The history of Belgium in the Eurovision Song Contest tells two stories. The Idiosyncrasy of Belgium makes its two main public broadcasters, RTBF for the French-speaking part and VRT for the Flemish part, participate in alternate years. It also tell stories of highs and lows. But today... we’re going to focus on the best of Belgium in the Eurovision Song Contest!
If we look at their recent results in the Eurovision Song Contest, one might think Belgium is a fairly successful country in the competition. But it wasn’t always like that. There have been some highs and ...and many lows. Belgium was the last of the original seven participants debuting in the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 that managed to win the contest. Luxembourg and France had already won five times each when Belgium was yet to win for the first time, having only had amassed a handful of top-5 entries in thirty years.
Alternating: The early years
Looking at their results over the years, we can see that Belgium achieved at least a top-10 entry each decade. Not only they alternated broadcasters, they also alternated bad and good results. In the early years they even alternated singers: One of the two singers they sent in 1956, Fud Leclerc, also represented Belgium in 1958, 1960 and 1962 — the first four times RTBF took part. Was he particularly successful? Well, he achieved what would be Belgium’s best result in ten years with his 1958 entry, Ma Petite Chatte, a fifth place out of the ten entries that year. He also came last with zero points in 1962, which is probably why he wasn’t send for the fifth time.
In between his participations, in the uneven years, it was VRT’s turn to send entries and even if they offered more variety, they also sent the same artist, Bob Benny, twice, in 1959 and 1961. That means that between 1958 and 1962 the same two artists represented Belgium. None of the Flemish entries in those early years was particularly successful, but it is interesting to note that Bob Benny’s sixth place in 1959 (out of 11 entries) with Hou Toch Van Mij is, still to this date, tying for the best placing of Flanders in the competition.
A little bit of pepper, a little bit of salt
Another interesting fact from this first decade is that Belgium only sent one female singer. Maybe thinking in a recipe for success they came up with Un Peu De Poivre Un Peu De Sel again alternating, this time in the lyrics of the song, a bit of pepper with a bit of salt, performed by the jolly Tonia, who took her country to fourth place. She improved Fud’s record fifth place and it would be Belgium’s best result for more than a decade. It is also the first song that makes it into our top-10, at #8.
The Flemish didn’t seem to believe that the gender of their singer mattered at all and sent another male singer twice. In 1967 with Ik Heb Zorgen and in 1969 with Jennifer Jennings singer Louis Neefs achieved two 7th placings for his country, improving the average results of the previous decade. In between RTBF sent another female singer, Claude Lombard, who also placed 7th and maybe that’s why in 1970 they went back for a male soloist. Jean Vallée placed 8th with Viens L’Oublier, which ended this string of nice results for Belgium.
Not being able to decide if sending male or female singers, the era of the duets began. From 1971 to 1973 Belgium entered three mixed couples to represent them at the Eurovision Song Contest with disastrous results. Even if they came last, the duo they sent in 1973, Nicole & Hugo are still remembered as Eurovision favourites thanks to their purple flared one pieces and their lively performance of Baby Baby. It was not the first and it wouldn’t be the last: Belgium has had far more last placings (8) than winners (1).
A trophy in sight
Again, Belgium proved they do better as the decade progresses. They were back in the top-10 in 1974 with Fleur De Liberté by Jacques Hustin (9th), in 1976 with Pierre Rapsat’s Judy et Cie. (8th) and with A Million In One Two Three by Dream Express (7th) in 1977.
They had to take advantage that they were on a roll and so, in 1978, Belgium was finally close to winning the Eurovision Song Contest. It was thanks to the beautiful dramatic piano ballad L’amour Ça Fait Chanter La Vie, written and performed by Jean Vallée, back on the Eurovision stage after eight years. The fact that the contest was held in Paris didn’t go unnoticed, as the reception in the Palais des Congrès for this French language song was one of the longest ever in the history of the competition and emotions were high: Jean almost fell backwards on the stage.
Still, it was not enough to beat Israel’s Abanibi and Belgium finished in second place, which would now become their highest ranked song. In our top-10 it finishes third.
Would this encourage them to finally win the competition? It doesn’t really look like that as, only one year after. Belgium came… last!
The 1980’s started with some more disappointments, including the bottom-3 result for the “homage” song to the Eurovision Song Contest, entitled Euro-Vision. It was performed by Telex, a synth-pop group with a big cult following at the time.
They were disappointed only because they didn’t come last: “We had hoped to finish last, but Portugal decided otherwise. We got ten points from them and finished on the 17th spot (out of 19 participants)”, confessed band member Marc Moulin. A similar avant-garde entry was sent again in 1983 with similar results: Rendez-Vous by Pas De Deux enjoys cult status ever since.
But, as usual, better results were to come later in the decade and so they finished fourth in 1982 with Stella and Si Tu Aimes Ma Musique. Despite being a RTBF contribution, Stella is a Dutch singer who had already represented her country in 1970 as a member of Hearts Of Soul and Belgium in 1977 as a member of Dream Express. An English version of her song, If You Do Like My Music, enjoyed some airplay success around Europe in the Summer of 1982. In our Best Of Belgium chart Stella is at #7.
And just missing a place in our list is their 1984 entry, Avanti La Vie, who placed equal 5th when performed by Jacques Zegers. It looked like Belgium was on the right track again but, again, it came last in the 1985 contest. Only to come back with a bang one year after.
A long-awaited but young victory
Having tried a litlle bit of everything by then, Belgium entered one of the youngest singers ever to the competition. Sandra Kim said she was 15 years-old in the lyrics of her song J’aime La Vie, 14 years-old in her contest biography …and 13 years-old in her passport! In 1986 there were no restrictions about the age of the participants and so there was not a problem when she was announced as the Belgian entry.
But she managed to win big time, and after her victory, the press in the runner-up country, Switzerland, tried a coup to disqualify Belgium because of their lie regarding Sandra’s age. The petition was not satisfied and so Belgium enjoyed their long awaited moment of victory, thirty years after their first participation but, for not feeling old, they won with the youngest ever winner in Eurovision. A record that’s going to be impossible to beat under the current rules of the contest which state that participants must be a minimum of 16 years old in the day of the Grand Final.
J’aime La Vie is of course the number one in our top-10 of Belgium and it also topped the charts in Belgium while entering the charts in at least ten European markets. It gave Belgium the task of organising the 1987 competition and you can read all about it in our recent Throwback Thursday to that Eurovision Song Contest.
A long hangover
Following the euphoria of the triumph and hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest came a long hangover. In the ten years that followed, Belgium never ranked inside the top-10, came last once and was relegated twice. At least their bottom placer in 1993 managed to make Eurovision Song Contest history: Barbara Dex, who wore a self-designed dress, lends her name to an annual fan award for the worst dressed artist in the contest.
The 1990s didn’t look very promising until they sent another young female singer. Mélanie Cohl sang their 1998 entry and finished sixth, a strong result among the 25 participants that year, enough to grant her a place in our top-10, Dis Oui makes it to #9.
But the new decade got off to a bad start again; another last place and another relegation, until it was time again to fight for a place at the top. In 2003 and to the surprise of many, Belgium almost won the Eurovision Song Contest with an odd combination of elements. Urban Trad was a folk band inspired by celtic traditions, which entered a modern folk song with lyrics in an imaginary language, Sanomi, and lead vocals by the Spanish singer Veronica Codesal, from Galicia.
In one of the closest and most thrilling votings in the history of Eurovision, Belgium was leading the scoreboard until the second-last vote, ten points from Slovenia which made Turkey the winner of that contest, only two points over Belgium.
Another string of bad results quickly followed and for five years Belgium didn’t qualify for the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest. One of their most popular international artists, Kate Ryan, was one of this non-qualifiers as she finished 12th in the Semi-Final in 2006 with Je T’Adore, despite being one of the pre-contest favourites to win:
Belgium’s golden age
Never giving up and just when it looks more difficult to get a good placing in the competition, Belgium is enjoying a sweet moment in their current relation with the Eurovision Song Contest. Four out of the top-10 songs in our chart come from the last eight contests.
And that includes the only two entries from Flanders. At #10 we find a song that finished tenth in the Grand Final last year, What’s The Pressure, which was performed by Laura Tesoro and at #6 a song that finished sixth in the 2010 Grand Final, Me And My Guitar, performed by Tom Dice. Me And My Guitar is Flanders strongest showing in the competition to date:
The other two entries were from the French community of Belgium, both finished fourth and both are among the new favourite Eurovision Song Contest classics. In 2015 Loïc Nottet performed Rhythm Inside and in 2017 Blanche sang City Lights. Rhythm Inside lands at #5 in our top-10, while Blanche appears one place higher, at #4:
The two artists were, just like 2013 singer Roberto Bellarosa, selected internally by RTBF from the singers competing in the corresponding edition of The Voice in the years they participated, they were assigned a song later on; a successful selection method for Belgium.
Maybe that is why the Flemish broadcaster, VRT, has also opted for an internal selection in 2018 and they have already announced who will be waving the flag of Belgium in Lisbon: Laura Groeseneken, the first act revealed to participate in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.