n the animal kingdom, the horse is considered a reliable and powerful beast. It has been seen throughout history both as a faithful steed and as a mighty & noble beast.
Horses haunt the Eurovision Song Contest, and we compare acts to horses all year round. An act not seen as favourite but with an outside chance of winning, a dark horse. On the ESC Insight podcast, national final acts are referred to as ‘runners and riders’, the eliminated acts being referred to as ‘falling’, and in one memorable occasion “Andreas Kummert pulled up at the final fence.” Any country fielding the same singer & writer year after year could be referred to as flogging a dead… well, you get the idea.
To a certain section of the Eurovision community the mixture of the Song Contest & equine beasts can only mean one thing: ‘My Lovely Horse.’
Father Ted along with his junior Father Dougal, the incumbent priests in the parochial house of Craggy Island are spurred on by their rival priests on Rugged Island to enter “A Song For Ireland” to represent them at Eurosong. Eurosong, always (legally) Eurosong. After coming up with an dreary dirge about a horse they nearly give up until Ted finds a B-side from a 1970s entry for Norway’s MGP that perfectly fits with his lyrics.
Ted thinks he can get away with this as the band & all family members perished in a plane crash. After hearing his rivals high quality entry Ted realises his assumptions are wrong and the original Norwegian track is much more popular than expected. They pull the newer version and revert to the dire original. To the disbelief of everyone Ted & Dougal are chosen by the Irish television bosses against the will of the public to choose the priests of Rugged Island …Manel, anyone?
Suggestions of the Craggy Islanders being picked to ensure Ireland will not incur the costs of winning Eurosong again are nervously laughed off. The episode closes with Ireland receiving a torrent of nul points.
Father Ted itself has a massive following within the UK & Ireland but this episode in particular is something of a cult favourite. There was even petition to the Irish parliament in 2014 to have the song, written by the Divine Comedy, represent Ireland at the Contest the following year. Since this episode was broadcast more than two decades ago there have been no songs directly about a horse.
This is likely for the best as it would be easy fodder for some fairly obvious jokes from Graham Norton, although Switzerland came close with LA The Voice’s submission of ‘Wild White Horses‘, which was perhaps wisely not added to the short list).
It’s Not Just Father Ted
There have, however, been a number of horses appearing on stage, in official videos, or hidden within lyrics. This year we have a horse in the Bulgarian video and a half horse/half man balanced precariously on a ladder for Azerbaijan. If we look back at the use of the horse at the Eurovision Song Contest it isn’t perhaps the safest move.
In certain mythologies the white horse is heavily associated with death, they are used to carry patron saints in their final passage for example. It would seem in the Song Contest the horse symbolises much the same effect, killing off any chance of qualifying for the final, never mind winning the thing. Including this year’s Bulgarian entry we’ve had seven songs feature a horse in the official music video in the previous five years. If one wishes to include the further equus family then there’s also two videos featuring donkeys in 2012 too.
Despite the horse often representing power and nobility this imagery has failed to translate to Eurovision success. Of all the entries to have an equine element in their video only two actually qualified for the final, one of which by virtue of being ‘Big 5’. The exception to this rule was Zlata Ognevich’s ‘Gravity’ from 2013 not only qualifying but finishing third. In this case I am playing a little fast and loose with the definition of a horse as the fairytale dreamscape in Gravity technically features unicorns. Perhaps it was the horn up front that disturbed the curse on this occasion.
More often than not the horses in videos seem to represent either the power or freedom of the protagonist. In some cases the use of the horse seems to have a deeper significance to the message of the song. The imagery of the horse being with you until your final moments supported ‘Contigo hasta el final’ from Spain in 2013.
This year Kristian Kostov and the team from Bulgaria have included a black horse in their dark video for ‘Beautiful Mess‘. The song itself is about the power of people coming together, standing up for what they believe in and striving for a more peaceful world. The nobility and strength so heavily associated with horses through mythology supports this in the video. This fight for peace is further cemented using animal based symbolism with the release of white doves at the end of the song. ‘Beautiful Mess’ has proved to be a favourite thus far in the run to the Contest and could finally see an equine victory. Azerbaijan’s horse ladder man doesn’t feel quite as convincing but will likely qualify as well thus firmly putting an end to the curse…
It’s not just at Eurovision itself either. The curse can continue well after the Contest when you look at Alexander Rybak. As well as including the eponymous Contest winning ‘Fairytale‘, Rybak’s album Fairytales included a track entitled ‘13 Horses’. A song so depressingly morbid that it makes The Smiths look like The Wiggles. Over six and a half mournful minutes Rybak tells the story of 13 horses stranded in the sea after their vessel has sank. Slowly as the number of doomed horses dwindle the song builds and then just as it looks like one triumphant horse might make it…nope, all dead. One could argue the whole separate curse of the Eurovision winner may be at work with Rybak but the horses haven’t helped him along post Eurovision.
Last year Måns and Petra treated us to the list of tips on how to win the Contest with ‘Love Love Peace Peace’. But if there’s one thing to avoid in your quest to gallop to victory it’s horses.