Retro Rankings | Birmingham 1998

It’s Wednesday, in case you hadn’t noticed, and on this particular Wednesday, the countdown to the ESC 2015 submission deadline is on!

In less than one week, all forty participating countries must have their s#%t together – at least to the point of handing their entries over at the Head of Delegations meeting. Did you hear that, Russia? If you don’t want a repeat of last year when you made the deadline by a babushki’s whisker, you’d better get Polina Gagarina’s song sorted STAT.

I for one am struggling, waiting to hear the songs still under wraps (Israel and San Marino are causing me actual, physical pain). In case you’re feeling the same way, I thought I’d offer a distraction in the form of something totally unrelated: another Retro Ranking! I recently ranked the Dublin 1997 contest for your reading pleasure (hopefully) and as I’m in a chronological mood today, I’m going to plod on with Birmingham 1998.

The last time the United Kingdom played host to Eurovision, Terry Wogan was co-emcee, Ulrika Jonsson fell victim to the noise level in the auditorium and Dana International took her sweet time changing outfits and getting back to the stage for her winning reprise. In amongst all of that were performances of 25 songs – songs that were, as is always the case in the ESC, good, bad and ugly (though being 1998, the ‘ugly’ really just refers to some of the costumes).

Watch this recap of the Birmingham entries if you need a refresher, check out my rankings below, then comment me with your favourites from the Class of ’98! You know you want to.


#1 | The Netherlands (Hemel En Aarde by Edsilia Rombley) – Before she was On Top of the World in Helsinki (until she failed to make the final, that is) Edsilia moved, grooved and flawlessly key-changed her way through this irresistibly catchy number in Birmingham. There is nothing that doesn’t work for me in her performance – 90s fashion notwithstanding – from her smooth and soulful vocals to the cute bits of choreography she does with her backing singers. Hemel En Aarde itself, though, is the pièce de résistance: three minutes of happy, funky pop that I could never get tired of.

She may have had the same haircut as most of her competitors, but Edsilia was superior in every other respect.

She may have had the same haircut as most of her competitors, but Edsilia was superior in every other respect.

#2 | United Kingdom (Where Are You? by Imaani) – Ah, remember the days when the UK couldn’t stop being a Eurovision success? No? Me neither. I was six-going-on-seven and had no idea what an ESC was when Imaani leapfrogged over Chiara into second place (at the very last moment) on home soil. Fast forward to 2015, when just getting on the left side of the scoreboard is a major achievement for the UK, and I now not only know what an ESC is (and then some) I also think Where Are You? is one of the strongest host entries ever. While very 90s in nature, it’s aged pretty well. The mixture of dance music and Imaani’s R & B-suited voice is powerful, and I don’t mind that the song is repetitive because again, it’s catchier than chicken pox.

#3 | Sweden (Kärleken Är by Jill Johnson) – I’ll admit, I thought this was a bit bland at first. But over time, I’ve grown to absolutely adore it, if I may gush without you rolling your eyes and/or retching. Written in response to the death of Princess Diana, it’s a song with emotional weight that you can feel especially in the choruses. It’s almost an anti-Diva, being so soft and understated, and I just wish Jill’s outfit had been chosen to match. The head-to-toe black and giant platform heels were more ‘castoffs from Alla Pugachova’s seemingly drunken performance at Eurovision 1997’ than ‘pretty, sentimental ballad’.

In case anyone died during her performance, Jill went all black to ensure she could go straight to their funeral afterwards (I assume).

In case anyone died during her performance, Jill went all black to ensure she could go straight to their funeral afterwards (I assume).

#4 | France (Ou Aller by Marie Line) – This entry did not fare well in the contest, and I can only put that down to the voters and jurors having extremely poor taste in music. Or, you know, people just having different tastes to my own. Oui, Marie Line says ‘ou aller’ about six hundred times in 180 seconds, and oui, the song doesn’t build up to much…but I love the sound anyway. It’s a throwback to earlier on in the decade, and makes me think of Ultra Naté and Sonique. That in turn reminds me of my primary school socials, and they were good times. Très, très bien.

#5 | Ireland (Is Always Over Now? By Dawn) – There’s not that much difference between this song and any number of the insipid love-related ballads Ireland sent to Eurovision in the 90s and early 2000s. Yet there is something about Ireland ’98 that appeals to me. Dawn isn’t a man with a questionable haircut and an ill-fitting suit, which sets her apart a bit (she’s a woman with both of those things) and Is Always Over Now? is more pop and less lame/depressing than most of those man-ballads. Random query: is it just me, or does Dawn look like Kelly Clarkson?

Never mind...I just answered my own question.

Never mind…I just answered my own question.

#6 | Portugal (Se Eu Te Pudesse Abraçar by Alma Lusa)
#7 | Estonia (Mere Lapsed by Koit Toome) – They did reasonably well with a sleepy ballad the year before, so I guess Estonia’s thinking here was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t send a dance banger.’ Mere Lapsed could easily put you to sleep, which to some would be a blaring indicator of boringness. To me, it’s melodically nice enough to set up camp outside of vanilla territory. Cruisy, easy listening like this can be a welcome vacation from the Dancing Lasha Tumbais of the world.

#8 | Cyprus (Genesis by Michael Hajiyanni)
#9 | Malta (The One That I Love by Chiara) – Chiara reached the bronze medal position for Malta in her first of three Eurovision attempts (and don’t think she won’t be back for more!). She did so with what I think is her best entry…on those days where I’m not leaning towards Angel. It’s always her voice that’s the star of the show, so much so on this occasion that you hardly even notice how hideous her snot-coloured suit-dress-thing is until she’s stopped singing.

#10 | Poland (To Takie Proste by Sixteen)
#11 | Israel (Diva by Dana International) – I believe there were stronger songs – and definitely stronger vocal performances – in Birmingham than what Israel provided. Diva is a decent track and a high-energy winner, but I it’s worn thin with me over the years thanks to self-inflicted overexposure. Dana herself, however, is fabulous personified and will never be passé.

The flamboyance of the feathers or this spangled silver number? No wonder Dana had a hard time deciding.

The flamboyance of the feathers or this spangled silver number? No wonder Dana had a hard time deciding.

#12 | Croatia (Neka Mi Ne Svane by Danijela)
#13 | Switzerland (Lass’ Ihn by Gunvor)
#14 | Germany (Guildo Hat Euch Lieb by Guildo Horn) – Never trust anyone who voluntarily wears crushed velvet. If they’ll do that, they’ll do anything, including scale the Eurovision stage as part of their act. I suppose that’s just gravy on top of an already ridiculous package feat. a wild mane of hair, the world’s thickest eyebrows, and Guildo (owner of said mane and brows) getting up close and personal with some (un) lucky audience members. The man could barely be called a singer, but you have to admire his showman qualities. He got the crowd going like nobody else.

#15 | Greece (Mia Krifi Evesthisia by Thalassa)
#16 | Finland (Aava by Edea) – Instead of using the Secret Garden approach of taking a few words and repeating them twice, Finland took a few words and repeated them for more or less the entirety of their allotted three minutes. It didn’t do them many favours. Still, there’s appeal in the mystical, folky vibes of Aava.

#17 | Norway (Alltid Sommer by Lars Fredriksen)
#18 | Spain (¿Qué Voy a Hacer Sin Ti? by Mikel Herzog) – ‘Mikel Herzog’ is clearly a stage name, because, unless I am much mistaken, this was Harry Potter representing Spain. It’s a shame Ron and Hermione didn’t help him pick out a more interesting song.

‘Accio Eurovision victory!’

‘Accio Eurovision victory!’

#19 | Turkey (Unutamazsın by Tüzmen)
#20 | FYR Macedonia (Ne Zori, Zoro by Vlado Janevski)
#21 | Slovenia (Naj Bogovi Slišijo by Vili Resnik) – There were so many overly-dramatic ballads like this in 1990s contests, it’s hard for any in particular to stand out. This one’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not my cup of tea.

#22 | Romania (Eu Cred by Mălina Olinescu)
#23 | Slovakia (Modlitba by Katarína Hasprová)
#24 | Belgium (Dis Oui by Mélanie Cohl) – How on earth this made the top 10 is a mystery to me. I find it unbelievably irritating, in large part thanks to Mélanie’s grating vocals. You want me to say yes? I don’t think so. Quelle horreur!

#25 | Hungary (A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú by Charlie)


Now my #1 through #25 is out in the open, you know what to do…tell me how you’d rank Eurovision 1998!



4 Responses to “Retro Rankings | Birmingham 1998”

  1. wschmidt1206

    Hello, hello (or in Samir & Viktor-Swedish: hallo, hallo, hallo, hallo!!!!),

    you know that I like your blogs a lot, especially your retro rankings of the good old Eurovision days, but this time I am absolutely thrilled by it, because with Birmingham 1998 you chose nothing less than my favourite ESC show of all time (you already know why ;)!).
    I feel like you have written this blog just for me, am I right? If so, it is very kind and I am so thankful for this blog. No need to say that it is great pleasure for me to read this wonderful piece of a blog :-)))!

    As you already know my list of all-time-favourite ESC entries, I can’t promise you any big surprises here, but nevertheless this is my ranking of the excellent class of 1998 starting the other way round:

    25: Hungary – Charlie: if one has seen it, one knows why this is at the very bottom! Absolutely agree!

    24: Finland – Edea: that was not my cup of tea, although not too bad compared to some other Finnish entries!

    23: Slovenia – Vili Resnik: not a good live performance and the song did not stand out, IMO!

    22: Slovakia – Katarina Hasprová: I almost fell asleep with this one, and I like the Serbian “Molitva” a lot more than this.

    21: Turkey – Tüzmen: too much folklore in that, the song did not appeal to me!

    20: Greece – Thalassa: this is also one of the weaker Greek entries, but still not too bad to listen at.

    19: Ireland – Dawn: that was not really a surprise, but the same stuff Ireland came in for the last ten years at that time. So it could have been another winning song!? No, not really, I’m glad it wasn’t. But yes, she looks like Kelly ;-)! BTW when do we get to read the next doppelgangers blog? It is always big fun to read :-)!

    18:FYR Macedonia – Vlado Janevski: an O.K. song, but then again not super memorable! I never remember it after having seen the 1998 contest again.

    17: Switzerland – Gunvor: not the worst song in the whole competition, so it deserved at least a few points! But on the other hand her appearance in Birmingham during the press conferences was so arrogant that a lot of people wanted to see her falling. Plus her vocal performance live was not the best if I remember that right.

    16. Spain – Mikel Herzog: I cannot tell why, but there’s something about this song that I like, even after all these years. I think Mikel suffered from too many male ballads in the contest of 1998, so he did not stand out at this point.

    15. Poland – Sixteen: a nice song and a good performance on stage, but it still wasn’t THE evening of Poland. There is something lacking here to have the whole package.

    14: Estonia – Koit Toome: another male (piano) ballad that did not stand out strongly. But I think it’s a pretty good song that could become a timeless classic.

    13: France – Marie Line: I like this one, too! It always reminds me of “Maldòn” by Zouk Machine which was a huge hit in France ten years before this contest. The song is catchy and gets you in a good mood, though.
    BTW, “It feels so good” by Sonique and “Free” by Ultra Naté belong to my favourite list of songs of the 90’s ;)!

    12: Belgium – Mélanie Cohl: despite all the critics, I like this song! Mèlanie had something of the package that often won the contest. Her song was catchy and different from all those ballads, and I must state: I loved her smile! The only thing I would criticize is her much too tall suit.

    11: Norway – Lars Fredriksen: another catchy song that was just right for May and the upcoming summer. Not the biggest song ever, but a nice melody you can sing along with.

    And now THE 10 songs I really love very much:

    10: Cyprus: Mihalis Hatzigiannis: one of the best entries Cyprus ever had in the contest. Mihalis is a great singer and still belongs to my favourite Greek Cypriot artists. I don’t understand that this song did not end up higher on the scoreboard?!

    9: Romania – Malina Olinescu: this song was not “love at first sight/listen” to me. But in the last years it grew on me really strong. Today I love this song and the whole performance. I think Malina gave so much heart into her song that it sometimes makes me cry because of her vulnerable presentation. She was very authentic, her lyrics were like a poem, and I liked her beautiful golden dress (I know not everybody did ;-)), but it fitted her performance in a good way.

    8: Germany – Guildo Horn: I was so lucky to win one of the fan seats of the German delegation to support Guildo. So I was a part of “Team Guildo” and really happy to wave a German flag for him. That year was sooo crazy and there was such a hype about Guildo and his song all over Germany. I think one can say that he is “the father” of the fun entries at Eurovision and showed with his performance that Germans can be funny people, too. At least we surprised with this entry and no one expected it from us. The song itself is not the greatest ever heard, but with fun entries this is never the case, isn’t it? And I still remember that I have never eaten more “Nussecken” and raspberry ice-cream than in 1998 ;-)!

    7: Portugal – Alma Lusa: so good to see this song in your top 10, too. I only know people that would rank this one very low because it’s too folky! It’s mostly very difficult with Portuguise entries because they are often “Fado-related” and a bit depressive or they have the somehow exaggerated “Rumba” style which also does not belong to my musical taste. But Alma Lusa had the right combination – so I loved this one and still do. 🙂

    6: Sweden – Jill Johnson: I love this one, too. Although it was a bit dark and moody ballad, I liked it from the first listen. It was also good that we heard it in Swedish, and not English, that made it far more authentic than the English version.

    5: Israel – Dana International: 1998 was one of the very few years where I was completely O.K. with its Top 5 of the scoreboard result, but in a different order! The winning song by Dana was my number 5. Of course, Dana was THE story all over Birmingham that year, and that positive publicity helped a lot to win. I think this was not the win of the best song, but the win of THE artist, same as last year’s Conchita Wurst. I see similarities there, although I still like “Diva” a lot more than RLAP.

    4: The Netherlands – Edsilia Rombley: I love Edsilia Rombley (also “On top of the world”), she was my favourite Dutch Eurovision artist until last year Ilse DeLange took that position. “Hemel en aarde” is that kind of a soul song that I really love much. She also reminded me a lot of Oleta Adams and Brenda Russell who I adore. Maybe you also know her version of “Get here”, which is beautiful, too.
    BTW, a few years ago she did a great duet with Eurovision artist Ruth Jacott which is pretty good. If you don’t know this one, I will send it to you just for a listen, if you like!

    3: Croatia – Danijela: that was sooo beautiful in my eyes how Danijela developed from a “dark angel” to a “white swan”, and it fitted the song perfectly. I loved her performance very much, and it also showed that you can have a good result with starting the show on position no. 1. In times of war on the Balkan this was also a “ray of light “ with its message completely understandable for everyone, although sung in Serbo-Croatian. That at least deserved some douze points!

    2: United Kingdom – Imaani: I absolutely believed in a double win of the UK that year. “Where are you?” is also one of my favourite Eurovision songs of all time. Artist and performance were perfectly chosen, the song sounded like a hit and hot rotation on every European radio station, and Imaani had the home advantage. Those were really good conditions to win again. Unfortunately she didn’t, but coming in second is not a bad result, although the UK often suffered from this outcome. “Where are you?” still is a classic soul uptempo song that I could listen to every single day.

    1: Malta – Chiara: so pleased to see this in your top 10 list from 1998! I know a lot of people that think this song is just another (lame lady) ballad, but not for me. It was my perfect soundtrack of this evening, and I love it so much. You already know that this is my no. 1 Eurovision song of all time and my MAGIC Eurovision moment, because of the atmosphere that was created on stage with all the chandeliers, and just having Chiara reduced to her song, and, of course, because of “The one that I love(d)”.
    I think this will always stay my favourite song because of its intense moment I had with it; but maybe that’s just me being hopelessly romantic!? 😉

    Enough from me for today! Thank you so much once again for this wonderful blog I already waited for! 😉

    Until next time and have a good Melodifestivalen final night with the right winner,



    • Jaz

      Of COURSE I wrote this post just for you, Wolfgang! Well, maybe not 100%, but I did have you in mind during the creation process.

      Poor Hungary. We all hate it. More than Europe did, it would seem.

      I don’t know about falling asleep to Slovakia…Katarina’s screeching would keep me up for hours! There’s something about the chorus that drives me crazy.

      Poland was a bit lacklustre, but I still enjoy it. In a year of Guildo and Dana International, you need some more understated performers and songs to calm things down.

      I’m glad to hear I’m not alone on Marie Line! Those two songs, Sonique’s in particular, are two of my favourites of the 90s as well. We have excellent musical taste 😉

      Yep, what Guildo lacked in a quality song, her made up for with personality. I love watching his performance just to hear and see how the crowd responds (I assume the loudest cheers were coming from you!).

      I totally agree on Portugal. It was happy but not cheesy, and ethnic without being so much so that nobody else would ‘get it’. Not that I don’t appreciate it when countries like Portugal do send very ethnic stuff. In fact, I’d prefer that to what they’re sending this year, which is pretty forgettable. That’s how I feel now…I’ll probably love it in a month or so.

      Jill Johnson was the last person to sing for Sweden in Swedish, if I remember rightly. It’s a sad stat. Unless Samir & Viktor win Melfest tonight (and I know neither of us want that to happen) this year will be no exception!

      Edsilia is just amazing. I’d love her to come back to Eurovision with something as quality as ‘Hemel En Aarde’ because I didn’t love her 2007 entry. She was too good for that! I would love to hear that duet with Ruth if you’re up for sharing it with me.

      Croatia = one of the best costume reveals in contest history! Simple but so effective. It’s a shame they ruined the gimmick in 2011.

      I’m so shocked by your #1…not! I wouldn’t call Chiara’s first attempt an LLB at all. She could sing anything and I’d pay attention to it though. She didn’t fare that well in Moscow, but I would love to see her pick herself up and enter MESC again. It’s been long enough, Chiara.

      Thanks for the thanks (and, as always, continuing to read me!). Enjoy your Saturday (NF) night too. If MZW does take Melfest, I will be very happy, although to be honest, I could get on board with anyone except Hasse or Jessica. That’s my devotion to Scandipop talking 😀


  2. Ali Nella Houd

    Thanks Jaz. Not my favest year (did I just invent a word?), but plenty of colour, movement, controversy, scandal, and OTT-ness to enjoy and be entertained by there.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll do it backwards, to add to the suspense (as l’enfant said to l’oiseau):

    25 – Hungary. (Shazam!) Another Potter character singing at Eurovision: this time it’s the Hogwarts caretaker.

    24 – Macedonia (fmr Yugoslav Republic thereof).

    23 – Slovakia.

    22 – Spain.

    21 – Ireland.

    20 – Greece.

    19 – Turkey.

    18 – Sweden. I didn’t realise what it was about till I read your post, but it still doesn’t give it much of a boost in my rankings now I know.

    17 – Croatia.

    16 – Cyprus.

    15 – Finland.

    14 – France.

    13 – Switzerland. I think it was the wink that cost her: so inappropriate to the song.

    12 – Slovenia.

    11 – Estonia.

    10 – Poland.

    9 – Israel. It is a good anthemic song, but if I had a choice I’d prefer to listen to ‘Ding, Dong’.

    8 – Malta.

    7 – The Netherlands. Not as many of my buttons got pushed as yours did, but I still dig it.

    6 – Belgium. Sorry, Jaz, but it’s stuck in my head in a not-all-that-bad way. And she’s got the whole Piper-Chapman-esque vulnerable thang happening there. What’s a guy to do?

    5 – Germany. I do enjoy the thought of all the OH&S bods in the wings having conniptions as Guildo launches into his Kong-like ascent.

    4 – Romania.

    3 – Portugal. Bagpipes will do it for me every time.

    2 – Norway. Cute and catchy. And so’s the song.

    1 – UK. So classy.

    But who would have thought in ’98 that, in the 16 years that followed, the UK would get only one ‘podium appearance’ (a bronze, at that). I can’t see any colour medal for them in ’15.

    À bientôt!



    • Jaz

      Hungary is officially in nul-point territory with all of us! And yet, it still scored more than Switzerland. I can’t believe I missed Filch performing for them in ’98. If he’d had his petrified cat with him, I’d have picked it straight away.

      Also, was that Professor Snape singing for FYR Macedonia?

      Gunvor’s wink makes me wonder if she was urging her friend to ‘leave him’ so she herself could shack up with the guy in question.

      I’m both relieved and disappointed that the Birmingham set didn’t give way when Guildo scaled it. That would have made excellent television. And may have given Germany some sympathy votes as the people at home watched Guildo waving weakly from his hospital bed, encased in a full-body cast.

      I am happy to see Portugal so high in your ranking! It’s a lovely song. It reminds me a bit of Lucia Moniz’ entry, which is also one of their best-ever in my eyes.

      The days of Imaani/Melanie are long gone, and I’m with you on the distinct lack of a podium possibility for the UK this year. But who knows, Electro Velvet may surprise with a strong finish.



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