On these pages, it’s not controversial to say that the Eurovision Song Contest is cool. But what is cool? Where does it come from? Does it do you any good?
In these modern times where anything can be monetised we send people known as coolhunters into the wilder fringes of youth culture, with instructions to bring back things that can be used to create trends that will enrich businesses.
Places like Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube and Cine are seething cauldrons of potential memes, forming a world-embracing mesh of creative individuals with new ideas. Do you remember when the phrase ‘on fleek’ arrived? It was like it came from another dimension where we’d always just said that things were on fleek. It jumped so suddenly and inexplicably into popular parlance that people are slightly afraid to ask what it means and have to either guess from context or engage in investigative journalism.
Every year the Eurovision Song Contest provides an interesting sample of European-wide trend data (and a little bit beyond, thank you Australia!). Many songwriters and artists involved in the Song Contest inhabit the same online and physical spaces that provide the instruments cool to wider markets. You can expect a decent level of crossover between rising new trends and Eurovision songs.
Finding the links and tracing influences in Eurovision songs is a really interesting game. But first – does invoking hipster imagery actually do you any good? How far ahead of the curve should you be for the Contest?
Slug Balancing And Other Memes
Let’s take the example of the moustache. Do you remember that moustaches didn’t used to be A Thing but now they are? Look at the Google Trends graph for ‘Moustache’…
Between 2004 and 2010, the level of interest in moustache (or mustache) was static, with an annual peak in November thanks to the Movember campaign, which started in Australia in 2003. From about 2005 you start to see cool people posting pictures of their moustache finger tattoos on Flickr and the ironic moustache becomes part of the ‘Standard Hipster Look‘. By 2007 you could buy little laser cut moustache tchotkes on Etsy.
It took until 2012-2013 for mainstream media to start running trend pieces asking ‘What’s the deal with all the moustache stuff?’ …which shows something about print media. Going back to the Google Trends graph, 2014 represents a peak in the online interest in moustaches, neatly encapsulated by France’s extremely on-point Twin Twin and their song ‘Moustache‘. The song was as much a celebration of the moustache as a desirable thing as it was a gentle mockery of the hipster upon whose upper lip the titular hair patch grew.
However, as we know, Twin Twin failed to convert any of that zeitgeisty energy into points on the Saturday night and since May 2014 the search interest in moustaches has steadily declined, not that I’m blaming Twin Twin for this. It’s possible that being aligned with a currently peaking trend made Twin Twin seem like opportunists with a gimmick, which turned the Song Contest voters and juries off. Other people might claim it was their live vocals that ruined it for them, but who can say for sure?
You can also be too far ahead of a trend, or just pick the wrong trend for the audience. In 2009 the idea of having Dita von Teese as part of your stage presentation seemed pretty hip to me, even if I didn’t think too much of Oscar Sings Alex Swings. On paper, she was there representing the moment that the wildly thrilling neo-burlesque scene crossed over, which was huge for all the people who’d been grinding and shimmying away in their corsets for years. However, burlesque was still eighteen months away from the strange endorsement from Hollywood that was the Cher/Aguilera movie – the mainstream awareness wasn’t quite there.
In practice, most of Dita’s act was deemed too hot for TV after the first Dress Rehearsal gave the producers too much of an eyeful and it was – pardon the expression – stripped down, giving the whole presentation the air of a strangely disjointed peek-a-boo fan dance. If you’d never heard of burlesque (and many people hadn’t at the time) it must have looked like their main backing dancer had a terrible wardrobe malfunction and was simply determined to finish the number, like a pro. What a missed opportunity.
The unofficial hipster code holds me back from actually telling you about things that encapsulated peaking trends and then caught the public imagination and did really well in Eurovision, but I think that I ought to mention that Euphoria and total pop chart domination by the revival of the 90s house sound happened at more or less the same time (wink).
Fast Times At Hipster High
But maybe we shouldn’t worry about trends? Between the viral spread effect of the internet and the fast turnaround time of manufacturing and pop culture, the time between an exotic trend first appearing in the wild and it hitting the mainstream has never been shorter. Those hoverboard gizmos went from ‘novel’ to ‘Instagrammable’ to ‘over’ in under 6 months! The time it takes for a song to go through the Eurovision process is now basically the same as the lifecycle of a meme – it’s unlikely that anything that was an emerging trend when you were writing in the summer is still even a thing by the time you get it to the Eurovision stage.
In order to be truly cool at Eurovision, I don’t think you can plan on catching hold of a trend or even hope to manufacture one. I think that the coolest artists are the ones with a unique vision and the passion and charisma to communicate it. Those are the true hipsters, and of course they need a mixtape.
I hope you think it’s cool.
Beyond The Wind Machine, Your Digital C90 Of Hipstervision
Þú leitar líka að mér, by Hinemoa (Songvakeppnin 2015)
Last year in Iceland’s national selection we were introduced to Hinemoa, who fit so exactly into a very particular aesthetic that we instantly knew them and recognised them as The Eurovision Hipsters.
Hinemoa are an Icelandic Bossa Nova band with a beautiful Maori name. They performed on Songvakeppni 2015 in boldly patterned dresses, with artfully tumbling hair. One of them had a tiny 12-string ukulele. They did a really endearingly awkward dance routine during a particularly tropical sounding trumpet break. They encapsulated the spirit of the a particular corner of the internet during 2014-15, where we got dressed in pinterest-approved vintage frocks and tropical prints, and listened to doe-eyed girls playing classic rock covers on ukuleles on You Tube.
If you like this, we should go crate-digging for obscure girl-group compilations.
Kedvesem, by Bye Alex (Hungary 2013)
Even though it won A Dal in a fairly straightforward manner and went on to be top ten in the Eurovision Song Contest’s Grand Final, this really sweet and atypical love song is pure Hipster Eurovision.
I mean, look at the singer, he’s wearing the whole hipster uniform down to the Monty Python t-shirt, thick framed glasses and superfluous beanie (which could only be better if it was hand-knit). It’s like someone’s trendy, adorable boyfriend has decided that entering the world’s biggest song competition is no big deal and he’ll do it just to impress his sweetheart.
If you like this, you’ve probably already got all the Jose Gonzales records you need and you could try some Sakert!
Tomorrow, by Petunija (Lithuania National Selection 2016)
So I was sitting at my laptop, consulting my big Eurovision spreadsheet for the year while watching the first heat of the Lithuanian selection process, when I heard a beautiful and beguiling sound. Petunija is styled like one of those implacably gorgeous Synths from Channel 4’s Humans and she sings swooping, looping harmonies over a driving electronic pulse. It’s all really smoothly futuristic and yes, thankfully, she’s got another chance to get the vocals right.
If you like this, you’ll definitely like Jane Weaver’s album ‘The Silver Globe’ which shares the futuristic theme and the hypnotic vocal style.
Missa Miehet Ratsastaa, by Terasbetoni (Finland 2008)
There’s likely to be some debate as to whether metal is specifically cool or not, but if the definition of a cool person is someone who continues to do their thing whatever the circumstances, then these guys are pretty cool indeed. Stripped to the waist, leather trousered, long haired, totally oblivious to their rather more light entertainment surroundings, they continue to rock out.
If you liked this, and you aren’t already inducted into the fellowship of metalheads, you have a lot of fun ahead of you. There’s so much metal, I can’t even tell you where to start.
(“But I will,” says Ewan, “stay with Finnish melodic metal and start exploring with Stratovarius and use YouTube’s ‘recommendation engine for your next step…)
Igranka, by Who See (Montenegro 2009)
Montenegro’s short Eurovision history has taken a few different approaches t0 the task of creating its three minutes of music to appeal to the voting public. None of them has been as bracingly modern as the extraordinary dubstep-inspired Igranka.
In the way you can only really do with an internal selection, it bravely took a group straight from the thriving and diverse Balkan rap scene and plonked them down at the Song Contest without sanding the sharp edges off. I feel like their spacesuited strut onto the stage ought to be a GIF to express the sentiment ‘I don’t care if you don’t appreciate this, I feel that I am awesome’.
If you liked this I would suggest you might enjoy something interesting from the great dubstep glut of 2009 – Ewrtenpeller’s long and noisy re-interpretation of War of The Worlds.
Salty Wounds, by Windy Beach (Eesti Laul 2016)
Estonia might just be the coolest Eurovision nation. But even by the standards of the Eurovision Hipster, Eesti Laul 2016 is cool. A guy called Mick has got to the televised stages of a songwriting competition with a very opaque slab of sixty beats per minute chillwave (or possibly witch house, I can’t really tell the difference until I see what he’s wearing when performs it) as a man plays jaw harp with a degree of intensity that deserves a bigger stage.
There are a handful of beautiful songs with soaring, chilly female vocals that you could easily imagine as a sampler from a specialist indie label. Out of the pack, my favourite song is ‘Salty Wounds’. Windy Beach have gone full on pastel-haired, mermaidish seapunk, reviving relaxed mid-90s style dance beats with a very 21st century haughtiness. I even think their font is cool.
Obviously, to retain any of the Eesti Laul mystique the Estonian public need to select the most straightforwardly normal song on the list, which I think is ‘Love A Little Bit’ by The Jingles. But even that has a certain Flight of the Conchords insouciance to it. Estonia are so cool they can’t lose.
If you like the whole Eesti Laul kind of thing you could give this 90s Witch House/Vaporwave/Seapunk mix a spin. It is long and very weird and has an extremely disconcerting remix of Haddaway’s What Is Love? at 25 minutes in.
Really, please believe me is weird and long.