In the Eurovision Song Contest, there is one phrase that strikes dread into every performer's heart, and quite often rings the death knell for their career: Nul Points. Mind you, it's a phrase that's never actually said - the representative from each voting country reads out the points they are awarding from 1 to 121, but they don't go through all the countries who they're not voting for and say 'nul points2' over and over. But it has become shorthand, and we all know what ignominy it represents.
Nul points in the early days of Eurovision were extremely common due to the voting system in place3, and 20 acts between 1962 and 1970 suffered this fate. This system showed its flaws in 1969, when four acts4 at the top end of the score board had the same amount of points, and there was no way of deciding who was the winner. The same system was used in 1970, but the contest was boycotted by Austria, Finland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden, who were unhappy that no method had been devised to deal with a tie-break situation. So a new system was used between 1971 and 1973: under this method two jury members from each country awarded between 1 and 5 points to each song. Thus zero pointage was impossible. In 1974 it was back briefly to the 10 jurors system, but from 1975 onwards the awarding of points has been unchanged, with each voting country announcing who gets their 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,10 and 12 points in that order. The following artistes have achieved notoriety after that date by not gaining a single point5.
1978 Jahn Teigen (Norway) Mil Etter Mil (Mile After mile)
Jahn is a well-known figure in Eurovision, and this was far from his only association with the show, though his appearances in 1982 and 1983 were much more successful6. The song itself is rather pleasant but bland, and it is acknowledged that it was Jahn's attire and rather bizarre stage antics which juries found off-putting. His tight red trousers were held up with braces, which he twanged in an attempt to look chirpy and cheeky, but ended up looking embarrassing. And then he attempted a split-jump - possibly emulating Pete Townsend, but looking nothing like him. That year's winner was Israel with Ah-ba-ni-bi, performed by Izhar Cohen and The Alphabeta.
1981 Finn Kalvik (Norway) Aldri I Livet (Never In My Life)
The Norwegian Eurovision costume department apparently hadn't learned any lessons from the Tiegen debacle, and sent Finn onto the stage draped in an incongruous football scarf, while he strummed a huge acoustic guitar and sang a rather dreary and down-beat love-song. Finn reacted very badly to the zero verdict, and it is extremely difficult to find any copies of his song available (all of the others are readily found on YouTube or similar). Performing immediately before that year's runaway winner, the UK's Bucks Fizz with 'Making Your Mind Up' obviously didn't help matters either. Finn has continued working in both music and art, including collaborating with Abba's Bjorn and Benny, and his thought-provoking version of Chapin's 'Cat's in the Cradle' is one of several of his works on the Norwegian school syllabus.
1982 Kojo (Finland) Nuku Pommin (No Bombs)
The theme was right - the eventual winner was Germany's only success to date, with Nicole singing 'Ein Bisschen Frieden' (A Little Peace). But the red leather jumpsuit and the odd staccato chorus, punctuated by a bass drum, and some hit-self-over-head choreography failed to ignite any support from the juries.
1983 Cetin Alp (Turkey) Opera
Cited by some as a good example of what's great about Eurovision, and by others as a worst ever nul-pointer, Cetin wore a yellow jacket, matching his over-sized glasses, and was backed by a rag-tag bunch of extravagantly costumed singers. In order to get around the rule at that time that the lyrics must be largely in the native tongue of each country, the chorus of Opera consisted mainly of the word 'Opera' repeated over and over again. Cetin sadly passed away in 2004.
1983 Remedios Amaya (Spain) Quien Maneja mi Barca (Who Is Steering My Boat?)
A bumper year for nul-pointers, but the two songs were very different. Remedios was already an acclaimed flamenco singer, having had some notable success in bringing her fresh approach to this venerable culture to a new audience, but sadly the Eurovision juries were not ready for the passionate wailing and accusing finger-pointing that they were confronted with. Her awful tablecloth blue and white stripy dress didn't help either, although she almost got some points for lifting it to ankle height and revealing bare feet doing a little flamenco dance. Despite being way outside the Eurovison norm7, she continued to make impressive sales back home, and is the most commercially successful of the nul-pointers. Instead, the 1983 jurors were charmed by the ingenue Corine Hermes, and her heartfelt performance of 'Si La Vie Est Cadeau' (If Life Is A Gift) for Luxembourg, who share the glory of being the contest's 2nd most successful competitor with the UK8.
1987 Seyyal Tanner and Locomtiv (Turkey) Sarkin Sevgi Ustune (My Song Is About Love)
Shiny white-fringed costumes and some amateurish dancing did for this one. But really, when you're up against Mr Eurovision himself, Johnny Logan, belting out 'Hold Me Now' for top of the league Ireland9, your chances are slim to begin with.
1988 Wilfried (Austria) Lisa, Mona Lisa
Wilfried Scheutz is a big guy, with a big voice. But neighbours Switzerland produced the big guns and big lungs of Celine Dion10 to sing the winning song 'Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi' (Don't Leave Without Me). Wilfried's song was recently voted the most deserving of its nul-point status, and the costume department must bear some of the blame for putting his backing singer in a voluminous pink satin tent. Herr Scheutz himself continues to have some success as a TV actor.
1989 Daniel (Iceland) Pad Senn Enginn Ser (What No-one Sees)
Baby-faced Daniel was born in Stockholm in 1969, before moving to Reykjavik. His father sang in an Icelandic dance band, and young Daniel gave his first public performance at the age of 13 in front of 5,000 people in Iceland's national stadium. But on the night, in his high-waisted stripy trousers he appeared too supercilious and arrogant to voters, although he talks very positively about his experience. In Icelandic, the song was called 'What No-one Sees' and the wags of Reykjavik afterwards called it 'What no-one saw or heard' due to the 22nd place and nil points. He went on to more commercial success and critical acclaim with electronic dance trance group GusGus, and is currently working on more solo projects. The winner that year was an instantly forgettable number from Yugoslavia, with its only Eurovision winner as a united single country, Riva and 'Pode Me' (Rock me), a song so bland that they became the first winners not to show up the following May at the contest they had brought home.
1991 Thomas Forstner (Austria) Venedig im Regen (Venice In The Rain)
Thomas was a keen contestant, having come a respectable 5th in 1989, but this song failed to rouse any Latin enthusiasm in Rome, despite it being written about one of Italy's finest cities, and sung by a guy with a blond mullet hairdo. Maybe the purple lycra unitard with sequined bolero was a mistake. Austria has a poor reputation internationally for pop and rock music - Falco's Rock Me Amadeus is about the only hit known outside its borders - and in 2007 it declared that it wasn't going to play the Eurovision game any more. The 1991 winner was three-time contestant Swedish Eurovision queen Carola, who sailed her Abba-esque 'Faangard Av En Stormvind' (Captured By A Stormwind) into the top slot.
1994 Ovidius Vysniauskas (Lithuania) Lopsine Mylinaj (Sweethearts' Lullaby)
'The Ov' is a bit of a man of mystery. Born in Marijampole in 1957, he sang in a church choir before going on to study cello and percussion. He has a voice from the Joe Cocker gruff power ballad school, and chose to wear a pair of black shiny trousers with biker boots and an oddly-zipped dinner jacket. His dreamy ballad included such lyrics as:
'The smell of your lips is like rain,But Lithuania's debut appearance ended with no points, even from their Baltic neighbours. It wasn't until 2006 with the cheeky 'We are the Winners' taking 5th place that Lithuania saw the top end of the scoreboard. Meanwhile, The Ov continues to make many television and radio appearances, and to represent his country at other song festivals (with more success).
to touch them is sinful,
and for fulfilment I pray'.
Back in Dublin in 1994, even though it was obvious that Ireland were trying to lose that year with the rose-tinted yearning, folksy and wistful 'Rock and Roll Kids' performed by Paul Hartigan and Charlie McGettigan11 their ploy backfired, and it was back to Dublin the following year, as the winner usually hosts the following year's event. The most successful act of the evening was the interval entertainment - a little bit of updated Irish dancing called Riverdance.
1997 Tor Endresen (Norway) San Francisco.
Ah, Mr Endresen in his teddy-boy inspired yellow blazer and quiffed hair brought Norway to the top of the flops chart with its 4th nul-pointer. He'd nearly been chosen as the singer for the James Bond movie in 1987, losing out to fellow Norwegians a-ha12, and has won awards for doing the Norwegian version of Disney films.
1997 Celia Lawson (Portugal) Antes De Adeus (Before The Goodbye)
This song is widely recognised as being undeserving of its fate: Lawson herself claims that she got the words wrong during the performance, which is probably of little comfort, and not worthy of the ostracising that her home country subsequently gave her. Celia looks not unlike her namesake, celebrity cook Nigella, and wore a fetching tight black satin evening gown for her appearance. 1997 was another double nul-points year - that year's winner, with a record number of points, and points received from every country voting, was Katrina with 'Love Shine A Light' the most recent win for the UK. That memorable year also gave us the Icelandic entry with its tight black leather trousered Gary Numan lookalike.
1998 Gunvor (Switzerland) Lass Ihn (Leave Him)
She arrived with a trail of sex scandals and - possibly worse for a Swiss Miss - accusations of financial impropriety behind her. Perhaps fortunately for her, the press's attention was focused on that year's eventual winner, Israeli transvestite Dana International with 'Viva La Diva'. Gunvor had been a successful dancer and singer in Switzerland, but her ineptitude at handling questions about her personal life, coupled with a see-through dress on the night, left her pointless.
2003 Jemini (UK) Cry Baby
The UK still desperately wants to win Eurovision. It is the second most successful country in the contest's history, and is still likely to agonise after the event about why its songs do not win. But as with the England football team, who obviously ought to win every time they get on the pitch, if they fail it must be the ref's fault. And so the accusations of political voting harming the UK's result continue (despite them being the second most successful etc etc). Some blamed Iraq - the UK's involvement at that time in an extremely unpopular war may have led some juries to believe that a protest 'nul-points' in a song contest would hold some sway. Some say that singers Chris and Gemma hadn't got the right ear-pieces in and so couldn't hear the backing track, and so were waaaaay out of tune. Some say that Europe's inability to pronounce that hard J at the start of their name was a turn-off. Others point out that Waterloo - probably Eurovision's ultimate greatest song - received precisely no points from the UK, which speaks volumes about how out of tune they are with what makes a winning entry. Anyhow, Sertab Erener gave Turkey their first crown with 'Every Way That I Can', tapping in to the appetite for more Eastern inspired rhythms. Jemini were dropped by their record label and their first album was never released.
When Your Country Scores Nothing
The number of entrants to Eurovision has increased each year, so that in 2004 a semi-final and relegation system was put in place. 24 countries compete in the final: this is made up of the Big Four main funders of the contest (UK, France, Germany and Spain); last year's winner, plus the next nine highest scoring songs (excluding the Big Four), and the ten top songs from the semi-finals. So if you score nul points one year, you'll be in the relegation zone, and have to compete in the semis next year, and get into the top ten there, before you can be in the final group. Money can't buy me love, apparently, but it can buy me a place in this enduring kitsch-fest.