Eurovision’s Biggest Prejudice Written by on March 4, 2015 | 26 Comments

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.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (facebook.com/ewanspence).

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26 responses to “Eurovision’s Biggest Prejudice”

  1. Liking the cut of your jib, Roy, me being an ugly middle aged man myself!

    I have to admit that “We Are The Winners” is one of my all time favourite ESC entries, mainly because it did piss off the regular Eurovision fans who only like schlager! As a football fan myself, it also appealed to my memories of the terraces and football chants…

    As for PKN, the vocals on their entry remind me more of Napalm Death for some reason but the music is definitely punk – maybe that’s because I remember the original ‘wave’ in the UK in 1976 and 1977. I really am unsure how well they will do – they will either bomb with support from no-one or it will challenge for the win. Juries this year in NFs really have liked groups and rock entries and I could imagine PKN attracting almost a ‘anti-ballad, anti-schlager’ vote amongst certain countries. It will be fascinating to watch…

  2. Eric Graf says:

    AMEN, BROTHER!

  3. Aufrechtgehn says:

    You are aware though, that this contest was invented as a sort of musical hideaway for us gayers, a soothing and relaxing place where once a year we could flew from this bitter, ugly world ruled by ugly, middle aged (heterosexual) men and their aesthetically unpleasant (shudder) rock music? A safe, happy harbour full of delightfully numb disco tunes and reigned by fab fat fag hags?
    So now, during the last ten or so years, the evil EBU decided to take away our happy place and open it to ugly, middle aged men – and you are wondering about the fan’s reaction?
    Really, Roy?

  4. Very good point, Aufie baby. Now don’t I feel bad!

  5. Eric Graf says:

    “this contest was invented as a sort of musical hideaway for us gayers, a soothing and relaxing place where once a year we could flew from this bitter, ugly world ruled by ugly, middle aged (heterosexual) men and their aesthetically unpleasant (shudder) rock music?”

    1956 just called. They say “HUH?”

  6. skol says:

    But surely you cannot compare the ugly, middle aged (heterosexual) men mentioned in Roy’s article with the ugly, middle aged (heterosexual) men who rule the world.

  7. Daniel Wrigh says:

    I guess one of the reasons the above songs don’t usually get very far (Alf Poier, gets off lightly purely because there was no semi-final process just revolving door elimination) is not always aesthetic looks (although they do play a part) but because the song is not one you could put on your music player and sing along to (if you ever wanted to).

    Look at Finland’s Lordi, they were one of the first acts to break the candy-sweet pop barrier and go on to win the contest, some claim it’s because of their costumes shocking the audience into voting for them (Can’t deny that factor, it helped Finland get its 1st win) but also because you could sing along to it – it even appears in the Singstar Eurovision Catalogue (I can’t get my voice all grungey so the ‘Hard Rock’ sounds more like ‘Religious Zealotism’).

    Euro Neuro by Rambo Amadeus is a prime example, I do enjoy the lyrics and think they are quite clever but they lack the melody to carry it to stick in my mind, but also I’m culturally averse to rap or variations of rap music, so that may also be the cause for my main dislike of the song.

    So I conclude that a song, regardless of language (as proven with one the selected ‘silly high esteemed songs’ – Tornero), if a song has an easy melody that can be sung (or even hummed) it’s likely to stick in the mind better and get a better score or at least be remembered after its contest.

  8. Pedro Sá says:

    “A safe, happy harbour full of delightfully numb disco tunes and reigned by fab fat fag hags?”

    As if disco existed in 1956 LOL!

    ESC was created to unite people all across Europe. DOT.

  9. Branco says:

    Spot on comments for Georgia 2014! Indeed quality music…but far too good for it’s own good! banal schlagers and dull euroballads will always have more appeal…sad!

    And as for the Finnish band…I love their song, and loved to see them winning! Last year CW-fans talked about “toelrance”. and show EXACTLY the oppsitie about this band..really disaplying their doubvle standards and hypcicity!

  10. Adrian says:

    One can simply make the point that apart from Alf, none of these ‘songs’ are any good. Some ‘smart’ and self-declared ‘funny’ straight guys sits around, watch Eurovision in sheer amazement, and just because they don’t get it, they decide to make fun of it. Knowing quite well they won’t be able to participate on equal footing, they conjure some idiotic ‘joke’ entry (some call it ‘novelty’) and try it out. Sometimes, sadly, they manage to actually get to ESC.

    I always disliked these kind of entries. In the end, the joke is on them, and thankfully 90% stay in the semi’s now.

    By the way – you can add to the list 1980 Telex – Eurovision and at least 2 other Latvian entries. On the up side, lets not forget the brilliant Olsen Brothers from 2000 – 2 straight lads who actually sang a good song!

  11. Flip says:

    Evidence required that all men mentioned in this article are indeed “heterosexual”.

    Queers get middle-aged and ugly too – it’s not something unique to heteros!

    Presumption is the mother of al f**k-ups.

    I expect more from ESC Insight than this very poor blogspot

  12. BJ says:

    If ugly middle aged men could produce some beautiful music, I’d gladly vote for them.

  13. Martin says:

    I rather liked Euro Neuro by Rambo Amadeus but he and most of the people mentioned above really did make a visual joke of their performances – had they been serious, more viewers may have had an “ah ha” moment and considered the songs worthy of their vote. Rambo Amadeus also looked a little greasy and unappealing (let’s be honest) and whatever age you are, you can yet be presentable and smart. He reminded me of Sir Leslie Colin Patterson, Cultural Attaché to the Court of St. James. God love him, he did manage to do better than Madonna in getting his cloak off!

    Lithuania in 2006 came 6th – one of the best results Lithuania has ever had. As far as their age was concerned, they may be middle aged now, but they surely weren’t ten years ago. And, btw, being a middle aged gay man myself, I have to say that the lead “singer” for Lithuania (the one with the beard) is strikingly handsome. Also, the members of the LT United were mostly in their early to mid 30’s in 2006.

    Ultimately, I think Roy perhaps doesn’t quite get the fact that we (particularly the hundreds of thousands of gay guys and women) who follow Eurovision and attend each year are very light hearted about the contest and see the frivolity and we are truly in on the joke. But a joke about a joke (or a joke layered on a joke) then ceases to be very funny. So when Alf Poier sings a serious song (that most people don’t understand) with a little jig and a rather bizarre backdrop, we think he’s just taking the piss, and many of us are therefore not drawn to it.

    As for last year’s Georgian entry, I remember thinking whilst watching them in the green room, during the semi-final announcements “oh poor loves, they really think they might get that last ticket to the final’ when in truth, the song was just a complete mess.

    Roy has definitely hit on something here – it’s a fact that good looks, good presentation and exceptional outfits, but still most of all, a good song and a good voice will put any country in the upper echelons. It’s just unfortunate that

  14. Martin says:

    (I pressed “send” before finishing the previous message)

    It’s just unfortunate that some of the more serious performers feel they have to get in on the act and become a bit of a joke, which then falls flat.

    As for Finland this year, the song will get votes and may even qualify for the final (the same public in the UK who gave their 12 points to Poland in 2014, may throw their votes to Finland this year). I hope they do get a substantial vote, since I am partial to punk rock and rock generally myself. While on the topic of Finland however, Kuunkuiskaajat in 2010 had two beautiful women singing an enchanting and radically different song, superbly, but they got bilked out of a slot in the final – so it’s not just middle aged men who get the shaft when they bring something different and serious to the table.

  15. Flip: I’d written “predominantly hetero” in my initial draft’ but in my chopping and changing in the edit I’d inadvertantly lopped it out. I’ve already put in to the management for a re-edit, so hopefully that’ll be sorted out soon.

    If that was your only beef about the piece I was doing pretty well!

    But as far as proof goes, I wouldn’t be as presumptuous as to call this definitive, but as we ugly middle agers tend to stick together, I can reveal that I’ve been out partying with nearly all of the above-mentioned at Eurovisions over the years. We’ve talked about our partners, their children, and even chased the same women together. Obviously het-dar isn’t as definitive an indicator as many other dars, but in every case I’ve got enough evidence to reasonably suggest that the I might be mostly correct in my supposition.

    Cheers for pointing it out!

    RDH

  16. […] vom fränkischen Waldschrat nicht begeistert waren, kommt hinzu: ob Kümmert die teilweise hasserfüllten Reaktionen auf den Sieg der finnischen Punkband PKN beim dortigen Vorentscheid mitbekam und […]

  17. John Egan says:

    Ivo Linna, Estonia 1996. 6th place. He led his country to freedom by singing Kenny Rogers covers. The Olsen Brothers, Denmark 2000, 1st place.

  18. […] Kümmert schien die große Glitzermaschine Song Contest eher Angst zu machen (wusste er von der Verschwörung der Grand-Prix-Fans gegen hässliche mittelalte Männer?). Vielleicht ist der wie Catzweazle […]

  19. Ospero says:

    Okay, I can kind of see where you’d defend most of these entries, and I do get a general prejudice at the contest against performers that don’t conform to the pattern of attractiveness, but defending Kreisiraadio may be taking it a step too far. Even compared to the musical simplicity of LT United, “Leto Svet” was just bad – it might have been intended as comedy, but there simply was nothing even remotely funny about either song or performance, it just looked and sounded like three men in way over their heads. If a song like that had been performed by two attractive young women and a handsome young gay man, it still would have bombed, and rightfully so.

  20. Shai says:

    Between the lines I sense a deep resentment to the looking down and patronizing way people have toward what you called “middle aged people’, but when you talk about the the carrier and history of the singers and especially when you talk about the meaningful texts they all produced in compared to the other Eurovision entries, you just do the same. Looking down and patronizing. Shame.

    What make a song accessible?-For me it’s the music,arrangement and how it’s been sung. if that’s hit me in a positive way than I take a look of the words. Sometime the word has meaning, sometime the words has no meaning at all. Are the words important?again- yes and no.
    Needless to say that all the the songs you gave as example for meaningful text fail to connect with me in the music section. As a result, I never went to check the words.

  21. Zolan says:

    Arrgh. You tricked me into giving “Leto Svet” another hearing.

    Reading this brought “Probka” to mind. It was a tough semi, but last place?!

    I wonder if some of the tension around PKN is because they are NOT pitiful or pathetic. They are transgressive, like Conchita, but on a different axis.

  22. Matthias says:

    The Georgian “Warrior” is a fan favourite? In which universe?

  23. Shhh Matthias, it was a flimsy enough premise as it was, don’t uncover any more cracks! 🙂

  24. Chris says:

    I hope it’s not just because of me being a middle-aged man, but I really like the Finnish song, and it injects a bit of what the contest needs – a good kick up the proverbial.
    I had to giggle at your sample lyrics section – never really reflected much on the Shady Lady lyrics, but a Russian writing ‘gonna set you on fire’ for a Ukrainian entry in 2008 – could Mr Kirkorov be Merlin?

  25. […] Finland’s entry that was knocked out tonight, with perhaps more than ever before a song has angered the Eurovision fans with its inclusion in the Contest. Finland’s National Final process of UMK though is not […]

  26. […] am of course aware that this contest is not cool. Neither is it musically sophisticated or particularly authentic. Many regard it as a joke, a weapons-grade concentration of trash culture […]

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