The late 2000's and early 2010's were tough years for Eurovision fans in, and of, the Netherlands, as the country failed to qualify for eight consecutive years. Mostly, the acts were unknown even to Dutch audiences. 2013 proved to be the turning point, with Birds by high-profile singer, Anouk, finishing ninth in the final. This was followed up in 2014 with Calm After the Storm by The Common Linnets in a second place, and suddenly the ghosts of the recent past were banished. Since then, the Dutch have sent well-established acts, and failed to qualify only once (something about wearing the wrong dress). However, it has been a case of diminishing returns, with a top ten placing elusive since 2014.
This year, the Netherlands has reversed their formula somewhat by sending Duncan Laurence (Duncan de Moor), a graduate of the Rock Academy in Tilburg, and relatively unknown except to regular viewers of talent show The Voice of Holland. He finished third in the 2014 season of The Voice under coach Ilse DeLange (The Common Linnets). It was this connection which would circle back to him earlier this year, when DeLange made the call to Laurence on behalf of the internal selection committee to invite him to be the Dutch entry to Eurovision 2019.
The song itself? As of this writing (early March), Arcade is one of the favourites to win, and it's not hard to see why. This haunting ballad has strength in its honesty and power in its restraint. Arcade begins with a few bars of gentle piano and eerie synths before Laurence's vocals ease in. His voice is firm, yet fragile, switching to falsetto and back again with the mood of the music. The straightforward but poignant lyrics of the verse tells of love, loss and hope (inspired by the story of a friend), while the chorus – booming, soaring, yet entirely in line with the rest of the track - is very difficult not to sing along to: it catches you off-guard. Almost every section of the song adds new elements without compromising on the minimalist feel. Overall, it strikes a fine balance between accessible and artistic.
The staging, as always, could make or break this song. Expect lots of blue, watery lights to mimic the highly atmospheric and well-produced video, which sees Laurence naked underwater in the foetal position, slowly uncurling and swimming to the surface. Less definitely will be more in terms of how this plays out – don't be surprised if Laurence ends up alone on stage.
Arcade ends with a return to the soft piano that introduced it, although I suspect that this time around, those notes may well be drowned out by wild cheers from the audience.