Eurovision '82 winner Nicole talks about 'Ein bißchen Frieden', her success and the Contest today
Monday, February 2, 2009
It has been nearly 27 years since Nicole, then a high school student from the Saarland in extreme western Germany, sang a heartfelt plea for world peace on the stage at the Eurovision Song Contest held in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. That simple message was wrapped with success; she became the first German in Contest history to take home the grand prize. The song was a brainchild of her former record producer, Ralph Siegel, and would be their greatest achievement in their nearly three-decade partnership.
Afterward, she was propelled to stardom across Europe by recording versions of her winning song, "Ein bißchen Frieden" (A little peace), in many European languages. To this day, it was the last winning Eurovision song to top the charts in the United Kingdom; it also has the distinction of being the 500th #1 single on the British charts.
This newfound fame brought her music to audiences across Europe, and in time, into Asia as well. By the end of the 1980s, however, her fame subsided somewhat and she refocused her career domestically. Since 1980, she has released over 30 albums in Germany; her most recent offering, Mitten ins Herz (Right into your heart), was accompanied by a three-month "unplugged" tour that ended in the third week of January.
Now off the road, Nicole spoke with Wikinews' Mike Halterman about her past success, her life and career today, and her overall impressions of the Eurovision Song Contest, both past and present. This is the first in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May's next contest in Moscow.
Mike Halterman You started out performing at the age of 6. Was this an interest you really wanted to pursue at such a young age? Did you ever feel pressured by your family in any way to succeed musically, or were they very supportive?
Nicole: Actually, I started out performing at the age of 4. When I got my first applause, it was clear to me what my profession would be, and my family gave me the utmost support.
MH When did you start to consider music as a full-time career?
Nicole: At the age of 16, after the great success I had with my first record, Flieg nicht so hoch, mein kleiner Freund (Don't fly so high, my little friend).
MH You started your partnership with Ralph Siegel back when you were 16. How did he decide to give you a record contract? Did you have any doubts about signing it?
Nicole: He was the first one who believed in me after hearing my voice and I had no doubt that he was the right person for a [musical] partnership.
Eurovision '82 and mainstream success
MH Did any of your inspirations and goals change when you signed your record contract, or appeared in Eurovision?
Nicole: I was trying to find my own way. After I signed my record contract everything changed. Especially after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
MH Were you ever torn about eventually putting your singing over your guitar skills?
Nicole: I liked playing the guitar in "Ein bißchen Frieden". It was a good combination, wasn't it? Afterwards I put the guitar "into the corner" so I could be more mobile on stage.
MH The bookmakers Ladbrokes had the United Kingdom as the favorite to win back in 1982. Going into the Contest, especially knowing that Germany hadn't won at that point, did you feel daunted?
Nicole: I expected to win. After the first rehearsal, everybody could feel the magic of the song and its message. It was my song!
MH Many of the songs and performers who performed for Germany before you performed sweeping ballads, with dramatic melodies, in sometimes very showy performances. And here you come in, a young girl from the Saarland, guitar in hand, singing a modest offering, asking for peace. Do you feel the lack of complexity in the song and performance perhaps gave it a special kind of appeal?
Nicole: I was honest in everything [I said] and sang what the people were thinking at that time. Asking for peace was also in their minds.
MH During the 1980s, you had a string of hits in Germany, and released singles and albums across Europe and into Asia as well. Whose idea was it to give you exposure in Asia?
Nicole: It was the idea of the record company and Ralph Siegel.
MH Did you have pleasant experiences doing promotional tours over there? What thing do you remember most fondly?
Nicole: We went to the Tokyo Yamaha Festival and won second place there with "So viele Lieder sind in mir" (There are so many songs inside me). I learned to introduce myself [to people] in Japanese. That's what I remember fondly and I haven't forgotten one word to this day.
MH You've continued to release albums nearly every year since the early 1980s, but a lot of your mainstream chart success ended in that decade as well. Did you feel discouraged when that started to happen?
Nicole: Not really. I've now been in this business for 29 years. I take it as an Olympic swimming competition. There's an A-final and a B-final. You don't have to be first every time, but you have to take care and swim with the others in the A-final.
MH In many European circles, "schlager" is almost looked upon as if it were a dirty word, synonymous with "uncool" or "out of touch." Do you feel that common threads in schlager songs (namely love and feelings) get stigmatized and mocked, and do you think that's fair?
Nicole: That doesn't faze me much. To me, the audience is the most important thing. I did an unplugged tour a few weeks ago with all the songs from the last three decades. It was fantastic to get standing ovations (nearly 20 minutes every evening).
MH Where was your favorite place to perform?
Nicole: The best place to perform was the "Schmidt's Tivoli" in Hamburg where we also recorded the "Live DVD."
MH In your long career, you have released over 30 albums. Do you have any regrets as far as directions your career has taken? If you could do anything over again, would you?
Nicole: I would do the same all over again, no doubt!
General thoughts about Eurovision
MH And 27 years later, you remain the only Eurovision winner from Germany.
Nicole: In 1982, it was the right song, with the right girl, at the right place. As I said before, it was a three-minute magic moment when I was on stage. An honest girl with an honest authentic song, telling a message everybody understood.
MH Some of the German performers and entries in recent years had inventive themes, especially Roger Cicero's swing song and Texas Lightning's country performance. How do you feel about these "theme" entries?
Nicole: In my opinion, every artist should be authentic, no matter what kind of song.
MH Do you feel the allegations of "bloc voting," favoring Eastern European countries over Western European countries (of which Germany is a part), are true? Also with the advent of telephone voting, do you feel the Contest has drifted in a direction where Eurovision is no longer "about the song"?
Nicole: Yes, it's true. The eastern European countries obviously support each other with the so-called "bloc voting." It's now a political affair and no longer a "song contest."
MH Do you ever see yourself returning to the Eurovision stage as the German representative?
Nicole: No. I can't top being #1.
MH Will you be a part of the German delegation going to Moscow this year? If no decision has been made yet, would you like to go?
Nicole: I haven't been asked yet, but of course I would like to be a part of the German delegation. Eurovision is still on my mind.
MH In closing, what would you like to say to all of your fans who have followed your career these past three decades?
Nicole: I want to thank all my fans for their loyalty and believing in me and my music. Thanks for walking side by side with me through the years.