So, here we are. The last scheduled Country Spotlight for now (though I may write more if I feel inspired and there’s always the 2020 off-season to patch up dry spells), and it’s on perhaps the defining player of the 2010s. No, it’s not Sweden or Russia or another staple. It’s the new kid on the block, or rather an old hapless country which erased its dark history to become a permanent overdog contender: Ladies and gentlemen, we drop below sea level, not to hug cows or walk alpacas, but to inspect our latest winning nation: THE NETHERLANDS.
But first, the usual disclaimer:
This post is an editorial and therefore heavily prone towards subjectivity, as well as strong opinions and speculation. Anything stated beyond this point is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of ESC United as a whole or its other editors.
BETTER THAN YOU
I will get my personal opinion on the Netherlands out first, so that I can bring it back up later on: I really like the Netherlands in ESC. I love nearly all of their early ESC entries (they’re far and away my favourite country in the 60s, and solidly top tier in the 70s, 80s and 90s as well). However, when I ranked all of the 2010 songs on my tumblr last June, only the Big Three made my top 100 and unlike most End-of-Decade lists, neither “Birds” (#53), nor “Arcade” (#95) nor “Calm after the Storm” (#82) reached my top 50 for the decade. Something was missing for me.
What that special ‘something’ is, I’ll get to later. Let us first celebrate that the Netherlands actually managed to procure good ranking results on lists all over the internet in the first place. The nillies were daurk en foel uf terrers, a dank pool of base mediocrity, especially for the Netherlands who continuously sent in dated entries with a very low base fun factor, which upon the advent of semifinals immediately relegated them to Eurovision’s garbage tier, along with any other country in a desperate need for a reality check.
Nobody’s struggle was harsher than the Dutch though, who NQ’d for eight years in a row – the longest non-qualifier streak in all of Eurovision. Yet, somehow, a mere 10 years after terrorizing us with The Floppers (a contender for worst Eurovision entry of all time), the Netherlands are back to their top tier ESC nation status and even managed to top things off with a fifth victory.
Of course, the Netherlands have their own bread and butter which led them to their latest win. On the surface, you may think these staples are ‘Country Music’ and ‘Hans Pannecoucke’ and that’s certainly not far off. AVROTROS have relied on Mr. Pancake in most of their stagings, and country pop (a heavily popular Dutch genre outside ESC as well) has often been the genre of choice, but this barely scratches the surface.
The main weapon in the Dutch arsenal has been their willingness to take Eurovision seriously and treat it with the respect it deserves. Fans and critics alike often see Eurovision as a ‘campfest’, a ‘gay armada’, a true ‘carnival of death’, offering us the ‘best of bad music’. In fact, this is how Eurovision is still perceived by a certain country and I promised Sean I wouldn’t name names but *cough*itstheUK*cough* (no wonder they consistently send in underwhelming joke entries, huh?). But as I’ve written many times in my editorials, Eurovision went off that dead-horse-beaten path to evolve into a somewhat prestigious international music festival. The Netherlands were one of the five driving forces behind this shift (along with Sweden, Italy, Azerbaijan and, strangely enough, Germany), when they turned the contest on its damn head by delegating one of their biggest stars to the 2013 contest: Anouk (Teeuwe).
Now, while Anouk is certainly a controversial figure (and a generally misunderstood one at that!) and “Birds” may not have been her best song, her participation is one of several key performances that facilitated the aforementioned quality shift. In previous years, Lena Meyer-Landrut had already punched sizeable holes Eurovision’s schmalz-silly-schlager façade by winning with a credible chartpop song and finishing 10th with a show-stopping avant garde spectacle (“Taken by a stranger” is yours truly’s favourite entry of the 2010s!), setting the stage for Loreen’s existential battering ram which has since then won and retained the title of “Most Popular Eurovision Entry” of all times. Anouk further shaped the playing field, by proving that Big Names can provide Big Results and entries don’t have to be camp, cliché or extroverted to be enjoyed, which further paved the way for a more diverse metagame.
More importantly, however, Anouk provided a lifeline for future success for the Dutch, who immediately pounced on the opportunity and delivered their best entry since the seventies the year thereafter.
“Calm after the storm” was a stroke of visionary brilliance. Nobody had really tried to treat an ESC entry like a film fragment before until Hans Pannecouke used his signature Von Trier-like camerawork (take a look at Ilse and convince me she isn’t Grace from Dogville) and gloomy colour scheme to enhance the song’s inner melancholy and hopeless optimism.
Since then, the Dutch have worked on perfecting their winning formula. The central axis around which their production mill spun was a dedicated respect for the contest itself. The Dutch treated ESC like it were a prestigious music show (even if it weren’t at the time) and adapted their entries accordingly. Each of their entries meant business. Each of their entries were doused in care and meticulous planning. This well-oiled production machine left very little to chance when it came to their songs. I don’t feel like I should further explain why. Good music sells itself.
With all of these positive changes under the belt, it seemed a given the Dutch would win soon and now they have. I am honestly surprised they didn’t win sooner? It’s not like Trijntje, Douwe, OG3NE and Waylon were ever in contention to win, but AVROTROS should’ve been able to produce better results overall.
You see, this is where I harp back to my intro: I love the Netherlands in this decade, but not very passionately, because behind the flawless façade lie several sins that stop me from fully committing myself to their cause. Or at least one very big flaw: Elitism.
I’m not sure when the Dutch success actually went to their heads but if it hasn’t then they’re sure-as-hell doing a good job acting like it. This may sound harsh, but many people outside of the Netherlands really dislike the Hollanders because there’s this ‘impression’ that people from Holland consider themselves better than everyone else – including the other Dutch cultural groups such as the Flemings, Frisians and the Limburgers. (No wonder the Netherlands no longer want to be called Holland, :teehee:)
This manifests itself in the thicker-than-thieves mentality of the Dutch fanbase, which often borders on toxic (dare to even speak one bad word about a beloved Dutch entry and you’ll be flooded with passive-aggressive defensiveness by the endless cabal of rabid Dutch fanboys & -girls), but in other ways as well: I could rant endlessly about the smear campaign Maastricht had to endure before getting unfairly snubbed by the EBU over Rotterdam – despite having a venue and a fully-fledged hosting plan they had been working on for five years while the other candidate cities could barely muster a semi-coherent bid – all because the loud AF Hollanders had to wag their mouth muscles and paint Maastricht as a backwoods town – in jest, but international media soon picked up on it without picking up on the tongue-in-cheek context and started to believe the odious drivel. BULLYING WON. AUX ARMES CITOYENS, FORMEZ VOS BATAILLONS!! #StandWithMaastricht.
The worst part is that this brand of Better-Than-You-Behaviour has oozed itself into the staging of several Dutch entries as well, meaning that I can’t just let bygones be bygones and now have to face the wrath of countless irate Dutch tinder gays once this article goes live. Oh well, c’est la vie.
The first glaring example of Dutch pedantry came as early as 2015, with Trijntje Oosterhuis’s fatally banal “Walk along” (if the Dutch renaissance were a sandwich, Trijntje would be the iceberg lettuce in that sandwich). DressGate was enough of an indicator how badly AVROTROS misread their audience, but the real disaster was the act itself, which they sprinkled with small insipid details nobody could every be bothered to give two rotten shits about (the L-O-V-E spelled in blacklight fluid on her fingers, that stupid veil, the one-take camerawork). Did it serve a purpose? Beats me.
The second example however, was much, much worse. “Outlaw in ’em” is a contender for the worst staging found in the past decade. Its act was incongruent, pseudo-colonial, and obnoxiously American. The inclusion of krumping somehow managed to add racial controversy to a song which at its core was about being different. This was however merely another side effect from the Dutch delegation once again misreading what audiences like or care about. In order to understand the logic behind staging, one had to:
1) recognize the shown dance moves as krumping.
2) know in advance what krumping was and where it originated from.
3) understand the connection between krumping and “everyone being a bit of an outlaw”.
and of course:
4) care about any of the aforementioned.
That’s a lot of boxes a casual audience member is supposed to check. Considering that most casuals almost never care going in, not many casuals understood the staging at all.
And sadly “Arcade” suffered from the same bad case of ‘Meaningitis” as well. Rare is the act which turns 60+% blowout winner odds into a consensus winner who won neither the televote nor the jury vote. That IKEA orb suspended by cables so thick you could see them standing at the back of the arena was an iffy decision, that momentum-slaying, H I D E O U S piano, a nearly fatal one.
As one could have expected, all the Dutch pedants, led by ‘Mr. Eurovision’ himself, Cornald Maas (you’re a grown man, consider a title-change), immediately mobilized to attempt drowning out the disgruntled murmurs with silly, self-serving arguments:
“Um, that piano is a ~vintage model~ used by Peter Gabriel when composing his great hit-“
It doesn’t matter that the piano was a ‘key vintage model’ if the average viewer can’t distinguish between it and the average dilapidated synthesizer a street musician might use. Did it have a connection to Duncan or the message of his song? No. The only purpose behind including the piano, and the krumping and all the other little specs of ‘whatever, pleb’ the Dutch have flaked into their acts, appear to have been to allow AVRTROS to flex towards other delegations how smart and lateral their staging concepts were when in reality they flew over more people’s heads than the average Pannecouke wideshot. AVROTROS have started to openly boast how great they are at Eurovision, which is honesly, one of the least cute characteristics one can display.
It is important to stress this because it may prove detrimental to the Netherlands in the future. It almost was, in fact. “Arcade” was a slam dunk winner and almost lost because it was presented in the most painfully self-masturbatory fashion possible. Yet I fear that AVROTROS might feel vindicated in their approach since Duncan won anyway, even though each “Arcade” fan that I spoke to disliked its staging with unanimity. The Dutch have, to their credit, engineered their own rise to stardom, by pushing for quality and forcing the rest of Europe to keep pace with them. They now risk reverse-engineering their progress by alienating their fellow competitors with their staging know-it-all atittude.
Going forward, the future doesn’t look as certain for the Netherlands as I wish it did. “Birds” was a great start to an inspirational rags-to-riches tale, but this story arch has now been bookended by Duncan’s victory. The Netherlands have become one of the apex countries at the top of the food chain. Now what?
The Dutch will now have to rely on what they have learned during those 7 fruitful years to maintain their place among Eurovision’s elite, as the playing field around them changes. They have learned how to produce good credible pop, but this will stop being an advantage very soon. I wish “Arcade” had been the final proof of mastering the formula, but the flaws behind its production (independent from KAN’s ubiquitous ‘technical problems’) indicate the Dutch haven’t yet. Duncan may have been humble and charming, but the team supporting him wasn’t and it will be that team, not Duncan, who we’ll be seeing at future contests. With the infamous hosting curse lurking, the Dutch have to be very careful not to fall victim to its icy breath.
Their homework is to remain likable and not behave like they’re the smartest pupil in class, regardless of whether they are or not. However, if their behaviour continues the way it is currently, the Dutch will soon learn that the lone tree on a mountain top is struck by lightning faster than anything else.
And that concludes my final Country Spotlight for now 🙂 With National Finals season starting, the time has come to cease the idle spec’ing and see what the other countries will do as opposed to what they may do. Let me know if #YOU enjoyed my editorials and what countries you’d like to read about in future ones. Thank you for reading and Happy NF Season!
Past Country Spotlights:
AUSTRALIA – NOTHING HOLDING THEM DOWN
AZERBAIJAN – A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
BELGIUM – Sometimes It Feels Like It’s Meant To Be Broken
BULGARIA – Brand New Old
CZECH REPUBLIC – Survival of the Hippest
MOLDOVA – Miracle Memelords
NORWAY – the Northern Lights Are Dancing
POLAND – Anyone You Want To Be
SLOVENIA – Crouching Tigers, Hidden Treasures
SPAIN – Growing Spains
Do #YOU agree with Boris? Did #YOU enjoy this editorial? What do #YOU think of the Dutch’s chances at the upcoming Eurovision? Let us know in the comments, on social media or on our forum!