Opinion: Sydney Still NYE Capital Of The World But Has Paris Now Overtaken Them For Best Annual Fireworks Display?

That’s right – this is a big call.

For those who remember it, the Millennium was a moment of global unity.

While Rio De Janerio brang the biggest crowds (and they still do), 2 other cities rang in the new Millennium with what were called the best fireworks displays of the night (or the last Millennium). These cities were Sydney and Paris.

Paris was ranked 2nd on the night. The display was done by Groupe F and the countdown of the display replicated a rocket launch with the rocket (or Tower) lifting off at Midnight, taking Paris into the new Millennium (Video below does not feature the fireworks soundtrack):

Sydney’s though will be remembered for an Eternity.

Sydney’s display featured the Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House, city buildings, pontoons in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and 4 barges along the Harbour, 2 in the west and 2 in the east. That display was mostly done by Syd Howard Fireworks though the western barges were coordinated by Foti International Fireworks, who have done every Sydney New Year’s Eve (NYE) since.

The display, 25 minutes long, double the length of post-2005 displays, celebrated 2 themes – time and Sydney – in a phrase Sydney’s Millennium. It celebrated humanity’s history, beginning with a big bang of sorts and after the traditional Auld Lang Syne, launched into a History Of Pop, featuring 60 significant songs of the 20th century (in roughly chronological order) as well as moments of Australian & international importance like The Dismissal & Apollo 11. After then, it celebrated Australia with a remix of Down Under and Yothu Yindi songs. Encapsulting the universality of the moment, which is best represented by the iconic ‘Smiley Face’ Bridge Effect,  which was used in most of the show, What A Wonderful World was then played. The rest of the songs represented modern music (Itacycoo Park), time (One Of These Days & History Repeating) & the best fireworks finale ever (Let’s Go Crazy).

Swan Lake then launched the finale. The finale symbolised the dramatic present (the start of a new Millennium) and the future with the iconic rainbow at the end launching the timeline of the display into an Eternity – a word written around Sydney by Arthur Stace from the 1930’s. Bells then rang from St Andrew’s & Mary’s Cathedrals for the 1st time ever on NYE celebrating the new Millennium.

No doubt Sydney’s millennium display was iconic not just for the scale of the fireworks but it’s theming & musical choice.

The Millennium formula, which was tested for nearly 3 years prior, was set in stone and remained how Sydney NYE was done until 2014. In 2015, the iconic Bridge Effect, which had since 1997 taken many forms, disappeared for various reasons. Since then, a light show has taken it’s place, which has been a suitable replacement though it doesn’t have the same anticipation about it.

Efforts to make a theme without a Bridge Effect were made by finding a local artist to do an artwork based around a theme, which was successful and have turned the artworks themselves into something that is deserving & worthy of anticipation.

However, today’s revealing of the updated Sydney NYE website for the 2019 edition revealed an artwork by Garbett Design to be used for the next 3 years. The artwork we can say looks amazing and stunning.

You can expect possibly slight changes in the artwork each year depending on circumstances/outcomes of previous editions with the artwork but most of the artwork will be the same for the next 3 years.

Shows this year's Sydney NYE artwork
Sydney NYE2019 Artwork
Artwork: City Of Sydney/Garbett Design

Sadly, the updated website today confirmed that Sydney NYE is now no longer doing themes –  a critical aspect of the event. This is the 1st time this has happened since 1995. The website said this:


The spontaneous energy of Sydney and its people inspires the event artwork.

Sydney New Year’s Eve is vibrant, raw and energetic. The spirit of the city is demonstrated in the bright, colourful, flexible and optimistic artwork developed by globally awarded, Sydney-based studio Garbett Design.

Inclusive, celebratory and safe

New Year’s Eve marks endings and anticipates new beginnings. Say goodbye to the old and hello to the new at this festive party for everyone.

The City of Sydney’s gift to the people, Sydney New Year’s Eve is a safe, sustainable event, celebrating local artists before the eyes of the world. Everyone can take part in this uniquely Sydney celebration.

While early December used to be the most likely day to reveal the theme, it seems very unlikely now that a theme will be announced in early December as recent years have had the theme revealed on the website a lot earlier.

It is now essentially just a fireworks display for at least 3 years as the light show & same artwork is being used for the next 3 years, the 2020 & 2021 editions have nothing to anticipate for apart from the fireworks soundtrack. The fireworks soundtrack will never go as modern technology ensures it is to stay plus nearly all fireworks displays nowadays have soundtracks. But the theming, which is decided by humans alone, will no longer be. It seems Sydney NYE has moved from being a creative celebration to a government marketing promotion for Sydney and this spells trouble. Events known for their creativity and moving towards a marketing or messaging approach are destined for failure. Like we have mentioned many times before, just look at the Closing Ceremony of the XXIst Commonwealth Games – Gold Coast 2018.

Back to Paris. The Eiffel Tower has remained unused on NYE ever since, though since 2018, the Arc De Triumphe has been used for projections and fireworks. However, that will never beat Sydney. In 2009, to celebrate the Eiffel Tower’s 120th anniversary, the Eiffel Tower was used as part of Paris’s Bastille Day celebrations. They added projections to the show this time and included a little reference to the Millennium display:

The only fault with the display was the Eiffel Tower’s reintroduction was not emotionally powerful. It wasn’t the best display but it utilized Sydney’s strengths as well as the emerging technology of projection mapping, which at this time was making it’s Sydney Opera House debut at the 1st Vivid Sydney. Notable is the strong usage of theming – the display told the history of the Eiffel Tower from 1885 – the year the concept plans of the Eiffel Tower were presented to the Society of Civil Engineers.

Clearly, Paris liked the display so 4 years later, they brought back the Eiffel Tower fully back (partially & briefly for red stationary flares in 2013) and have kept it as part of the fireworks since. The 2014 display, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, saw Groupe F produce what we think is the greatest pyrotechnic display ever done. It solved all the problems of the 2009 display and it is a display Sydney would be proud of. Sydney’s 2013 International Fleet Review Spectacular probably follows in 2nd place. Their 2014 display, titled War & Peace tells the story of France since 1914 and also features acrobatics & circus acts and brilliant cinematography from France Television:

Groupe F has since produced nearly all future Eiffel Tower displays. Some other companies have done these displays but you can tell the difference in quality. However, all years since 2013 (and maybe even some before then) have had a theme!:

  • 2013 – Freedom, Equality, Fraternity
  • 2014 – War & Peace*
  • 2015 – Paris Welcomes The World*
  • 2016 – Paris Is 1 Party*
  • 2017 – Olympism
  • 2018 – Love*
  • 2019 – Federation Party

*Groupe F show

This makes every Bastille Day distinctly different! Other years are below for your viewing:

The 2018 & 2019 displays have been geoblocked to Australia so we can’t see them. The 2017 display has been made a private video too.  But a documentary was made on how Groupe F produce the 2018 show:

If anyone in France is reading this and can provide us a copy of these displays and/or a full translation into English of the documentary, that would be appreciated.

The Eiffel Tower was also used for fireworks 3 times before the Millennium – for it’s 100th anniversary (1989, where it also featured lasers & acrobatics), the opening (1889) and during construction (Yes, during construction in 1887!).

Paris has never gone to the effort of trying to beat Sydney. Sydney’s local & state governments have just taken NYE for granted now. It’s all about marketing, messaging & money rather than celebration, community & creativity.

Sydney has inspired the USA, China, France & the UK to do similar displays.

In fact, New York (with the Brooklyn Bridge) in 1983 inspired Sydney to use the Sydney Harbour Bridge, who since 2014, have inspired New York to bring back the Brooklyn Bridge into fireworks displays. That’s right – if New York keeps improving their displays, their Macy’s July the 4th Fireworks, which once again feature the Brooklyn Bridge could rival Sydney but New York still needs a lot of improvement (Mind you, we’re not American so maybe their cultural preferences suit their display – It’s their national day after all).

The UK even copied Sydney’s own method of Olympic success by also using their NYE celebrations as a ‘test event’ for the Olympics. With Paris due to host the Olympics in 2024, would Paris capitalise on the Eiffel Tower’s fireworks growth and use it on NYE in a couple of years time as an annual ‘test event’ in the lead up to the Games? Maybe they would use the Eiffel Tower like Sydney used in the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics? If so, they will smash Sydney in NYE stakes as Paris’s annual displays looks distinctly different. Sydney isn’t so much anymore.

For the record, we are not saying Foti International Fireworks lack creativity. Unlike Paris, Sydney’s fireworks companies have always specialised in just fireworks with other creativity coming from external sources. Groupe F of Paris has expertise in not just fireworks but acrobatics, projections, lights etc. And that’s a major difference. Foti Fireworks still produce brilliant pyrotechnic displays. It’s just their appointers, the City Of Sydney & the NSW Government, are completely using Sydney NYE as a cash cow instead of a creative masterpiece. The overall event will decline in quality rapidly as a result.

Paris is on the rise, Sydney is on the decline. It isn’t Paris’s fault that Sydney isn’t as exciting as it used to be. It is purely Sydney’s own fault.

In other news from the updated website:

  • A disclaimer now appears upon accessing the Vantage Points webpage. No doubt to remove the City Of Sydney from any associations with commercialisation of the event.
  • It might be just us but the ticketed events appear first on the Vantage Points webpage. Hopefully everyone notices there are free vantage points too! (If you are also taken straight to the ticketed events, please let us know so it can be confirmed). However, this shows an increased emphasis on ticketing.
  • East Circular Quay is now free managed access again! YAY! Most likely due to pressure from nearby businesses.
  • Campbell’s Cove has gone from free ticketed to paid ticketed (AUD$10) NAY!
  • A special ‘Events’ webpage, as revealed last week by the City Of Sydney, shows an emphasis on private 3rd-party events to a scale never seen before. The closest was in 2011 when they did ‘After Midnight’ – a list of venues & private 3rd-party events held after the Midnight Fireworks to visit on your way home.
  • Pre-Show Entertainment and the whole event now starts at 6:50pm.  Recent previous editions started at 6pm with an aerial display.

Most of these dot points’ show the events’ purpose is shifting from one of creativity to one of commercialisation. Some improvement, but still as dramatic a decline as last year due to North Sydney now being ticketed as confirmed last month by North Sydney Council.

What do you think? Tell us what you think in our poll. That would truly tell if Sydney has stuffed up NYE.

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