Eurovision new year has come and gone, and the next National Final season is coming faster than you might think. Countries are confirming participation, submissions are open, National Finals are announced, and more! A good time, then, to examine what some countries could or should do to reverse their fortunes. In this article, I will be taking a closer look at one of my two home countries, Germany. To say Germany hasn’t been doing well in Eurovision recently is an understatement. What is going wrong for the country that won with Lena and Nicole? And what can or should NDR and ARD do to improve their fortunes? In this article I will take a look at the recent history of Germany in Eurovision. From the dramatic national finals to the bizarre selection choices, from the many last places to Michael Schulte’s shock 4th place, I will explain where it is going wrong for Germany, and how to fix it.
Ein bisschen context
For all the jokes we Eurovision fans love to make about Germany coming last, the country has a Eurovision history to be proud of. They have competed more times than anyone else, only missing out in 1996 when German hopeful Leon missed out on qualification in the controversial audio-only pre-qualification by 2 points.
Germany has won twice and finished in the top three an impressive eleven times. In recent years, however? Germany managed to finish last in 3 out of the 10 most recent Eurovisions: 2015, 2016 and 2022. A further three saw Germany finish second to last: 2017, 2019, and 2021. After a strong 8th place in 2012, Germany’s only finish in the top 15(!) was Michael Schulte’s 4th place in 2018. And for many of their poor performing entries, the scores aren’t pretty either. The nil points in 2015 were followed by 0 televotes in 2019 and 2021, and 0 jury votes in 2022. Michael Schulte got three times (yes, 3 times) more points in one night than the other German Eurovision entries since 2013 combined.
So how did we get here? The horrendous results starting in 2013 followed a bit of a German hot streak that saw Germany finish in the top 10 three years in a row. To see how it all went wrong, we also need to know how it ever went right for Germany. So lets cast back our minds to 2010 and see what led to Satellite getting to Eurovision and winning it all.
Orbit all the way around Raab
Germany had been doing well in Eurovision around the turn of the millenium, but starting in 2005 Germany started struggling. In 2009 even the legendary Dita Von Teese couldn’t help Alex Swings Oscar Sings!’s “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang” higher than a 20th place. The NDR had tried everything. From talent show finalists (Gracia, 2005) to acts with domestic success (Roger Cicero, No Angels), to changing the selection process (internally selecting in 2009), nothing seemed to bring back the success of the 80s and 90s. Even legendary/infamous songwriting duo Siegel and Meinunger (Ein bißchen Frieden and so, so many more) couldn’t bring back those glory days, with their attempts failing to win over the German public in the National Finals. Something had to change. NDR and ARD decided to team up with Stefan Raab, enfant terrible of the German television world. Raab had finished 5th in Eurovision 2000 with his self-penned “Wadde hadde dudde da?”. He also (co-)wrote the 1998 and and 2004 German entries, which finished 7th and 8th respectively. Raab was under contract at commercial broadcaster ProSieben at the time, leading to ARD and ProSieben to collaborate.
An 8 episode National Final in the style of talent shows was the format Raab, NDR, and ProSieben settled on. The first 7 episodes saw a total of 20 singers take to the stage performing cover songs. “Unser Star für Oslo,” as it was called, was broadcast both on ProSieben and on ARD’s Das Erste. Raab and other big German TV and music names commented on each performance, but who went through was decided purely through televote. The final episode saw the two remaining performers sing three songs total. “Bee” and “Satellite” were performed both by Lena and Jennifer Braun, albeit in different arrangements that suited their style. They also each performed a song specifically composed for them. Two voting rounds followed, with Lena emerging as Germany’s next Eurovision entry. In the run-up to Eurovision, the song entered the charts in Germany and across Europe and, as we all know, ended up winning the contest.
What followed were two more years of Raab-produced National Finals. 2011 saw Lena get pre-selected for the contest, with Lena performing 12 songs over a total of three rounds. “Taken By A Stranger” would finish 10th in Düsseldorf. 2012’s “Unser Star für Baku” saw a return to the 2010 format, with some changes to how the televote worked and was presented. Roman Lob won with “Standing Still,” a song co-written by the successful English singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum. Lob ended up finishing 8th in the Grand Final.
What went right in the Raab-years? The chosen performers is an obvious place to start. Lena and Lob are both charismatic performers. Getting to perform songs perfectly suited for the popular music landscape at the time was a massive help as well of course. And, for as much as I harp on Roman Lob’s terrible, terrible outfit and others joke about Lena’s dancing (especially in 2010), the staging was actually perfect for the respective songs and years. Three years in a row of strong packages. So how did it all go wrong?
An inglorious collapse
Stefan Raab announced, after co-hosting the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, that his Eurovision career would be coming to an end. While still involved as a member of the National Final jury in 2012, he would withdraw completely for 2013. With this, the cooperation between ARD and ProSieben also came to an end. ARD hoped to keep the good times going and let the Raab-owned production company Brainpool TV produce the National Final once again. Artists big and small were involved throughout the 2013 contest, both as contestants and as jury members. The Final would, however, prove to be controversial. The winner would be decided through a combined online vote, televote, and jury vote. Cascada, known for their 2009 hit “Evacuate the Dancefloor,” ended up winning, only to be accused of plagiarizing Loreen’s “Euphoria”. Others noted how runaway online-favorite LaBrassBanda were completely overlooked by the juries, while others questioned the composition of the jury itself. An attempt at regional voting caused a very predictable and therefore boring voting sequence, meaning it wouldn’t return until 2022, in which the same problem occurred again, but I am getting ahead of myself. At Eurovision, Cascada finished 21st, Germany’s worst result since 2008.
What made Cascada do poorly? Copying last year’s winner is never a great start, and the staging was strange. Why were those two backing singers poorly hidden on stage? The final nail in the coffin was a poor vocal performance on the night. Still, 21st isn’t too bad. It finished above fan-favourites such as France and Finland.
Where there is Black Smoke, there is fire
In 2014, ARD and Brainpool abandoned the jury and the online vote. A pure televote saw the band Elaiza emerge as a surprise winner. The band had to go through a wildcard selection before taking part in the National Final. This was arguably the last time big names competed in the German National Final, with two entries (The Baseballs and Oceana) also having had some success outside of the German speaking world. Besides the surprise result, this would prove to be the least contentious and messy of the German National finals for a while. And it would also lead to a fairly decent result, relatively speaking. The 18th place for “Is It Right” remains Germany’s second-best result in the last ten years. I like this song! It also was never going to do much better. Between heavy competition, lackluster staging, and a bit of stage presence missing (something the band members have improved on with experience since), it was far from a competitive entry. Still, in the grand scheme of things, 18th isn’t too bad. Germany not only beat fellow auto-qualifiers Italy (robbed) and France (deservedly so), but also 6 countries that did have to make it through the semis. Not too shabby, all things considered.
2015 saw an absolutely calamitous National Final. 8 acts entered with two songs each and, over the course of three rounds, would be whittled down to two acts and two songs. Andreas Kümmert was the runaway winner, getting 78.7% of the televote with his song Heart of Stone. When asked to do a winners performance at the final, he announces that he will not be going to Eurovision and that he gives his win to second placed Ann Sophie. A move so shocking that not even Eurovision icon Barbara Schöneberger, who hosted the final, knew how to react. Ann Sophie, who just like Elaiza came through the Wildcard process, would finish last in Vienna with 0 points. As there were a record-breaking 27 countries in the Final that year, it is (in some ways) the worst Eurovision result of any country ever.
The result, as much as it feels like a robbery in some ways, was hardly a surprise. Ann Sophie never quite looked as if the NDR had fully prepared her for Eurovision, and the weight of being Germany’s second choice seemed to stay on her shoulders. As much as I like the song, it’s hard to see how it would ever get enough public or jury support for a good result. Add to that staging that, while not bad, felt completely disconnected from the song, and you have a poor result on your hands. Still, 27th? 0 Points? Way harsh.
If you thought 2015 was a sh*t-show…
But the worst was yet to come. Desperate to get a better result and to banish the 2015 National Final from memory, ARD and Brainpool went back to the something resembling 2011. They pre-selected a performer, who would sing a number of songs that the public could vote on. And who did they select? Xavier Naidoo, a far-right singer who openly and proudly called himself a racist. He is best known for his homophobic, anti-semitic, and far-right conspiracy lyrics. A selection so terrible and self-defeating that I am absolutely baffled that it happened. After two days of lambasting from fans, the press, politicians, and its own staff, NDR cancelled this National Final and went about selecting a new entry.
A second National Final was quickly thrown together. The Voice of Germany 2015 winner Jamie-Lee ended up winning the right to go to Eurovision. Germany, of course, would once again finish last, with “Ghost” scoring 11 points in total. I have to say that this was the third year in a row where I genuinely like the studio cut of the German entry. It also was the third year in a row where staging, an noncompetitive entry, and seemingly ill-prepared or ill at ease performers, or a combination thereof, hurt Germany at Eurovision. Especially in 2015 and 2016, some of these problems in the Grand Final can be forgiven considering the mess in the run-up. But in both years, said mess could and should have been averted. Especially in 2016, as the short-lived selection of Naidoo predictably hurt Eurovision in the eye of the public and the music industry (for differing reasons) more than any string of bad results ever could have.
On the back of two absolutely disastrous years, both in terms of results and organization, NDR threw its hands up in the air. A format change followed, created from different elements of previous Finals like some sort of Frankenstein’s monster. Levina and “Perfect Life” ended up winning the National Final. At Eurovision, the entry would receive 6 points and finish second-to-last. The most interesting thing about the National Final is arguably that Nathan Trent almost ended up competing. During the final selection process he however got picked by Austria to represent them instead. He would end up finishing 16th with 93 points.
The enduring legacy of the 2017 German Eurovision entry would however be, once again, plagiarism allegations. This time, people noted that the song sounds eerily similar to the David Guetta and Sia track “Titanium”. Has the NDR learned from this and will they be checking songs for sounding like a copy-cat? Only time will tell.
2015 contestant, for what it is worth, Ann Sophie would respond to this result in a way many UK Eurovision fans have responded to their country’s result in the past: “Germany is taking it too easy. As if they are thinking: Oh, it will turn out alright by itself somehow. […] Lena worked, because Raab strongly promoted the song abroad ahead of the contest”. A fair assessment, although it probably wouldn’t have been enough to save the, frankly, bad complete package NDR presented on the night of the Grand Final.
The Schulte Blip Part 1: I’m A Dreamer
The only thing in Eurovision history comparable to Germany’s 2018 blip with Portugal’s out-of-nowhere win the year before, and 2018 last place O Jardim at least still scored more points than many German entries I have or will discuss combined. So, let’s take a look at the full story of Germany in the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. On the television side of things, the collaboration between ARD/NDR and Brainpool TV had come to an end. In its place came Kimmig Entertainment, a production company with a lot of experience in producing yearly Schlager specials such as “Die Helene Fisher Show”. The selection of songs for the National Final involved a 100-person strong Eurovision-panel and an international jury consisting of TV producers, Eurovision-alums, and other music professionals. Two hundred applicants were reduced to 20, who then were evaluated in person by the NDR on their singing ability, which had been a problem in 2013, and stage presence, a problem all the other previous years. Videos were sent to the selection team who then selected the final 6 who would make it to the National Final. Throw in a songwriting camp so there are actual songs and there we go: a National Final is ready!
How in the name of everything did that go right? To be honest, watching the National Final (which is available for all on YouTube!), I am not sure it did go right. Between the six songs we have questionable performances, bad writing, and just the most confusing of choices. No wonder, then, that Michael Schulte won big among the Eurovision Panel, International Jury, and Televote. Also, do check out the full results after listening to the songs themselves, which includes detailed results from the jury and the panel.
The Schulte Blip Part 2: Walking Alone (to a rare good result for Germany)
Michael Schulte winning surprised absolutely no-one. Germany’s odds at the bookmakers had already shown a shocking improvement the moment the songs were released. Where Germany was first pegged to finish 22nd at best, Germany now was expected to finish in the top 10! And while the odds went up and down quite a bit for Germany, hard work was being done behind the scenes. The small LED wall behind Schulte from the National Final got upgraded to a better one that made it look like there was a special stage in the Altice Arena just for him. Schulte, who had finished 3rd in the the inaugural season of The Voice of Germany in 2011, also delivered a strong and emotional vocal. So, staging, vocal, what else made Germany overperform? Two more factors are key. Firstly, as evidenced by Sobral’s win the year before, Eurovision viewers and juries started to gravitate to “authenticity”. Now, however one might want to describe that, “You Let Me Walk Alone” is definitely authentic, especially for a songwriting camp song. A tribute to his father, who died when Michael was 14, the emotion and personal connection are evident throughout his performance. Audiences responded to that, and that this all was packaged in a pleasant musical composition by Thomas Stengaard (of “Only Teardrops” fame) really helps send it all home.
The last ingredient was luck. Germany picked a (not-quite-but-almost power-)ballad to Portugal sang by one man. The only finalists even remotely similar to Germany are the much slower Ireland, finishing 16th, and Austria’s love song, which finished 3rd. Little in the way of direct competition meant that Germany’s sad lad could amass 204 points from the juries and 136 points from the televote. This meant a 4th place. Outside of Eurovision, “You Let Me Walk Alone” charted in 8 countries and on the UK Downloads charts. Germany had found a competitive and commercially successful song. Discussions of whether this was going to be a Anouk-moment for Germany were widespread. By the time the next German National Final rolled around, it was clear the answer would be no.
Tired of competing (yes, that is an actual lyric from the 2019 entry)
“Germany, you received from the public votes… I’m sorry. 0 points”. It’s a sentence and a clip that has haunted the halls of many a Eurovision fandom space ever since they were uttered in the final. How did it come to this? An absolute comedy/tragedy of predictable and preventable errors. The absolute mess of a preselection for the National Final returned, but now with a bonus of NDR-meddling. You see, the NDR thought they had found an absolutely amazing song. The fact it was written for and then rejected ahead of the Swiss National Final the year before was a fact the NDR decided to overlook. They had the song “Sister,” but no performers for it. The NDR cobbled together a duo of two non-sisters to perform it. And then they somehow won the National Final. Between barely winning the jury and landsliding the televote, the song rejected by Switzerland made it to Eurovision. For what it’s worth, the Eurovision panel ranked “Sister” low, awarding Aly Ryan top marks instead. I suppose they had a feeling of how S!sters would be received by the Eurovision juries and voters.
At Eurovision we received baffling staging and two individually strong performances that unfortunately didn’t mesh well together. The final nail in the coffin is that there was absolutely zero (friendly) chemistry or other form of positive connection visible between these two people performing a duet together while they sang. Which is especially bizarre when one considers that they clearly enjoyed the contest and, as far as I am aware, seemed to get along well throughout the contest and beyond. So, no authenticity, poor staging, and, unfortunately for Germany, a wealth of (better) female-sang ballads. Result: some jury points, no televote points, and only not last thanks to one broadcaster making the same choices as the NDR but somehow worse (aka, the BBC).
The year that wasn’t (would’ve gone worse than you think)
2020, the contest that never was. NDR decided that it was time to shake things up and internally selected. Ben Dolic, who the biggest of Eurofans would’ve recognized at the time from Slovenia’s 2016 National Final, was selected. “Violent Thing,” written by Bulgarian Eurovision songwriting veteran Borislaw Manilow and his team, was well received. Glowing reviews from Eurofans, highly rated by bookies, and decent performances in national Eurovision replacements (11th in Sveriges 12:a, for example). Many Eurovision fans things this would have done amazing at the contest. While they may be right, I would like to point at a few warning signs that indicate the result might have been disappointing yet again.
Firstly, most of Dolic’s live performances left… something to be desired. In the Eurovision Home Concert version, his voice gets so drowned out you cant hear it. He also performed it live, with staging, for the German Eurovision replacement broadcast. The same vocal questions are raised here too, and the staging clearly needed a lot of work. Some of the other live performances had been better so it might have been alright on the big night, but it would have been a potential worry nevertheless. Additionally, poppy tracks that fans might call a bop haven’t been doing amazing at Eurovision in recent years, so it is far from certain that this radio friendly sound would have translated to points.
Alas, poor Jendrik
February 25, 2021. The official video of “I Don’t Feel Hate” by Jendrik is released. The world reacts baffled. A 5:42 long music video that nobody asked for to a song that almost nobody particularly seemed to care for. “I Don’t Feel Hate” was never going to be competitive. The song had an energy that made many people feel condescended too, others thought fit better at a children’s disco, and some people genuinely enjoyed. “Quirky” over-the-top staging that fit the song but also could’ve been part of a 2017 YouTube video somehow garnered jury points while getting nothing from the televote. I personally would have expected it the other way around, although I was surprised to see Germany score anything at all. Of course, no shame in getting 0 points from the public in 2021, quite a few countries did that. And, of course, Germany avoided rock bottom once again thanks to some big, big help from others (aka whatever went down at the BBC that year).
Back to National Final drama we go
NDR is clearly back into their 00s mode. Having tried a bit of everything to get out of their slump, they tried internally selecting for one year only to drop it the next. A national final full of songs picked for their radio-friendliness and nothing else. The 2013 voting system returned, and once again regional differences were practically non-existent. 7 out of 9 regions had the exact same top 3, and the other two merely shuffled the order of that top 3 around. But it gets much, much worse than the actual voting sequence.
The songs all were radio-friendly, sure, but only in the sense that most of them were unremarkable. The performances were a mess, with two out of the six acts forgetting parts of their lyrics, with poor Emily Roberts having it the worst, to the point of becoming a Eurovision meme.
There were many, many applications for Germany 12 points. 944 applications to be exact, which were narrowed down to 6. Somehow, for some reason, they managed to pick Nico Suave. Who is that? oh, just a musician who frequently works with Xavier Naidoo. Yeah, the far-right conspiracy guy who had to withdraw after NDR somehow selected him a couple of years ago. With artists like that competing, we can all be very grateful that in the end, Malik Harris managed to win with “Rockstars”.
An alright song, performed pretty well, with adequate staging, the song did a fun new thing: it managed to get points from the public. The sacrifice needed to get those? No points from the jury. “Rockstars” has enjoyed some commercial success in German speaking countries, including hitting #8 in the German charts and managing to stick around until late July.
What is next…
The NDR has once again threatened us with what we feared: another National Final. On the back of the somewhat commercial success that was “Rockstars,” I doubt there will be any major changes to the approach or the format. Expect regional voting to disappear again or be heavily reformatted. I predict another slate of middle-of-the-road songs that offend and excite no one.
To be fair, some of the ideas were good and I expect those to continue. Getting regional radio stations involved so the songs actually get airplay ahead of the Final, potentially getting people excited and involved who otherwise wouldn’t be, was a smart move. It also increases the chance of getting people involved from the broader music world, who in Germany (understandably) have a pretty negative view of Eurovision at the moment. But between the regional voting and the regional stations, NDR, wouldn’t it have been neat to try and create a bit of a geographical balance between the finalists? Really show of the breadth of German music.
… and what should be next
Ideally, NDR would somehow get an Anouk/Ryder moment. So, internally select an artist with something of a following who can deliver live and has access to well-written songs or gets that access provided to them. There are a large number of bands, duos, and solo artists from Germany that I would like to see on the Eurovision stage that have the potential to do quite well. As it stands, none of them would go. Unless one of these acts happens to be a big Eurovision fan or sees the potential of the contest for themselves and the potential that Germany has in the contest, none of them will apply. Either internally select, or keep tweaking and pushing the National Final until the average application quality improves. Of course, a string of poor results didn’t scare off a bunch of strong songmakers from Spain’s successful Benidorm Fest this year, so perhaps NDR could ask someone from RTVE how they managed that. Or do the truly unthinkable: ask Stefan Raab how he pulled it all of in 2010.
Both options require a dedicated, passionate team selecting the songs. Having some sort of panel, either as a jury or during the internal selection elements, is a good move. An even better one is giving substantial level of responsibility to people who have been following and covering the contest for years. The team at eurovision.de, the semi-official German Eurovision site, could definitely do it. All of them are massive Eurovision fans who also have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal thanks to reporting on the contest for the NDR. On top of that, they are a social media savvy team that can provide a further boost while the song is being promoted abroad ahead of the contest (something which played a key role in Chanel’s and Sam Ryder’s success this year). Besides, what is the worst that could happen? Another last place?
Germany has had a tumultuous time at Eurovision, from a win in 2010 to a bunch of 0 points. Throughout the poor results, some things repeatedly show up: poorly organized and/or selected national finals leading to drama. Poor staging choices. Decisions being made seemingly without rhyme or reason. Germany lucked out in 2018, with a good performer co-writing a competitive song and a distinctive staging to top it all off. If Germany is going to be good again, or at least vaguely competitive, in Eurovision, it has to pick between one of two routes and stick to it. They can either internally select and try to pull a Switzerland/UK, or they can keep on going with their National Final. Said National Final would need to be significantly reworked, as the current selection process and format is unlikely to lead to ad to a competitive song. Whatever path NDR decides to go on, there are two things that they absolutely must do: stick to it, and get more people with a deep passion for and knowledge of Eurovision on board in every step of the process.
What do you think Germany can do to reverse its Eurovision fortunes? And what are your favourite German entries from recent years? Let us know in the comments or on social media. Be sure to follow ‘That Eurovision Site’ on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik-Tok as we prepare for Eurovision 2023!
Photo Source: EBU / Thomas Hanses / Corinne Cumming