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An 'Arcade' of songs: The Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest

17 January 2020 at 16:00 CET
Duncan Laurence wins the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Thomas Hanses
The Netherlands is 1 of the 7 original Eurovision Song Contest participating countries, making their debut in the first contest in 1956. To date, they have 61 entries, 52 in the Grand Final, and have won the competition a total of 5 times. In honour of the country's upcoming contest hosting, let’s look back at some of the highlights over their long Eurovision history.

Early birds

Jetty Paerl from the Netherlands was the first act to ever perform on stage at the Eurovision Song Contest, making De Vogels van Holland (The birds of Holland) the very first entry in the competition. The nation has a tradition of being early birds in Eurovision; they also opened the Contest in 1965, 1967, 1970, 1975 and 2001, a record 6 times. They have also performed as song number 2 or song number 3 on 7 occasions, so the Dutch entry has been performed from 1 of the first positions 13 times, or during 25% of their participation in the Grand Final.

'Corry van NEDERLAND'

In that first contest of 1956, every country participated with 2 songs. Jetty was not the only singer to represent the Netherlands; Corry Brokken was also sent to Lugano to perform the second entry of her country, Voorgoed Voorbij (Gone forever). In the end, she was far from 'gone forever': she participated again the following year in Frankfurt am Main with Net Als Toen (Just like then).

The Netherlands are declared the winners in 1957 HR/ARD

It was a good decision, as Corry won the competition granting the Netherlands their first victory and also their first hosting in 1958 in Hilversum. There, Corry participated yet again, this time with less success as Heel De Wereld (The whole world) placed last. Corry came back to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976, this time as the host of the show, 1 of the 4 times that the Netherlands have hosted Eurovision so far.

In 1959 in Cannes, the Dutch broadcaster sent somebody new to sing a song called Een Beetje (A little). Thanks to a jolly performance from Teddy Scholten, the Netherlands won the Eurovision Song Contest for the second time, becoming the most successful country in terms of victories in Eurovision's 4 year history. The following year, the Netherlands declined the invitation to organize the Contest so soon again, and the 1960 competition moved to London instead.

The sixties debacle

Fortunes reversed quickly as the next decade didn’t start so successfully for the Netherlands. The country struggled to rank inside the Top 10 for 9 contests, managing it only twice that decade, in 1961 with Greetje Kauffeld and in 1964 with Anneke Grönloh. They also came (joint) last on 3 occasions: 1962, 1963 and 1968.

But that streak of bad results came to an end abruptly with the third Dutch Eurovision victory in 1969. In the Contest held in Madrid, there were 4 winners, one of them being Lenny Kuhr representing the Netherlands with De Troubadour, an evergreen in the Dutch pop music scene.

Seeking the fourth

There were plenty of options to choose from as a result of the 4-way tie in 1969; eventually, Amsterdam was chosen to host the fifteenth Eurovision Song Contest by the drawing of lots. The 1970s introduced several changes in the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest, one of them was to allow groups to participate in the contest from 1971 onwards.

In 1970, the Dutch broadcaster chose a female trio, The Hearts Of Soul, to represent them on home soil, but for Eurovision, they had to be re-arranged as one lead and two backing singers and were presented as Patricia and The Hearts of Soul. Their song Waterman (Aquarius), which opened the contest, placed 7th.

In 1971, 1972 and 1974, the Netherlands sent mixed duos to compete in Eurovision and met good results: 6th, 4th and 3rd for Saskia & Serge, Sandra & Andres and Mouth & McNeal respectively. These results built up to the country’s fourth victory in 1975 with the group Teach In. Their song Ding-A-Dong, the first song in competition in the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm that year, became the first of 3 songs ever to have won after being the first song in the running order.

Eurovision in The Hague

The Netherlands were back to hosting duties in 1976 and 1980, both times in The Hague, and contributed some more groups to Eurovision: Harmony in 1978 and Xandra in 1979. Xandra featured Sandra Reemer, from the 1972 duo, on lead vocals. She also sang the home entry at the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest, The Party's Over Now, this time as a soloist, placing 9th.

Israel won the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem but declined to stage the Contest for the second year in a row. There were some delays in deciding which would be the host in 1980, until the Dutch broadcaster stepped in to host the 25th Eurovision Song Contest, once again in The Hague. As a result of these delays, the 1980 contest was hastily arranged and Dutch TV NOS had to re-use most of the stage from 1976, the last time they hosted the contest.

Maggie McNeal, one half of the 1974 duo Mouth & McNeal, which came third with I See A Star, also returned to the contest as a solo artist, but in The Hague she sang a song about Amsterdam, which resulted in a Top 5 placing. The only other entry in the 1980s decade to match that success was 1987’s Rechtop In De Wind (Upright in the wind) performed by Marcha.

Besides them, the Netherlands landed in the Top 10 in 3 other contests of the eighties: 9th in 1981 with Linda Williams' Het Is Een Wonder (It’s a miracle), 7th in 1983 with Bernadette’s Sing Me A Song and 9th in 1988 with Shangri-La.

The relegation years

Up to 1984, the Netherlands participated every year, but, for the first time since their debut in 1956, the Dutch were absent from the Eurovision Song Contest in 1985 as the date coincided with their Remembrance Day, a situation repeated in 1991.

In some of the Contests in the 1990s, the Dutch entries were among the favourites to win the competition, something that never materialized with a victory. Some of those songs managed to become national big hits, like Ruth Jacott’s Vrede in 1993 (6th), 1996’s De Eerste Keer with Maxine & Franklin Brown (7th) and Hemel en Aarde in 1998, which Edsilia Rombley took to 4th place. This was the Netherland’s best placing in Eurovision since 1975’s win. This would not be the last time we heard her name: Edsilia came back to the Contest in 2007, failing to qualify for the Grand Final, and will be back in Rotterdam next May as one of the hosts:

In the nineties, the Eurovision Song Contest opened up to the participation of countries in the Eastern block and a relegation system was put in place. The Netherlands suffered from the expansion twice, after the low ranking of their 1994 entry, Waar Is De Zon (Where is the sun) for which Willeke Alberti took to 23rd, and their 18th place achieved in 2001 with Michelle's Out On My Own. That meant that the Netherlands was forced to miss the 1995 and 2002 contests.

The dark years

The Netherlands went through an even darker period in the Eurovision Song Contest than that of the sixties. In 2003, they were back with Esther Hart’s One More Night, which placed 13th, nearly missing direct qualification for the Grand Final of 2004. That meant the Netherlands had to participate in the first-ever televised Semi-Final in Istanbul in 2004. In the end, the duo Re-Union, and their song Without You, qualified for the Final but placed 20th.

Re-Union’s result meant that the Netherlands had to participate in the Semi-Final yet again the year after. From 2005 until 2012, the country failed to qualify for the Grand Final in what has been, to this day, the longest span without qualifying for any country participating in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Even if some of the Dutch entries in those years were hotly tipped to reach the Grand Final, none of them managed to get through the Semi-Final stage, including Glennis Grace with My Impossible Dream in 2005, the highly popular Dutch group De Toppers in 2009 with Shine or the aforementioned Edsilia in 2007 with On Top Of The World.

A new hope

Despite a revamped national selection in 2012 produced by Dutch media tycoon John De Mol, the Netherlands failed to qualify for the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest for the eighth year in a row. Later that year, Dutch broadcaster TROS confirmed that the popular singer/songwriter Anouk had been chosen internally to represent the country in 2013. In Malmö, Anouk succeeded with her song Birds, bringing her country to the Eurovision Final for the first time since 2004, placing in the Top 10.

The year after, another internal selection brought Ilse DeLange and Waylon, as The Common Linnets, to the Eurovision stage in Copenhagen. Their song Calm After The Storm allowed their fans to dream of victory for the Netherlands for the first time since 1975. The duo finished in second place behind Conchita Wurst. The song became one of the biggest international hits from the Contest in recent years.

The fifth victory

Due to this success, more internal selections followed, with the Dutch qualification ratio improving vastly since ‘the dark years’: all the entries from the Netherlands - barring one in 2015 - have reached the Grand Final of Eurovision since 2013. Douwe Bob, OG3NE and Waylon paved the road for a new Dutch victory.

It finally happened in 2019, no less than 44 years after the last, thanks to newcomer Duncan Laurence and his intimate pop ballad Arcade, which became the favourite to win in Tel Aviv immediately after its release. It did, with 498 points.

Arcade has put the Netherlands third at the Winners’ Table of the Eurovision Song Contest, behind Ireland with 7 victories and Sweden with 6. They tie with the United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg with 5 trophies each and surpass Israel which gained its fourth triumph with Netta.

Eurovision 2019 Leaderboard EBU

And this is how we come to the end of the story, with the next chapter already in the making. The Netherlands will host the 65th Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam where they will be represented by Jeangu Macrooy, who won’t need to worry about qualifying as he will represent the host nation in the Grand Final on Saturday 16 May!

For more information, take a look at our history page about the Netherlands.