Not a lot of people can say their favourite band is going to the Eurovision Song Contest. Now I can join them.
The Song Contest for me has been a chance to discover amazing talent that would otherwise remain hidden in their respective countries and feeling that awe of hearing someone with immense talent break out on stage. Over the years I have read a number of articles where fans compile lists of dream acts they would love to see on stage. Now I am having the opposite experience, already enamoured by an artist and anxiously awaiting their debut at Eurovision.
Belgian band Hooverphonic – first out of the gate for Rotterdam 2020 – have been a personal favourite of mine for the better part of the last eighteen years. Their song is either going to be a revelation or devastating to me, and I can’t imagine feeling any other way.
Hooverphonic in a Lift Concert (Wikimedia / Nils Mlcknbck)
Who Are Hooverphonic?
Right around the turn of the millenium, mainstream music reached peak trip-hop with a wide collection of artists such as Portishead, Tricky, Gus Gus (whose lead singer, Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson, represented Iceland in 1989), Massive Attack, and the aforementioned Hooverphonic.
Their music hit me at a time when I needed a break from the stress of university life, and putting on any of their early albums – ‘A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular’, ‘Blue Wonder Power Milk’, or ‘The Magnificent Tree’ – created a chill atmosphere to distract me from an abundance of homework I didn’t feel like doing, and made me feel a little bit cooler just for having listened.
But what made Hooverphonic stand out from the others was, unlike artists like They Might Be Giants, their often absurdist lyrics playfully contrasted with their earnest tone. By their third album they were incorporating old voice recordings for ‘Autoharp’, comparing a break-up with getting out a tough stain with ‘Vinegar & Salt’, and commenting on how tremendously hardcore ‘Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs‘ are. Listening to some of their more recent singles, it seems they have toned down the absurdity, but haven’t lost their smooth rhythm.
Just taking a look at the video for ‘2 Wicky‘:
The opening takes a sample from Isaac Hayes’s version of ‘Walk On By‘ to create a sexy-cool synth vibe then juxtaposes it with lyrics that tell the story of a starship traveling through space and the repeated serial numbers of the vessel and orbital weapon. Compare that to their more recent ‘Romantic‘:
Where Luka pleads with her lover just to keep things simple and not try to impress her with grand gestures. It has all the hallmarks of their musical style from vulnerable vocals to the sweeping orchestral backing track, but feels more conventional and approachable than something like the aforementioned ‘Pink Fluffy Dinosaurs‘:
Hooverphonic’s Eurovision CV
Hooverphonic have worked behind the scenes at the Eurovision Song Contest before. Alex Callier, one of the two members who’ve stuck it out over the years behind their half-dozen singers since 1995, co-wrote Belgium’s 2018 entry ‘A Matter of Time‘for Sennek. While it was my favourite entry going into Lisbon, I was heartbroken to see her struggle on stage and be relegated the non-qualifiers’ circle.
2018 was also the year France sent Madame Monsieur, of whom the female half Emelie Satt provided the vocals for Hooverphonic’s 2015 single, ‘Badaboum‘. Given that, writing and performing for a massive television audience should come as second nature even with their protege-turned-vocalist Luka Cruysberghs, whom Callier mentored on The Voice of Flanders.
The band has grown and changed a lot over the years and ten albums. With six different lead vocalists and a wide swath of genres incorporated into their 24-year career, Hooverphonic have been able to adapt to an ever-changing musical landscape. They have toured quite extensively all over the world from Europe all the way to Tokyo, and are on the road right now promoting their latest album,’ Looking for Stars’.
Hooverphonic And Rotterdam
This is something that will set up Hooverphonic for success. The group has been approached before about participating before, but held out until they felt they had the right song. In an interview with Songfestival.be, Callier didn’t hold back on his critiques for Belgium’s recent entrants, and what he saw were successful and unsuccessful choices with Eliot, Blanche, and Sennek.
What’s clear is, he knows what makes a show work and how to connect with an audience. Lead singer Cruysberghs may be at the start of her career, but already has the televised singing competition experience to comfortably take the stage. One of the group’s stipulations was complete creative control over the music and staging, something Callier is very knowledgeable of. He also cites Duncan Lawrence and Salvador Sobral’s wins as inspiring him to pursue entering since more subdued, emotionally-driven songs have proved to be popular with both juries and fans in recent years.
How Hooverphonic Can Succeed At Eurovision
Hooverphonic are the only artist so far in the running. Even without a song, I’m ecstatic to see what they come out with. However, is this going to result in a long-overdue Belgian victory for 2020?
Former Hooverphonic lead singer Geike Arnaert at Rewind Breendonk in 2008 (Wikimedia / Jaak Geebelen)
Honestly, I’m not so sure. Not because the contest hasn’t awarded a band the win over virtuoso solo performances since 2006’s Lordi (and arguably Ell & Nikki’s 2011 victory duet in ‘Running Scared’), but because the band has never been big outside of Belgium. They have appeared in a handful of films and TV shows and found some success in a few countries, but they’ve never unlocked the wide audience that boosts the chances of a big break. Even long-time fans (including myself) are still lamenting the 2008 departure of their strongest vocalist, Geike Arnaert, and don’t feel like they have been quite the same since.
What do they need to do to grab people’s attention and get votes? It would take a strong song, ‘Eden’ is a good example, one that catches people off guard leaves them reeling.
I’d really like to think they can capture those three perfect minutes, but let’s see. I have no doubt I’m going to love whatever they come out with, will squeal with joy watching them take the stage to rehearse for the first time, and keep it on regular rotation in my favourites playlist long after the Song Contest is over.
I hope that Eurovision is the moment that pushes them over the edge, the moment that helps millions of people across the globe discover an act with an extensive back catalogue they can explore, and is the moment that gets them the attention they deserve.
That would be a monumental victory unto itself.