Today July 21 is ‘Belgian National Day’ in Belgium which commemorates the anniversary of the date in 1831 where Leopold I swore allegiance to the constitution as the first King of the Belgians. The king’s vow marked the countries independence under a constitutional monarchy and parliament, breaking away from the ‘United Kingdom of the Netherlands’.
Belgium made its debut in the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 which was held in Lugano, Switzerland along with six other debuting countries each performing two songs. Representing Belgium was Fud Leclerc with “Messieurs les noyés da la Seine”, he will go on to represent Belgium in the Contest another three times, and Mony Marc with “Le plus beau jour de ma vie” both entries performed in French.
Over the 64 years in the Contest, Belgium has had 62 entries, only missing out in the Contest in 1994, 1997 and 2001 due to the low scoring rule. They have reached the top ten 24 times and been runner up twice, the first time in 1978 with Jean Vallée’s song “L’amour ça fait chanter la vie” and being crowned Eurovision winner once in 1986, to some controversy.
Belgian entries are chosen bi-annually by the two regional broadcasters the Walloon RTBF and the Flemish VRT, creating diverse acts and many memorable entries. It was very difficult to choose, but let’s look at our top five most iconic entries from Belgium:
5. Barbara Dex - Iemand als jij - (25th place - 1993)
In the Eurovision Song Contest held in Millstreet, Ireland in 1993 Barbara Dex performed a love ballad “Iemand all jij” but it wasn’t exactly the song that made this entry memorable. She wore her now famous semi transparent self-made dress and unfortunately it wasn’t well received. Barbara Dex came in last place with only 3 points, which were awarded by Germany.
Unfortunately due to the expanding contest Belgium was not permitted to perform in the following year due to receiving the fewest points, and 1994 marked the first time Belgium did not participate in the Contest since its inception.
In 1997 Barbara Dex’s performance inspired the Dutch Eurovision fan site The House of Eurovision to create the ‘Barbara Dex Award’ for the worst dressed entrant in the Contest. This fan voted accolade is now run by the Belgian website Songfestival.de after the House of Eurovision shut down in 2016. Notable winners of the ‘Barbara Dex Award’ include Verka Serduchka, t.A.T.u and most recently Conan Osíris for his green reptile like outfit. The award is now well part of the Eurovision Song Contest culture.
Barbara Dex stated in a 2006 interview by ESCtoday “I can look back and laugh about it now. Actually, I still do not regret it but, at the time, it was hard to accept that people were making fun of the dress. It is a song contest after all.”
4. Laura Tesoro - What’s the Pressure (10th place - 2016)
This next one is an Australian favourite! The 2014 runner-up in The Voice van Vlaanderen, Laura Tesoro, entered the Eurovision Song Contest held in Stockholm with her massive energy, bling and stunningly iconic dance moves. Her funk influenced pop song “What’s the Pressure” managed a 10th position. Australia loved her performance so much that they awarded her 12 points from the Jury and the public vote.
After the Contest she ended up part of the Flemish dubbed versions of the animated films Dreamworks’ “Trolls” and Disney’s “Moana”. She also co-hosts the Flanders edition of Belgium’s Got Talent, co-hosting with her coach from The Voice, Koen Wauters.
3. Urban Trad - Sanomi (2nd place - 2003)
Well! In the Eurovision Song Contest 2003 in Riga, Latvia, Belgium was ever so close to winning the Eurovision trophy yet again, narrowly missing out to Sertab Erener’s performance of “Everyway That I Can” by just two points. Urban Trad managed to outdo Russia’s performance by t.A.T.u with “Ne Ver’, Ne Boysia” by a single point to claim the runner up position. It was the closest scoring in Eurovision history.
Urban Trad’s entry was the first time a song was performed not in a national language but by imaginary lyrics. Terry Wogan famously said“They’ve got four languages in Belgium and they’re singing in an imaginary one, the very essence of the Euro!”. The song itself concentrated on creating an ambience and together with the traditional feel and the performers hand gestures gave the viewer the option to relate to the song in a personal subjective way.
Most likely this near win inspired Belgium’s 2008 entry “O Julissi” by Ishtar, performed in a Ukrainian inspired imaginary language. Unfortunately that time around it failed to qualify in the Grand Final only reaching 17th place in the semi final.
2. Loïc Nottet - Rhythm Inside (4th place - 2015)
“Listen to the sound of thunder…” and you will hear Loïc Nottet! He managed a top five finish, the best result for Belgium in 12 years with his alternative-inspired pop, new wave, R&B, electro, soul and hip hop song “Rhythm Inside”.
His memorable performance was striking. It consisted of minimalist and black-and-white themes with 3D boxes moving to the song’s rhythm on LED screens, while Loïc Nottet sings in his black coat with his white clad back up singers marching around and making iconic dance moves.
If you look closely you might recognise SuRie who represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2018 who is a backup singer/dancer in the performance.
The song was a big hit charting throughout Europe and Australia and gained the number one position in both of Belgium’s Ultratop 50 charts. In 2018 the website Songfestival.de ran a poll where it was voted the best song entry in Belgium’s history at the Eurovision Song Contest.
1. Sandra Kim - J’aime la vie (1st place - 1986)
The first place for the most iconic Belgian entry has to be the youngest ever Eurovision winner Sandra Kim with the catchy electro pop song “J’aime la vie” who took the Eurovision trophy at just 13 years old. Her performance has a youthful energy, together with her big hair, white jacket, bright pink bowtie and pants making it very memorable.
Her age caused controversy, as in the song, Sandra Kim states she was 15 years old, yet her contest biography claims she was 14 years old. After she revealed her actual age, runner ups Switzerland petitioned to have the song disqualified. But as there were no restrictions on age in 1986 and the petition was declined.
In 1990 the competition rules changed where competitors now have to be a minimum of 16 years or older at the time of the Grand Final.
Her win was also the biggest turnaround result from a country in the Contest after Belgium came last in 1985 with Linda Lepomme’s entry “Laat me nu gaan”.
25 years after the release of the music video, Dutch insurance company Delta Lloyd Group released a commercial with Sandra Kim recreating scenes. Showing the old and new music videos side by side, its actually pretty cool!
And there we have it, our most iconic Belgian Eurovision entries. We hope you enjoyed our countdown. Who would you put in your top five?