In the aftermath of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool I wrote an op-ed for Songfestival.be, a Flemish fan medium. This is a translation and slight adaptation, as the original was written fit for the Songfestival.be audience. Belgium won the ESC only once, in 1986 with Sandra Kim singing ‘J’aime la vie’.
It’s already over. Every year between roughly January and mid-May, the tension around the Eurovision Song Contest builds itself up nicely. First there are the announcements, then there are the pre-parties and then there is the week itself. On Sunday we wake up with a biological and/or emotional hangover. And again, Belgium did not win. “When all is said and done”, ABBA sings, and I wonder if Belgium can ever win the ESF at all.
Outside the comfort zone
This is not an attack on Belgium’s representative Gustaph, who ended up a pretty 7th. Gustaph performed ‘Because of You‘ flawlessly. The act was good. Songfestival.be wrote how popular Gustaph was in the bubble of the ‘summer camp’ Eurovision Song Contest. Local fans, professional media and fan media had embraced him enthusiastically. Flanders‘ anointed ESC commentator Peter Van de Veire referred to it.
Culture editor Filip Tielens wrote in ‘What have we learned from Gustaph? Dare to colour outside the lines, VRT‘ (De Standaard, 14.05.2023) how professionally Gustaph and his colleagues had approached the participation. Team Gustaph clearly wholeheartedly loves the Festival and has therefore taken the competition with all possible seriousness, which has translated into their commitment.
The story of being challenged in life, being able to be yourself and daring. But not with the general public and moderately with professional juries. Professionals who, as far as I know, follow the ESC from a closed studio in their own country and are not at the summer camp.
No, Loreen won. Eurovision country Sweden. ‘Tattoo‘ is really not the best song ever. That’s not a problem, it happens more often that the winner is not the best song of the edition. Even though it clearly contains ingredients from other songs, including her own ‘Euphoria‘.
This year specifically, the Swedish entry feels too strategic: “Sending Loreen – much loved by many – to definitely win to celebrate 50 years of ‘Waterloo‘ in Sweden.”
Sweden deservedly won. The song and the performance were good. The story was beautiful. And Loreen is a popular brand with Eurovision fans. First in the jury vote, second in the popular vote. Then you are a deserved winner.
And what about Belgium?
Only, Belgium also had a good song, a flawless performance and a story that resonated. What can you do against a giant like Sweden and, by extension, a power bloc like Scandinavia?
Is that it? Do we miss unconditional cultural friends? Like Greece and Cyprus. Except this year.
Belgium also does not have a diaspora like Eastern European craftspeople and other workers in the West and Jewish communities all over Europe. My apologies for these clichés. But it is not surprising that these diasporas have local SIM cards and therefore support the heimat from their country of residence.
Should we blame others? Should we blame ourselves? Maybe we don’t take the ESF seriously enough?
Just like top sports actually. Belgium wins few medals because as a population we insufficiently appreciate top sports and the sacrifices that go with it. Ordinary is crazy enough in Belgium.
Go to a stage or musical premiere with an ‘evening attire’ dress code and you will hardly see anyone in a black tie or cocktail dress. However, that is what is meant. Doing something the way it should be done, we don’t do that in Belgium. That’s too much to ask. Let’s face it, we tend to be lazy rather than tired. “Is that really necessary?”, would be a better national slogan than “Strength through unity”.
What should we do to dominate the narrative and the bookies? How do we ensure that the Eurovision community and bookmakers see Belgium as a serious title contender?
I only see one possibility. Both Flemish public broadcasting company VRT and Walloon broadcasting company RTBF and the festival-loving public in Belgium must build on Gustaph’s example: total commitment, flawless singing, a good song and of course a song that appeals. The latter is the hardest to predict. Do you go for what is trending, or do you go against the grain?
The next few years working on a reputation of a potential winner and finishing top ten, top five every time. Show your ambitions. Europe and the Eurovision community show that we mean business every year. And then who knows, send Gustaph again in ten years.
The popularity of the Swedish preliminary rounds confirms this statement. Just like the Italian festival of Sanremo, from which the Eurovision Song Contest was born, by the way.
If we get to that point… then maybe, just maybe.
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