the time, and it was because it was unwelcoming to contemporary pop songs. Now, sure, they could’ve just kept the 1997-1998 rules with a free choice between a backing track and live music, but it caused a lot of chaos and confusion, and more and more countries would’ve started to switch to a full backing track anyway, so I’m glad they dropped it earlier than later, especially since more and more countries were joining and they definitely appreciated the reduction in fees this brought as well. Though we’ll definitely be in a bit of an awkward transitional stage where a lot of the song still feel like they were made for an orchestra for the next couple years.

As for the language rule, I don’t think we should be forcing the countries to be singing in their native language. The “everyone sings in English” phase was important for the health of the contest, as ESC got to produce some international hits and establish itself as a contest for actually popular music. Now, that phase won’t start until later, only 10 countries chose to sing in English, as well as Ireland, Malta and the UK, who really don’t count, which means we’re on 13/23, which means we’re on about 43% of native-language songs. In fact, for most of the 2000s, we’ll still have a sizeable amount of countries singing in their native language anyway, without anyone forcing them to, then we’ll have a dip in native-language songs for most of the 2010s, but there’s going to be a revival in the late 2010s and the 2020s, without any rules or requirements. People will just become more receptive to other languages and that’s how it should be. I believe that we’ll soon hear a song in Swedish from Sweden.

As I type all of this, the hosts’ shenanigans come to an end, although the Russian broadcaster lost the phone connection to Jerusalem, so a stand-by commentator in Moscow temporarily took over. It felt quite awkard as he talked over half of the first postcard, although the connection got quickly restored, so we shall move to the songs as well.

Songs

Lithuania - Strazdas

Performed by
Aistė
Language
Lithuanian

And the first song to discuss is the song from Lithuania. But before, the postcards. They’re properly weird and did we really need a religious theme for them? I remember Terry Wogan snarking at every single one, so it’s nice to have commentators that don’t.

Sadly, we start the contest with a song that really would’ve benefitted from an orchestra. With just a backing track, the song really doesn’t have as much impact as it could, but Aistė is more than up to the challenge of elevating the song just with her performance. and I have to say, I quite like it. It’s very esoteric and atmospheric and you all know I like atmospheric songs. Plus she has a really great voice that perfectly fits this song. It’s a shame this got drawn to open though, that was very unlucky since people would be unlikely to remember something unflashy and esoteric like this from the first running spot.

And clearly, I’m right as this only scored 20th (out of 23 participants), which might not be 25th out of 25 with 0 points as last time for Lithuania, but it’s still a pretty poor result. Ethnic songs like this really need to be more accessible for the televoters to appreciate them more. And I don’t think it would’ve done much better with the juries either as none of the countries that used a jury awarded Lithuania any points.

Belgium - Like the Wind

Performed by
Vanessa Chinitor
Language
English

And here’s the first time an entry was performed in English by a non-anglophone country since 1977. Coincidentally, that was Belgium back then, so it’s quite interesting that they’re restarting the era again. Also, the phone connection to Jerusalem got cut off again, so the backup commentator had to step in again - it’s no wonder everything is done via satellite these days.

I’m honestly not sure I would’ve liked it more in Dutch - the language doesn’t really matter here in my opinion. Especially because her singing is so quiet, enough to almost be indistinguishable from the backing track. But I can easily chuck that up to poor sound mixing, it was pretty bad this year, though I’m sure the backing tracks weren’t perfectly produced this year either. Besides, like the Russian commentators have helpfully reminded us, this is a song contest, i.e. the best composition and lyrics, and this is definitely beautifully composed. The lyrics are also pretty cool, though I wish they could be more clear. We’re off to a really nice start here, let’s see if it lasts.

Spain - No quiero escuchar

Performed by
Lydia
Language
Spanish

So, the Russian commentators have given some interesting background on Lydia: the only reason she didn’t sing in English is because, according to her, her English is absolutely horrible. She also really wanted Dana International to win in 1998 and hates folk music (a really popular opinion at the time btw).

But oh my god, that dress is just tragic. I have no idea what the thought process here was. “Let’s dress in the most eye-watering dress ever to make sure people remember us”? Well, it clearly didn’t work as this got last place - and if we were judging this purely on fashion, it would’ve been absolutely deserved.

Musically, it’s actually pretty nice - a chill, laidback pop song with a lovely piano. I’ve had it on my playlist for a while, so I might be a little biased, but I don’t think this deserved last place at all, especially with just one single point. I’d really like to see a detailed televote breakdown for this year as well just to know if this was close to the top 10 in a lot of the countries or if nobody cared to vote for this at all.

Croatia - Marija Magdalena

Performed by
Doris Dragović
Language
Croatian

And here we have Croatia’s former (equal) best result: 4th place. I have to say, I’ve always been a bit iffy on this due to the pre-recorded vocals on the backing track. Sure, it’s just some “whoa-oh-oh-oh"ing, but it just makes me feel weird knowing that they broke the rules (even if that didn’t end up mattering in the end). Was it really that difficult to bring a male backing vocalist along as well? It’s not like the vocal sample is distorted or changed too much, it’s just a straight up recording.

It’s also surprising to me that the organisiers haven’t decided what to do with this yet. The Russian commentators said that the reference group would only be meeting in July to discuss this, which makes absolutely no sense to me, but whatever, the EBU never really made much sense.

As for the song, I honestly do quite like it, though I don’t agree that it should’ve won. It’s a rousing and powerful Eurodancey song - a genre which I hate much less than I probably should. Of course, I don’t love all Eurodance, far from it. But the composition and the performance here are strong enough for me to actually enjoy it.

Also, the Russian commentators are right, her dress does remind me of the dress worn by Leeloo in The Fifth Element.

United Kingdom - Say It Again

Performed by
Precious
Language
English

You five might not like being compared to Spice Girls, but man, you five remind me of Spice Girls a lot. And you lot also can’t harmonise at all. It’s a huge shame, because the UK were on a 6-year streak of me liking their entries before this. The one compliment I’ll give them is that they aren’t out-of-tune, bare minimum achieved. Though they sound pretty bad together, the harmony just isn’t there.

Slovenia - For a Thousand Years

Performed by
Darja Švajger
Language
English

Just like with Belgium, this has noticeable mixing issues. Just like with Belgium, I’ll pull the “song contest” card again because I think it’s actually great. I also think that it’s better in English, shocking, I know. I’ve heard the Slovene version a couple times before and I never found it to be as epic and cinematic as the English version. I also find it very touching, Darja touched my heart back in 1995 and she did it again this year. Curiously, despite the lack of an orchestra, I still find this to be slightly better than Prisluhni mi, although I like both.

Turkey - Dön Artık

Performed by
Tuba Önal and Grup Mistik
Language
Turkish

Before this, the Russian commentators said that Philipp Kirkorov has covered Diva and I had to look it up. I’ve never heard of it before and neither have you (probably), so enjoy.

This is alright, I suppose. It’s fun, fairly accessible and Turkish, but doesn’t do much for me. Turkey will have much better songs in the coming years, so I can’t help but compare this one to those other songs, which might not be the best methodology, but whatever, this is my blog (and I don’t really have anything to say about the song).

Norway - Living My Life Without You

Performed by
Van Eijk
Language
English

That’s some pretty elaborate camerawork, especially for 1999. It makes this a lot more music video-like than it would’ve been otherwise. And the song is pretty fun too, nice and uptempo, performed pretty well - it reminds me of Dance You Off from 2018, though I know that’s a very controversial entry. The only difference is that Stig is a lot more charismatic and didn’t overdo it with making the performance feel like a music video.

Denmark - This Time I Mean It

Performed by
Trine Jepsen and Michael Teschl
Language
English

And here we have it, Denmark has decided that Danish is lame and that radio-friendly pop is the best way to succeed in Eurovision, so that’s what they’ll keep sending almost every year from now on. Though I have a confession to make: I kinda like guitar radio pop (in moderation). Danish entries especially often have nice vibes, be they chill or upbeat. This is firmly on the “chill” side and I actually find it really enjoyable, though I know a lot of people hate it with passion, which is just so undeserved.

Also, the female Russian commentator apparently learned Swedish and she makes the common jokes that Danish sounds like someone’s speaking while choking on a potato, which is just lmao.

France - Je veux donner ma voix

Performed by
Nayah
Language
French

France has entered its flop era results-wise, though I still think they’ve sent plenty of good entries in the 2000s. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those, it’s just there honestly. For the most part, I mean, because at the end, she does an obnoxious operatic note that really kills my enjoyment of this.

Also, lmao at the female commentator throwing shade at Nayah by saying “please note that every performer is singing live. Those are the voices.”

Netherlands - One Good Reason

Performed by
Marlayne
Language
English

I definitely prefer this radio pop song over Denmark’s, but only by a little bit - I feel like Marlayne has a stronger and more confident performance - plus it’s just more catchy, especially the chorus, which I remember quite well (a huge feat for me because I just don’t tend to remember songs, even if I listen to them a thousand times).

Poland - Przytul mnie mocno

Performed by
Mietek Szcześniak
Language
Polish

Apparently, Mietek loves watching Eurovision to learn what’s fashionable these days. I really think he chose the wrong show.

As Edyta’s result in 1994 was wearing out next year, Poland needed something to replace it. In fact, they would’ve needed to get around 130 points to qualify for ESC 2000. Their plan: send a pretty uninteresting ballad with annoying echo effects. Now, Mietek does have a great voice, but that isn’t enough to save this song for me, I really would’ve liked something more upbeat - look, I like ballads, but even I have my limits. Another reason for its relatively poor success could be that it was followed by one of the flashiest and most memorable entries of the year.

Iceland - All Out of Luck

Performed by
Selma
Language
English

Before Iceland, we had a very fun drinking song as an interval act performed by the two female hosts this year - they really just ooze charisma, especially compared to the male host (who, thankfully, wasn’t present during the interval act). Though I do have to question the need for an interval act between two random songs. It probably would’ve fit better as an actual interval act during the voting.

Apparently, Selma considers the number 13 to be her lucky one and wasn’t at all bothered by having to perform under that number. I’ll always support not being superstitious, so you go girl.

But man, what a banger this song is. The intro that instantly hooks you in, the rather memorable choreography and the killer chorus make this completely irresistable. I also really like that it actually does sound like something a Nordic country would sent - danceable, upbeat, peppy and just plain fun. My only criticism would perhaps be that Selma is a bit breathy when she comes in, but she does find her voice pretty quickly and the rest of the song is perfromed flawlessly - well, apart from the sound mixing, which isn’t done well, but again, most songs weren’t mixed well this year.

Cyprus - Tha’ne erotas

Performed by
Marlain
Language
Greek

Apparently, this was a huge online favourite accoring to the polls on Myledbury, as well as the 50th anniversary book, but the draw made Cyprus come between two much flashier entries for the second year in a row, so it did considerably more poorly than it actually could’ve, because it isn’t so bad once it gets going. It’s certainly quite danceable and has a nice melody, which I always enjoy in the heat of the moment. But on the whole, it could’ve been better, there’s some kind of progression lacking - I probably would’ve even taken a keychange near the end, something to make it more memorable.

Sweden - Take Me to Your Heaven

Performed by
Charlotte Nilsson
Language
English

Is this the best song ever made? No. Is it the best song of the evening? Not really, at least in my opinion. Was it a deserved winner? Absolutely, yeah. I don’t necessarily think that it’s mindblowing or anything, it’s a pretty standard Swedish pop song, but I still really like it nonetheless.

Though I much prefer the Swedish version, titled Tusen och en natt. I just feel like it has a better flow to it than the translated version, even though I don’t think it got much worse from being translated. I especially like the Melodifestivalen performance with the orchestra (because Melodifestivalen still had an orchestra for 1999 and 2000), because it feels like it was made with the orchestra in mind with all of the brass flairs and piano rolls, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi. Still, it was a good winner, even translated, although I really wish it had won in Swedish (because I think it really could’ve won in Swedish, it’s still very accessible despite not being in English).

And yes, I have to say it, it does sound very ABBA, especially the piano, but a lot of Swedish music sounds (or at least sounded) very ABBA, after all, they’re the most famous and influential Swedish band, so can I really hold it against the song? I really don’t think I can. Besides, it’s not like just Swedes took a lot from ABBA anyway.

Portugal - Como tudo começou

Performed by
Rui Bandeira
Language
Portuguese

Like I said a couple times already, I really don’t mind radio pop and I think this is pretty nice, if completely uncompetitive. It really is the kind of song that a lot of people will kinda enjoy, but will never pick up their phones and vote for. So far, Portugal has managed to escape relegation, even though there was that 0 point result lurking in their average calculation. This entry only getting 12 points - all from France - would mean relegation for Portugal.

Ireland - When You Need Me

Performed by
The Mullans
Language
English

Honestly, while this isn’t that great, it’s better than the previous Irish ballad. It might be the voices that Bronagh and Karen have - this sort of deep voice fits this kind of song quite well. Although I really do wish we had an orchestra for this as well, it would’ve elevated this for sure. But Ireland might’ve opted to use a backing track just like in 1999 anyway, so it’s hard to complain about it.

Austria - Reflection

Performed by
Bobbie Singer
Language
English

This is honestly really cute. It isn’t particularly remarkable, but it’s quite pleasant and charming - and Bobbie gives a good performance. To be honest, there’s not much to say about this otherwise, but it’s nice. It’s not one of my favourites this year, but I do think it’s nice. I just wish it had more variation, it feels like the song drags on too much because of the repetition. And I don’t like the abrupt ending either, which brings it down in my rankings.

At the end of the performance, the female commentator told the female viewers to take note of her clothes since this is going to be the peak of fashion tomorrow and to begin sewing and tailoring their clothes. I love her dry, sarcastic humour - it’s so different from Terry Wogan’s bluntness.

Israel - Happy Birthday

Performed by
Eden
Language
Hebrew, English

Is this amazing? Not really. But it is a lot of fun? Yeah. These guys have a very fun energy on stage and harmonise really well - it’s a boyband done right (even though the song doesn’t have a huge boyband vibe). I also really like the mixing of languages here, it definitely adds something (in general, I like a song that mixes languages well - which most entries of this era don’t, so let me savour one of the good ones). Israel will do this a lot - mixing languages together (mostly Hebrew and English, though they’ll also mix in French, Arabic and bits of Greek and Spanish in the future as well). Also, this does the thing where it strips the instrumentation down to just the percussion before the key change, which adds to the hype a little bit.

Also, this is really well-known in Israel (from what I gather) and is played at every birthday party. Honestly, good for them, it’s a fun song and really does have a party mood to it. So basically, well done, Israel, this was fun.

Malta - Believe ’n Peace

Performed by
Times Three
Language
English

Now this is the kind of Eurodance I really don’t appreciate. My main issue is that the performance has zero energy to it, I really don’t believe in fun (as they sing). And they can’t harmonise at all either, which is kinda supposed to be the point of groups performing, right?

Germany - Journey to Jerusalem – Kudüs’e Seyahat

Performed by
Sürpriz
Language
German, Turkish, English

And here we have the 15th entry by Ralph Siegel. Well, he’s had about a billion entries in German NFs up to this point as well, but this is the 15th one that actually went to Eurovision.

According to the commentator, the camel they used during the recording of the clip spit at the man behind the keyboard and tried to throw him off. She actually sounded quite sorry while talking about it and I would too, camels are a piece of work.

Cookiefonster loves it, but I find it to be just fine. I mean, the melody is memorable (which is good, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from Ralph Siegel - the man knows what he’s doing), but it feels too preachy for me. While I know that there’s no actual religious subtext here, but it just gives me gospel vibes and I can’t help it. Still, it’s not a bad song in a vacuum, but I’m judging this based on my personal subjective preference, so yeah.

Also, congrats to these guys for being a replacement choice and still managing to come 3rd - that’s really impressive and worth a remark.

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Putnici

Performed by
Dino and Béatrice
Language
Bosnian, French

And here’s one of the entries that’s just impossible to find on YouTube - aside from rehearsal footage uploaded by Dino Merlin himself. It really takes me back to the 80s contests with every Turkish entry very thoroughly scrubbed by TRT.

Anyway, I really love this. Like I said in my review of Stemmen i mit liv from 1997, I like rap entries in Eurovision because they feel more melodic than regular rap. I also really like the French choruses, even if they’re just simple conjugations of the verbs “être” and “avoir”, which feels a bit forced, but also fits the theme of the song: that they’re travellers and they (but I feel like it’s meant to be the other “they” - the “they” that aren’t the protagonists of the song. I wish more languages had proximal and distal pronouns, which solve this annoying issue).

The verses are really good too, they have a nice instrumentation that’s an absolute pleasure to listen to with violins and guitars. It sounds ethnic, but not inaccessible, which is good. And, of course, Dino and Béatrice have quite the chemistry together. It was definitely made with love, which makes sense, since Dino is a great and experienced composer, songwriter and performer. It also makes sense that it really does feel like a song that really fits him as he wrote and composed it himself.

After the performance, the Russian commentator remarks that it was interesting to hear them conjugating the French verbs and says that Bosnia must have a razor shortage.

Estonia - Diamond of Night

Performed by
Evelin Samuel and Camille
Language
English

Lady, please stop making eye contact with me, it’s creepy. But disregarding this, it’s actually really good. We started the year off with something esoteric and mysterious by a Baltic country and we end the year with something esoteric and mysterious by a Baltic country, but this one’s in English.

But yeah, this is actually a really good closer, especially after an evening filled with upbeat dance entries. It gives the viewers a chance to calm down and unwind, which is not a philosophy shared by the producers these days, but I personally prefer this kind of closers to the traditional happy, but chanceless, entries.

Final thoughts

Honestly, I think this year is a bit overhated. Sure, it’s a bit of a mixed bag overall, with the production not being as good as 1998, but the songs were mostly a sidegrade compared to that year. I can’t say they were much worse or much better, they were just different. But I’m also a shameless enjoyer of cheesy pop and Eurodance, so maybe I’m not an objective judge here. But this really does start a new era for Eurovision, it’s very hard to argue with that.

The Russian broadcast had an ad break during the voting, which makes sense as Russia wasn’t voting, but I do want to make a remark on the recaps shown here: they’re taken from rehearsal clips, not live performances (the technology just wansn’t there yet), which is especially noticeable with Bosnia’s performance as Dino Merlin was wearing glasses in the rehearsal, but not the actual performance.

The interval act was pretty cool too, it started off with some elaborate dances set to some contemporary music, which then transformed into Dana International singing a song by Stevie Wonder, which is quite a cool idea. It definitely kept me entertained while the votes were being counted.

Speaking of the voting, it was a pretty tight race between Sweden and Iceland. It wasn’t until the votes from Bosnia and Herzegovina - the 22nd country to vote - that it became impossible for Iceland to catch Sweden. The Russian commentators also talked about bloc voting a bit, but unlike Terry Wogan, they also said that Ireland and the UK vote for each other. But, for the most part, they just covered the history of Eurovision and I’m not really interested in that (I know everything they’ve mentioned already, I’ve seen all of the shows already), but I’m sure the viewers at the time appreciated that, so I can’t really be too mad.

But yeah, this year might’ve been a bit of a mixed bag, but the next year will be an even more of a mixed bag. While means that I’ll see you all in Sweden, for a huge upgrade in production for the new millennium and a completely new Eurovision Song Contest. See you all in Stockholm’s Globen stadium.

Results

I’ve decided to add a new fancy thing: an indication of how different my ranking is from the real one. A positive number means that it’s moved up compared to the real life, a negative number means that it’s moved down and an equals sing means that it has stayed the same

  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina - Putnici (+6)
  2. Iceland - All Out of Luck (=)
  3. Slovenia - For a Thousand Years (+8)
  4. Sweden - Take Me to Your Heaven (-3)
  5. Croatia - Marija Magdalena (-1)
  6. Belgium - Like the Wind (+6)
  7. Estonia - Diamond of Night (-1)
  8. Lithuania - Strazdas (+12)
  9. Israel - Happy Birthday (-4)
  10. Netherlands - One Good Reason (-2)
  11. Denmark - This Time I Mean It (-3)
  12. Norway - Living My Life Without You (+2)
  13. Germany - Journey to Jerusalem – Kudüs’e Seyahat (-10)
  14. Portugal - Como tudo começou (+7)
  15. Spain - No quiero escuchar (+8)
  16. Austria - Reflection (-6)
  17. Cyprus - Tha’ne erotas (+5)
  18. Turkey - Dön Artık (-2)
  19. Ireland - When You Need Me (-2)
  20. Poland - Przytul mnie mocno (-2)
  21. France - Je veux donner ma voix (-2)
  22. United Kingdom - Say It Again (-10)
  23. Malta - Believe ’n Peace (-8)

Winners

  • Austria - 1 (1965)
  • Belgium - 1 (1961)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina - 1 (1999)
  • Cyprus - 2 (1992, 1995)
  • Denmark - 2 (1963, 1989)
  • Finland - 2 (1974, 1985)
  • France - 4 (1969, 1976, 1977, 1979)
  • Germany - 3 (1957, 1972, 1978)
  • Israel - 1 (1988)
  • Italy - 3 (1958, 1983, 1990)
  • Luxembourg - 3 (1956, 1964, 1973)
  • Malta - 1 (1991)
  • Monaco - 2 (1968, 1970)
  • Netherlands - 1 (1959)
  • Norway - 2 (1966, 1996)
  • Poland - 1 (1997)
  • Portugal - 2 (1967, 1984)
  • Russia - 1 (1994)
  • Slovenia - 1 (1993)
  • Spain - 2 (1971, 1982)
  • Sweden - 2 (1962, 1980)
  • Switzerland - 2 (1981, 1986)
  • Turkey - 1 (1975)
  • United Kingdom - 2 (1960, 1998)
  • Yugoslavia - 1 (1987)