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Eurovision 2010: Netherlands

April 24, 2010

The Netherlands are treading the fine line between irony and certain humiliation this year with their song Sha-la-lie. It’s infectiously perky foot-tapping positivity is unashamed old-school Eurovision.

There might be one explanation for this. Songwriter Pierre Kartner (famous for being ‘Father Abraham’ in The Smurf Song) wrote a previous Eurovision song for the Netherlands in 1973. Less pop more curiosity, Kartner’s ’73 song De oude muzikant failed to make an impression on the juries back then. Was it the song, the way it petered out at the end or Cramer’s mimicry of Tom Jones (who by now had moved out to the US because of waning popularity)? Who really knows. Neither was enough to secure the Netherlands anything better than 14th place.

This performance of Sha-la-lie by relative unknown Sieneke was one of five different treatments of the material originally penned by Kartner. During the national selection final, the combined forces of studio audience and expert panel (comprising Johnny Logan – my, doesn’t he get everywhere) failed to pick a clear winner, leaving Kartner to (eventually) choose Sieneke. As much as I like the version Sieneke’s taking to Oslo, I’d have rather had Pierre Kartner singing the demo version. I think it works better.

It’s just a bit weird musically, isn’t it?

The song has some odd musical elements in it. I can’t quite put my finger on why there’s a strange middle-eight/linking passage (the weakest piece of vocal writing I’ve heard in a long time) after the first chorus and before the second verse. The snippet of new vocal material in the run up to the second chorus seems unusual though not necessarily unsuccessful, but the modulation into a higher key  for the second chorus seems uncomfortably early for my liking. It’s almost as though everyone involved lost interest in the song as soon as the first chorus was completed and didn’t know quite how to fill the remaining minutes. (Still, I’d still rather listen to this than the UK’s song.)

Compositional criticisms aside, Sha-la-lie still succeeds effortlessly in transporting fans of a certain age back to what they regard as the golden age of Eurovision. From a TV perspective that could be important. True, the Netherlands has to battle through the second semi-final but depending on the viewers watching that retro sound might be beneficial when it comes to votes.

Or maybe it won’t. Maybe it will just be the hard-core Eurovision fans watching and voting during the semi-finals. Maybe they’ll dismiss it and kill the Netherlands’ chances on Thursday 27 May on the basis that Sha-la-lie is nothing short of a lazy studio production relying on cliches to obscure unambitious songwriting.

One big fat guilty pleasure

Personally, I don’t care. I love it’s bounciness. Eurovision can often be relied upon to deliver infectious self-contained guilty pleasures at a time during the year when the sun is beginning it’s promise to shine throughout the summer, the air is warm and the evenings are light. These kind of songs fit that description well and I’ve no shame in admitting Sh-la-lie is a guilty pleasure.

I love the fact that in the TV presentation in this video singers, dancers and most of the audience seem to be a little lackluster. They’re not quite clapping to the beat. The performance lacks pizazz. It’s like the very worst kind yet forgivable karaoke. It’s bad but it’s truly infectious.

Audiences will gurn. They’ll roll their eyes. Part time followers and shallow Saturday night viewers will almost certainly pour scorn on it, if TV commentators pass up the opportunity to deliver a bad pun with a dismissive tone.

That’s a shame. If the Netherlands can secure their place in the final (and in so doing end up with a place late in the running order), the song’s unashamed retro Eurovision sound could provide the perfect antidote to the disco beats and power ballads. And seeing as not everyone can win, what we should be aiming for is a cracking Saturday Eurovision final running order instead.

  1. My first thought when I heard this song was RETRO! I admit it is a guilty pleasure for me too. This will definitely be on my Eurovision playlist for many years to come 🙂 I really don’t know if it can make it through to the final though. It’s in the second semi final which has some very strong songs in it. Who knows though, there’s always a surprise or two in the semi finals!

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