Music journalist Roy Delaney gets to grips with one of the darkest problems facing the Eurovision Song Contest in these modern times.
The torrent of nasty abuse that met the election of Finnish punk rock legends Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät to our favourite stage only underlined one of the most deep-seated prejudices in the Eurovision world today. Yes, Eurovision fandom hates ugly middle-aged men.
Just one look at the line ups of all those Worst Eurovision Entry Ever polls that litter the forums in the off-season will show you the extent of the problem. Sure, there’s the odd off-key singing girl and the occasional genre-defying mash-up that’s bewildered the masses, but for the most part those lists are crowded with songs performed by ugly, middle-aged – and it has to be said, for the most part heterosexual – men, no matter how long, successful and critically acclaimed their career may have happened to be.
Decades of hit records, big selling albums and lists of awards as long as your arm count for nothing in this strangely tangental musical universe, as all the things that are usually considered admirable in the sonic sphere, like complex musical arrangements, deep and thoughtful lyrics and time signatures you can’t easily shuffle to at Euroclub get brushed aside in favour of wide-eyed girls in shiny frocks who don’t fully understand the words they’ve been hired to sing.
Time and again this prejudice rears its ugly head, and it’s become such a major issue that I’m considering starting up a support group for my poor, beleaguered fellow ugly middle-aged men. The evidence, as you will see here, is compelling…
Weil Der Mensch Zählt, by Alf Poier
It wasn’t enough for the fans of Eurovisionia that Alf Poier was an award-winning performer in his own right many years before he flirted with Eurovision fame. This Dadaist performance artist offered Europe a song, roughly translated as ‘Man is The Measure Of All Things‘, that asked questions about mankind’s destruction of the planet and their place within the animal kingdom. The musical arrangement was a complex affair, merging passages of Syrian folk with deeply intense metal breakdowns, while the stage show parodied the excesses of previous Eurovision performers.
It was a deeply thoughtful performance that still harboured howls of derision from the rank and file, calling it a joke song, despite its high intellectual content. Thankfully Europe knew better and voted it up into a respectable sixth position.
Sample Alf Poier lyric:
The difference between people, between apes and primates
It’s not much bigger than between noodles and pancake stripes
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘Give Me Your Love‘, by Friends)
Give me your love, Give me all of your love when the morning comes
I’m waiting tonight and it feels so right, Give me your love
We Are The Winners, by LT United
The concept of this song, a post-modern situationist musing on the state of Lithuania’s dismal track record in Eurovision was way over the heads of most Eurovision fans, who only saw it as a mere nursery rhyme that poked deep fun at the contest they held dear.
One look at the members of LT United will show the true gravity behind the act. Band leader Andrius Mamontovas was a founder member of Foje, probably his nation’s most important and influential rock band, who has a string of Bravo Awards (Lithuania’s top music prize) under his belt. Marijonas Mikutavičius is a popular singer, journalist and talk show host who is perhaps most well known as a member of the highly acclaimed rock band Bovy. Arnoldas Lukošius is a well-respected session musician, and feted in the Lithuanian music scene as their nation’s first rock accordian player, and all of the other members had long, glowing histories in the Lithuanian music business, with many of them playing a major role in forging the new nationhood of Lithuania itself.
Unfortunately for them their intellectualism was translated as being a bit flippant by Eurovisionia, and they were instantly painted as a joke act, despite having brains and careers the size of a planet.
Sample LT United lyric
Every day you hear us on the radio
And every day you see us on the news
It doesn’t matter, in mono or in stereo (Better in stereo)
‘Cause we are here to represent the truth
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘Tornerò‘, by Mihai Traistariu).
I’ll come back I’ll come back, I’ll give my life to you
You’ll come back, you’ll come back, you’ll be forever mine
Leto Svet, by Kreisiraadio
2008 had a higher than usual number of hate figures for the good people of Eurovisionia to get their knickers in a twist about, but probably the most common destination for their collective ire was this knockabout gaggle of left-field performers. A hugely popular act in their own right, many of who had been politically involved in the foundations of their nation, and they’d been staples of Estonian telly since the early nineties, and their clever parody of the desperate tricks employed by prostective Eurovision winners was sadly overlooked, mainly because they were ugly and middle-aged.
No matter that the song was performed in four languages – each translation skillfully decaying into self-parody as it descended through the stanzas. No matter that the song’s bridge featured one of the most stunning virtuoso passages of musicality ever heard at this contest – they were once again consigned to the dustbin of history because the looked a bit funny.
Sample Kreisiraadio lyric
Potatoes, beans, onions
Lobster, that’s enough
Sardine, that’s enough
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘Shady Lady’, by Ani Lorak)
But I’m staying alive, and now I’m changin’ my life, with a burning desire
No one knows who I am, but I don’t give a damn, gonna set you on fire
Euro Neuro, by Rambo Amadeus
To say that Rambo Amadeus got a bum deal at Eurovision is an understatement.
For a performing artist who is frequently described as the Frank Zappa of the Balkans, whose songs are deeply intellectual parodies of the nature of people in the Balkans and the foolhardiness of its politicians, the reaction his complex and intelligent jazz rock song was met with must have been nothing short of baffling. With a career stretching back to the late eighties, and with a string of awards for both his musical and artistic pursuits on his mantelpiece – not to mention his pioneering work to help quell nationalistic passions after the damaging Balkan Wars – to have been considered as a joke performer must have been just a tad irritating. Especially when he presented the competition with such a cleverly composed satire of the state of Europe’s monetary system as he did.
Sample Rambo Amadeus lyric
Don’t be dogmatic, bureaucratic, you need to become pragmatic
To stop change climatic, automatic
Need contribution from the institution to find solution for pollution
To save the children of the evolution
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘La La Love‘, by Ivi Adamou).
How I’ve been waiting for this
Lala… lala lala lalala… lala lala lala love
Three Minutes To Earth, by The Shin, ft Mariko
Many of the more high-minded Song Contest fans are always harping on about assumed musical quality when trying to justify their love of some bloke wearing a waistcoat and waving his hands in front of an acoustic guitar. Strange then that the same fans almost universally mocked a band who describe their sound as smoothly combining Georgian folk melodies with jazz, native polyphonic singing with scat, and tunes of the near Orient and flamenco with a modern Western sound.
Is it because they is ugly, perhaps?
Sample Shin lyric
Home, home, through the star trail of a lonely star,
Home to the Earth where we belong,
Dazzling light of mankind’s emotion,
Show us the stairway to come back to Earth
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘Undo’, by Sanna Neilsen)
Undo my sad, undo what hurts so bad
Undo my pain, gonna get out, through the rain
Aina Mun Pitää, by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät
These Finnish punk legends have been happily chugging away in their own little hardcore backwater since 2009. Over those years they’ve become a highly collectable and acclaimed band, releasing four albums and nine singles (indeed, the vinyl version of their debut long player ‘Kuus Kuppia Kahvia Ja Yks Kokis’ changes hands for anything up to £75 these days), touring the world a number of times.
Indeed, this is a musical track record way beyond the wildest dreams of pretty much every other act on the Eurovision bill this year. They’ve also been the subject of an award-winning movie about their lives (the quite brilliant ‘The Punk Syndrome‘), which showed them to be delightfully obnoxious pissheads and true punks to the very bottom of their souls.
But can the good people of Eurovisiona be happy for them? Can they heck.
The stream of quite vile abuse that’s been levelled at them over these past week has been nothing short of hideous, with people accusing them of everything from being a cynical, recently formed band to try and cash in on people’s sympathy, to accusations that they’re not as disabled as they appear. Indeed, many of their critics claim that they shouldn’t even be allowed to perform on the Eurovision stage – forgetting that they played in some of the most unforgiving punk rock venues on this planet and been treated as equals.
I fully understand that there will be very few Eurovision fans who will enjoy the band’s music – that’s a given. I wouldn’t expect them to be too deeply versed the genre’s long and anti-establishment history, and to most people this song will just be a proper old racket. But to those of us with punk rock running through our veins, this is probably the most punk rock thing that has ever happened. And there’s absolutely nothing the mean-spirited bleaters and naysayers can do about it.
I’m sure they’d be much happier if the band were dressed in rainbow colours singing a happy song about a bus, but the fact that they’re real people, ugly, obnoxious middle-aged people like the best of us, singing about the things that go on in their daily lives, seems to stick a little in some people’s craw. And I thought this year was supposed to be all about Building Bridges, eh…
Sample PKN lyric
I always have to be at home
I always have to do chores
I always have to eat well
I always have to drink well
I can’t eat candy, drink soda,
I can’t even drink alcohol
Sample fan favourite lyric (‘Warrior’, by Nina Sublatti)
Not a shabby, or a money maker
Worlds gonna light up in peace
Not in shadows, bright a little
Not your fault you’re just gonna breathe
So there you are. Time and again over the years we valiant few ugly middle-aged people have been mocked and marginalised. Songs that would be considered as high art and feted by the music critics in the real world are decried as joke songs, while flimsy bits of disco fliff are held up as the high watermark of artistic endeavour.
Of course, we’re being just a little light hearted here, but you must confess that we have a point.
High energy pop and Euroclub faves are the lifeblood of this Contest, and the best songs at Eurovision are the ones that either get the toes tapping or the heart racing. Indeed, a whole Contest made up of the more marginalised middle-aged musicians would end up being a pretty dull place, but there’s room enough for all of us in this glorious rainbow coloured panoply we call Eurovision.
So do let us have our one or two moments of joy every year, and remember that to the greater population of music lovers in the world outside Eurovisionia’s city walls, the songs that you hold in great esteem are the ones that are resoundingly mocked as being of poor quality, and the ugly, middle aged men rule the musical planet!
You can follow Roy’s adventures around the greatest music you’ll never hear at the Song Contest at Eurovision Apocalypse.