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Throwback Thursday: The Dutch and the Sha-La-Lie

This week in Throwback Thursday, we are turning to the reigning champions. However, we’re turning away from success and heading into the middle of their dark era, in 2010. Strap in, and let’s see what’s to love about Sieneke’s fun retro pop tune ‘Ik Ben Verliefd’ (Sha-La-Lie).

The Netherlands have just been celebrating their first victory in decades. They’ve transformed themselves into one of the most successful and stand-out nations at the contest in just a few years, starting with the appeal of great songs like Birds and Calm After The Storm, and culminating in Arcade this year. But if we look back a little further, to the beginning of this decade, what were the Dutch like? By way of contrast, I’m taking this throwback back to 2010, to Sieneke’s Ik Ben Verliefd. Just how far have the Dutch come?

Bizarre and dated choice

Sieneke’s entry is more than a little unusual in the recent Dutch lineup. For starters, it’s in Dutch, the only Dutch-language entry in the 21st century to date. For another, in sound and style, it fits somewhat more in the lineup of older Scandinavian entries. That is to say, it sounds quite like that most traditionally Eurovision of pop subgenres, schlager. In actual fact it’s a levenslied, a Dutch pop genre that goes back many decades, and is effectively the Dutch version of schlager. For better or worse, this led to it sounding like it was about forty years out of date on the stage in Oslo. Quite a world away from the modern and polished sound of Arcade.

Many Dutch weren’t happy that such an old-fashioned and cheesy song, with apparently very embarrassing lyrics as well, was representing them. It didn’t do well in the contest either, with both that and a bizarre stage performance eventually consigning the Dutch to the semis for then, the sixth year in a row. It’s representative of the poor choices of the Dutch broadcaster between 2005 and 2012 and yet stands out as possibly the strangest choice of that infamous run.

Dated stage performance

And let’s talk about that stage performance for a second. It’s trying to call back to a really old retro time with two backing dancers trying to act like clockwork puppets. This just serves to further emphasise that this song has no place in the new decade. Puffy cheeked makeup and carousel ride sounds are the sort of thing that sound nostalgic and appealing when you think of them as an idea, but in practice come across as bad and cheesy. For a few years now, Eurovision had been constantly rejecting songs that were too cringeworthy when it came down to the stage performance. The nonsense refrain ‘Sha-La-Lie’ only categorises the song in this box more. For Sieneke herself, though her style is also dated, she gives a good go of performing. It’s just not enough to lift it beyond the tacky nature of the backdrop behind her. In Eurovision, all this would have made the audience feel is fatigue.

However, it’s catchy

So certainly it wasn’t a good tactical choice. However, for myself, when I got introduced to the contest in 2010, I initially missed the semi-finals. I would eventually go check them out and go back over everything in the 21st century in great detail, but I found myself coming back to Sieneke a lot more than I would have expected. The bouncy backing track and general good feeling of the song means it’s a Dutch entry I want to listen to a lot more than most of their output.

Which isn’t intentionally bringing the Dutch down, I think on quality, what they’ve been doing since 2013 has been a lot better than this, but sometimes, some fun pop is all you really want to put on. And that nonsense refrain I criticised earlier becomes really great at tying it all together. Sha-La-Lie-Sha-La-La! It’s a very catchy entry that has obvious flaws. Therefore it has been a lot more memorable for myself than any of the other 21st century Dutch entries before that dramatic change in 2013. The final point I want to bring is that the Dutch language is always very welcome at Eurovision. I always support a bit of national character to make this contest more than a ranking of English pop songs. I hope that they use the opportunity of hosting next year to showcase their language on stage again.

What our other editors had to say

Matt:

Roll up, roll up! Welcome Eurofans! Is this an entry that is maybe trying too hard to ‘be’ Eurovision? I don’t know. But the two very disparate themes and imagery at play here results in this feeling of two different acts on stage at once. You could argue this was dated even for 2010 although I applaud the Dutch for sending a Levenslied style pop song. A decent, competent performance but I’m just left mildly amused and a bit baffled.

Costa:

I’ll be honest, “Ik Ben Verliefd” is not a song that had been on my radar. I didn’t watch the semi-finals back in 2010 and even when re-watching recent contests last year, I didn’t bother to delve into the semis on this particular year because I thought I had already identified the gems. I still think I was right.

The first time I heard this song was when Sieneke performed it live at Eurovision in Concert. At the time, I honestly thought it was just another frumpy schlager mess from the 70s. Imagine my shock when I discovered that this song is less than ten years old! Watching the performance itself, I started the video cringing but ended up cracking a smile by the end. I have a certain level of respect for anyone who could deliver a performance of this song with so much conviction. Good for her, I say. Everyone on stage seemed to be having a great time – that’s the most important thing, right? If anything, it’s a nice reminder of how far the contest has come in ten years.

Sara:

I find it hard to believe just how lost The Netherlands were a decade ago compared to today. De Toppers followed immediately by this obnoxiously catchy and equally trashy excuse for a song – no wonder they couldn’t get out of a semi-final. Sieneke gets major props for looking like she’s enjoying every second of this performance (and to be fair, she wasn’t the problem at all) that never should’ve been allowed on a Eurovision stage, but overall I rate this dumpster fire tier as far as Eurovision entries are concerned. I guess you could say that “Ik ben NOT verliefd (Sha-la-NAH)”.

Timothy:

Ik Ben Verlifed will always have a special place in my heart. It was one of the first Dutch entries I listened to when I started watching the contest. I just remember dancing along to it, as the carnival sounds bring me back to my childhood. Gutted that it did not qualify. However, it will always remain a classic and it will always be forever be a party whenever it gets played.

What are your thoughts on ‘Ik ben Verliefd (Sha-La-Lie)’? Dated and anachronistic mess or fun levenslied pop tune? Did it deserve to go out in the semi-finals? Are you pleased with how much the Dutch approach to Eurovision has changed or do you wish they’d go back to songs like this? Join the discussion below or on our social media pages, and thank you for reading!

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