In 1999 it was also decided that France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, as the highest-paying European Broadcasting Union members, would automatically be allowed to participate every year, irrespective of their five-year point average. For the first time since the 1970s participants were free to choose which language they performed in. In a controversial move, the orchestra became an optional requirement in 1999 meaning that for the first time in the history of the contest, all entries would perform using a backing track.
Latvia intended to take part this year but the country withdrew at a late stage, giving the opportunity to Hungary, but Hungarian TV didn't accept the offer either. As a result, the 23rd spot was given to Portugal. Due to their lower average scores over the previous five contests, Finland, Greece, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Switzerland stayed at home.
The Cypriot entry performed by Marlain had been one of the favourites to win the contest but the song received only two points in total. The Croatian entry Maria Magdalena was sanctioned after the contest, as it used synthesized male backing vocals despite the rule stating that all vocals would have to be performed live on stage. Croatia lost 33% of their points, giving it a lower five-year average.
Sweden's Charlotte Nilsson won the contest with Take Me To Your Heaven. The song had been seen as rather old-fashioned in Sweden but the audience thought differently. Take Me To Your Heaven won at a time when ABBA were enjoying a revival in the European charts and the similarities in musical style were noted by the media. Sweden beat off strong competition from Iceland which achieved its best ever placing in 1999.