Well, where do I begin with this little gem? Probably the history….
So, the Eurovision Song Contest that tacky annual sing-a-long started off as a way of bringing together those many battle-weary nations of Europe after the long bloody devastation of the Second World War. It was the brainchild of Marcel Bezençon—a Swiss TV exec who pinched the format from an Italian music festival where unreleased tracks vied in competition for the title of best new song. So far so good—though it behoves me to mention that Switzerland was neutral in WW2 which might explain why Eurovision is such a bland, inoffensive and unbearably condescending idea…anyhoo...
Since the Eurovision’s first appearance in May 1956—when it was called Eurovision Grand Prix—the competition has come around every year with that unenviable certainty of death, taxes and a visit to the in-laws every Christmas. Over the years there have been some fun things—ABBA, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, that heavy metal band Lordi and the first transgender winner Conchita Wurst. Then of course there has always been a lot of crap—way, way too much to mention. Still the Eurovision remains incredibly popular—some 200 million people watched the show go out live in 2015.
Winning Eurovision usually guarantees a lot of money, fame and shedload of sequins. The stakes are always high for anyone hoping to be win the privilege of officially representing their country in the competition. To find the most suitable artiste—each year, every participating country holds a national televised contest to find the person they think is going to win. As you can imagine, this brings out some of the most talented, strange and downright weird.
All of which brings me to Alex Angel who auditioned this week for the honor of representing the Ukraine in next year’s Eurovision. Most acts have a good song. Most acts can sing. But Alex doesn’t need any of that. He has a novel approach to booking his place in the final—his stripping partner Natasha Olejnik. This week Alex and Natasha tried their best to impress Ukraine’s Eurovision selection panel with their song “Running For Love.”
It all started out as a joke. A Finnish heavy metal band wearing Gwar-like costumes enters the cornball Eurovision Song Contest in order to freak the squares out. What happened was totally unexpected. They won! And Finland went apeshit. The band, Lordi, became national heroes, a source of enormous pride for the people of Finland. It may be about as hip as a Christmas-themed sweater, but the Eurovision Song Contest is taken very seriously with an estimated audience as high as 600 million people in 56 countries.
Lordi’s win made them a national treasure. The year was 2006. There was even a Lordi cola drink! By 2007 Finland was done with Lordi. Once the fanfare subsided, the home of the whooper swan and Hanoi Rocks banished Lordi to the “where are they now?” file, the dead zone where Spinal Tap, William Hung and The Singing Nun reside. The band that had once been Finland’s ticket to International glory had become an embarrassment.
The worst part of Lordi’s fall from grace is that it really was a case of a joke backfiring. What was intended as a subversive act was seen as a sellout by the audience Lordi really wanted to cultivate: the metalheads. Imagine if The Clash had appeared on Star Search. Lordi lost whatever credibility they had and the Eurovision Song Contest win killed their career while the cheers of millions faded into silence.
Filmmaker Antti Haase has made a terrific documentary about Lordi’s frontman Tomi Putaansuu called Monsterman. The film’s title refers to the title of Lordi’s biggest hit song. Putaansuu, who goes by the name “Mr. Lordi,” and Haase were childhood friends who had lost contact over the years. Mr. Lordi became a rocker. Haase made movies. When it came time for Putaansuu to stage his comeback he contacted Haase about the idea of documenting the rocker’s return to the limelight. Haase agreed and the resulting documentary is a touching, melancholic and deeply thoughtful look at the perils of fame and stardom.
Monsterman deservedly won the Jury Award at this year’s Austin Film Festival. Haase has directed a rock doc that has the cinematic touches one associates with narrative art films. This a beautifully shot movie that aspires to communicate not just by filming talking heads and concert footage but through a visual poetry that evokes feeling in ways that transcend mere reportage. Monsterman has soul.
Monsterman manages a level of intimacy with its subject without ever revealing Putaansuu’s face. In fact, we never see the faces of any of the members of Lordi until close to end of the film - and only one. The effect is quite dramatic because the person revealed is someone we’ve grown to care about. Putaansuu was furious that director Haase had betrayed an agreement they had to not unmask anyone in the band. As a result, Putaansuu has disowned Monsterman. Given the sympathetic depiction of Lordi and the overall excellence of the movie, I think Putaansuu will have a change of heart. In fact, according to Haase the healing has begun. As more accolades roll in, I expect Putaansuu to hit the talk show circuit. And why not? It’s all good theater.
Rock and roll is particularly cruel to its aging stars. For every Keith Richards or Patti Smith, there’s a dozen rockers who’ve fallen into irrelevancy or simply burned out. Does anyone take Axl Rose, Steven Tyler or Sinéad O’Connor seriously anymore? Some older rockers have taken to writing memoirs to keep their hand in the game. It’s a graceful way to keep creating without making a fool of yourself. Others, like Ted Nugent or Meatloaf, just go insane. Sometimes dying is they best way to keep your street cred. Putaansuu isn’t taking his fall from favor lying down. He’s the phoenix who’ll rise from the ashes. It’s the metal thing to do.
In Monsterman, Putaansuu is heroic in his efforts to pull himself up by his boot straps (which are enormous by the way) and resurrect his career. He knows no other world. In many ways, like most rockers I’ve known, myself included, he’s been in a state of arrested development since he was a teenager. He is still surrounded by his vast collection of action figures, masks and horror videos. He confesses that he’s too much of a child to have children himself. He lives alone in a snowbound cabin 50 miles from the Arctic Circle and is still doted upon by his loving mother. His strategy to return to the status of his glory days may actually work. The movie Monsterman is a damned good start.
Shortly after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Putaansuu told the New York Times…
Being a hero is easy: you just have to win the Eurovision Song Contest, apparently. Until a few weeks ago the whole nation was against us totally — they did not want us to represent Finland. Now all the magazines in Finland are printing Lordi masks for children. There’s not much logic going on inside. But let’s face it, people are stupid.
Tomi Putaansuu is hoping they’ll get stupid again.
Across the world tonight, millions of people are tuning-in to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. There will be the usual twinkly, pant-suited, satin-draped performers, with an excess of dry ice, singing about love, broken hearts, world peace and the weather.
While I like the idea of Eurovision, I doubt I’ll be watching, as I’ve always thought this fun competition tends to overlook better songs by greater artists, who know how to write an unforgettable tune.
The first that comes instantly to mind is “Mr Eurovision” by that great musical genius, Neil Innes.
Is there any other tune that gives the best of what Europe has to offer (in assorted cliches) with such a ludicrously catchy tune? I am still flummoxed as to explain how the UK never took up this work of unparalleled brilliance.
“Mr. Eurovision” originally appeared on The Innes Book of Records, which was one of the great high points in TV history, and now deserves to be repeated.
Ah, it’s getting near that time of year again, when the very best of European culture, as represented by bad songs, interpretative dance, fake tans, hair extensions and political in-fighting battle, battle it out, in front of a world-wide television audience, to win the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
As always, there is a host of strange, unlikely and bizarre entries, most notably this year are the pensioners who will be representing the U.K. and Russia.
The legendary Englebert Humperdinck will be carrying the weight of Britain’s hopes on his velvet-suited, 75-year-old shoulders, and he may well end up winning it for the U.K., which would be the first time that has happened since Katrina and The Waves back in 1997.
But for those with a betting streak, the interesting outsider is a group of 6 grandmothers representing Russia with their unlikely Euro Pop song “Party for Everyone”. The “Buranovo Grannies” beat 24 other acts to win the honor of singing for their country, reports the BBC:
Buranovskiye Babushki, from the Udmurt Republic, say they will use any cash raised to build a church in Buranovo.
“Grandmothers do not need glory and wealth,” a member told Vesti news.
The singer, named only as “Grandmother Olga”, said building the village church was their “only goal”.
Their winning song, which begins as a traditional folk tune before a modern dance beat kicks in, features the refrain, “party for everybody, come on and dance”.
The lyrics to the song, which feature a mixture of English and Udmurt - a language related to Finnish - were written by the grandmothers.
Buranovskiye Babushki became known in Russia with covers - sung in Udmurt - of classics including the Beatles’ Yesterday and the Eagles’ Hotel California.
For novelty value alone, the Grannies are well in with a chance. Qualifying heats for the Eurovision Song Contest take place between 22-26 May, so let’s see how far these gallus Grannies can go.
Once again, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest - that annual shindig where people who should know better represent their country in a live televised song competition. Even if you haven’t heard of Eurovision, you’re bound to have heard some of the past winners, such as: Abba with “Waterloo”, Teach-In with “Ding-a-Dong”, Lulu with “Boom-Bang-a-Bang”, France Gall with “Poupée de cire, poupée de son”, Dana International with “Diva”, Bucks Fizz “Making Your Mind Up” and Johnny Logan, with..well, Johnny’s your actual Mr Eurovision, having won the competition on three separate occasions.
This year the Eurovision has been slightly overshadowed by the (near) bankruptcy of certain Euro-zone countries and their bail out. This financial melt-down has inspired Portugal to select Homens Da Luta with their rousing radical ditty, “The Struggle Is Joy”, as their offiiclal entry into the competition.
The band have come up with “a politics-packed staging of their routine” which, as the Wall Street Journal reports, includes:
...red-and-green lighting to commemorate the country’s 1974 revolution, outfits symbolizing Portugal’s history (which, apparently, shares a lot with that of the Village People), and lyrics that tackle the Lusophone nation’s parlous economic state: There’s no point in tightening the belt
There’s no point in complaining
There’s no point in frowning
And rage is pointless, it won’t help you
Indeed, the €78 billion ($115.69 billion) financial bailout the country agreed with the IMF and EU last week will likely cause the Portuguese economy to contract by around 2% in 2011 and 2012, meaning that Homens Da Luta can’t afford to do too well when it comes to the voting, as hosting the competition next year — the winner’s honor — would likely add to the country’s budget problems.
Many people advise you to watch out
Many people wish to silence you
Many people want you to feel resentful
Many people want to sell you the air itself
This, surely, is a thinly-veiled reference to the multiple downgrades suffered by the country recently and IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn saying the package will require a “sacrifice” by the Portuguese people.
Moreover, just as some question the compatibility of the EU bailout package with the bloc’s treaties, Homens Da Luta, are being purposely vague with their lyrics in order to stay on the right side of Section 4, Rule 9 of the Eurovision Song Contest, which, just to recap, states that “No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the Eurovision Song Contest.”
This kind of specific political message is what saw Georgia’s 2009 entry excluded on the grounds of it’s Putin-baiting lyrics, bringing an unprecedented convergence to geopolitical tension in the former Soviet bloc and magenta sequin disco hot pants. According to Homens Da Luta, though, the message is more of a generalist call to feel good about Portugal.
“Our song doesn’t speak badly of Germany or any other country,” lyricist Jel told the BBC. “We go to Germany to show Europe that Portuguese people are not sad people. We are happy people who want to live with all our brothers in Europe.”
Portugal’s Homens Da Luta sing ‘The Struggle Is Joy’, after the jump…