Good morning/afternoon/evening/whatever, peeps! Welcome to what would be a Time-Warp Tuesday for regular people, but at the hands of Jaz has turned into a Time-Warp Thursday, as I am yet to stick to my New Year’s resolution of getting my s%#t together. Today’s trip back in Eurovision time will land us in the 1990s, when everything was awesome, no arguments. OR WAS IT? Perhaps not, for a certain Swiss miss who won the right to represent her country amidst the euphoria (*insert the Loreen reference of your choice here*) of newfound fame, only to crash and burn at the hands of the press and a universally unimpressed continent. This is a story that I feel compelled to rehash after reading Nul Points by Tim Moore for the billionth time recently, and I apologise in advance if it gets a little heavy and/or rant-like. I’m not just about the fluff, guys!
Birmingham 1998 | Switzerland | Lass’ Ihn by Gunvor Guggisberg
If you were under the impression that Dana International was the most controversial competitor of 1998, I’m here to tell you that…well, yeah, you’re right. But when it comes to who was the most scandalous, Switzerland’s Gunvor wins hands-down – though I doubt that’d be any consolation of sorts after her failure to squeeze a single point out of any of the twenty-four countries eligible to vote for her.
Hers was a classic rags-to-riches tale (only with a few minor twists and a lot more tap dancing that Cinderella could ever have managed in those glass slippers). Gunvor came from humble beginnings to become a seven-time Swiss tap-dance champion, before spending her teenage years working to help support her newly-single mother and younger sister. Secretary duties gave way to stardom when she won not one, but two TV talent shows, and being snapped up to compete in Switzerland’s ’98 national final soon followed. It was this sudden buzz about a Miss Guggisberg that attracted media interest – most of all from a tabloid that would only serve to big her up, wait until she felt the effects of fame, and then tear her down at the most inopportune moment.
From that point, there was more drama in Gunvor’s life than in a soap opera and more diva-like behaviour than Dana International could dream of demonstrating. I’ll give you the short version: everyone starts gushing over hot new singer; singer is lavished with attention by the press who label her ‘the new Céline Dion’; singer gets big head and begins taking advantage of her status via spending sprees and serious attitude…and then, the revelations begin. A fortnight before the Birmingham contest took place, celebrity mag Blick made a swift turnaround on the good publicity they’d given Gunvor leading up to May 1998, dropping bombshells left, right and centre re: her frivolous financial habits and participation in saucy photo shoots. Anyone with vocal chords then proceeded to pop up and make a choice remark about the girl who had so recently been Switzerland’s sweetheart. But things were about to get worse.
On the morning of the ESC final, Blick laid all of their sordid cards on the table, exposing Gunvor’s alleged period as a provider of “services” in a fancy brothel. You can argue that she got what she deserved – someone who demanded expensive shoes and clothes on the regular only to return them in less-than-perfect condition (among a host of other misdeeds, if Blick was to be believed) could do with being taken down a peg. But whether that’s your point of view or not, you have to admit it took guts for Gunvor to even show her face on stage that night. Not only did she follow through, but she did it by channeling some of that attitude that gave her a bad rep off stage, but gave her time on stage a bit of grunt as she urged a friend to ‘let him go at last’ – ‘him’ being a sleazy womaniser. There’s very little in her face that says ‘I’m not enjoying this a whole lot, but I’m bloody well going to do it anyway’, which is what you’d expect once you know what went down only hours before.
Considering most of her awful press was contained within Switzerland, or drowned out by Dana’s death threats, Gunvor probably didn’t step out on stage thinking she’d come away with no more points than she’d started with. Really, Blick couldn’t be blamed for her most bottom of bottom-scoreboard finishes. The tabloid may have crushed her confidence and sent her post-ESC career into the toilet (where derisive chat-show hosts, tearful interviews and bankruptcy awaited) but to the unsuspecting, non-Swiss voters, it was the package of song and performance that somehow had nobody dialing her number.
Looking at a lot of the infamous zero-pointers, it’s puzzling as to why they ended up with nothing. Most of the time, even the most horrific or bland entries scrounge up something. In Gunvor’s case, I can’t be alone (although I know music is subjective) in thinking that, in a contest of multiple boring ballads, hers was not even close to being the worst entry on offer. Hungary’s A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú? Worse. Slovakia’s Modlitba? Worse. Belgium’s Dis Oui? Much worse – and yet that assault on Europe’s ears came 6th with 122 points (if you feel the way I do about it, you’ll be just as shocked). Here’s a recap of 1998 if you want a refresher.
Lass’ Ihn is a decent song. Sure, there’s cons – i.e. it’s veering into vanilla territory, and features a violin solo that doesn’t totally belong – but it’s catchy and not lacking in power. It was well performed too, against the odds, with just a few sound issues taking away some shine. I don’t think it should have been with the likes of the Netherlands, UK and Malta in fighting for the win against Israel, or anything; it’s just a shame that the negligible phone-ins for Switzerland (I assume at least one person in Europe voted for them) didn’t translate into a single point. One tiny mark of appreciation that may have given someone who desperately needed a shred of dignity to hang onto precisely that.
For me, this entry is mid-table, even taking into account the questionable dress Gunvor was wearing. After all, there were many unfortunate fashion choices on show in Birmingham, even by 1998 standards: take the mucus-coloured evening gown/business suit that didn’t stop Chiara from taking Malta to third place, for example. The reality of Eurovision is that not every song can succeed…and one of them must come last. But losing with nul points is an infrequent phenomenon that’s often hard to explain. Switzerland’s zero in the 2004 semi-final is somewhat understandable, but that same fate six years earlier in the final is a bit of a mystery to me.
I can’t help feeling sorry for Gunvor, who may have left most of the scandals behind today and has recently-released music to her name, but who will likely never forget her very public rise to fame and fall from grace. I wonder if she’s recovered enough to tune in to the contest these days, or even to watch her performance again and wonder, Linda Martin-style, ‘Why me?’.
Love or hate ‘Lass’ Ihn’ or have an explanation for the nul points? Let me know below.