All opinions expressed in this article are those of the person quoted and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the other team members or ESC United as a whole.
In late January, when snippets of the demo for Teya & Salena‘s ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ hit the Internet, the question on everyone’s mind was simple: “Huh?” A dance song about 19th century American poet Edgar Allan Poe? Is this a joke? Many, including the author of this very article, were quick to dismiss the song as junk and comfortably predict it to stay in this year’s semi-finals. But boy were we wrong.
On March 8, the song and its accompanying music video hit the online fandom with the ferocity of a tell-tale heart. Far from just a silly song about a dead short story writer, ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ is a song with some lyrical and thematic depth. As Teya explained in an interview with Voralberg Online:
“It’s about our experiences as female songwriters. If you speak plainly in a room, as a songwriter you very often have the feeling that you’re not being taken seriously.”
Observed through that lens, the meaning of ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ snaps into focus. Though young, Teya & Salena have been pushing stones up the proverbial hill that is the music industry for a few years. (Teya even competed to represent Serbia in its 2020 national final with the song ‘Sudnji dan’.) In that time, they’ve seen first-hand how female songwriters struggle to be taken seriously by the powers that be. So why not, as many female writers have done over the past centuries, hide behind a masculine penname? In the music video, we are even shown Teya & Salena dressed up in drag to pitch their composition to the industry gatekeepers.
Teya & Salena aren’t just taking aim at the record business patriarchy, though. They are also satirizing the music industry as a whole. After spending the first two verses celebrating otherworldly inspiration and the promise of stardom from a major record label, the lyrics of the third verse, “zero dot zero zero three,” refer to the $0.003-$0.005 artists earn from Spotify streams. As pointed out in an editorial by Mary-Jo of Phoenix ESC, this reflects the financial reality of being an up-and-coming recording artist in the digital age.
🎵 Give me two years
and your dinner will be free
Gas station champagne is on me
Edgar cannot pay rent for me 🎵
‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ isn’t the first time Austria has sent an industry-lampooning provocation to the contest. Here are two of its ancestors and the artists responsible for them:
2003: Al Poier- ‘Weil der Mensch zählt’
It was hard being an Austrian Eurovision fan in 2003. The country hadn’t finished higher than 10th place since 1989 and was relegated out of both the 1998 and 2001 contests for poor finishes at the previous years’ contests. After finishing 18th at the 2002 contest, Austrian Eurovision fans were once again bracing for a disappointing showing in Riga.
Enter Alf Poier.
Alf Poier is an award-winning cabaret artist, comedian, and bad take haver. In 2003, the then-36-year-old provocateur had been performing stand up gigs and releasing albums for close to a decade, and he had a legion of both Austrian and German fans from appearances on several different television shows. When it was announced that Alf would be among the 10 acts competing in Song.Null.Drei, Austria’s national final, he was one of the more recognizable names.
Voting at Song.Null.Drei was done via telephone and SMS and was divided down gender lines, with the votes of male and female voters split and compiled into overall rankings. Though he faced competition from former Eurovision competitors Petra Frey (Eurovision 1993) and Stella Jones (Eurovision 1995), Alf won in a landslide, earning the maximum points from both male and female voters with his song, ‘Weil der Mensch zählt’.
Swinging wildly between a folk-y nursery rhyme and an electric guitar-forward rock chorus, the song was unlike anything else competing to represent Austria in 2003. And that was very much by design. Speaking to the press in the lead up to Song.Null.Drei, Alf described the song as, “a hymn to individualism and against collectivism.” He went on to decry the state of the modern pop music industry, saying:
“In Austria, every cucumber farmer can become a star.”
Clad in his trademark red T-shirt and backwards newsboy cap, Alf was joined on stage by two female backing singers and four carboard cut outs wearing animal masks. Roughly translated as ‘Man is the Measure of all Things’, the song is a mostly nonsensical list of animals and how they differ from humans.
🎵 The-the difference between people
Between apes and primates
It-it’s not much bigger
Than between noodles
and pancake stripes 🎵
Below the surface, however, the entire package of ‘Weil der Mensch zählt’ had bite. Wrapped in layers of irony and delivered by a self-described “holy clown,” the song was a satirical takedown of the excesses of Eurovision and what Alf perceived to be the disposability of modern pop music.
As he put it in an interview with Eurovision Live:
“The people who don’t understand my song, they say ‘this is bullshit, this is really a bad song’, they understood it. But they don’t know it.”
In the lead up to Eurovision, Alf became notorious for his stunts and oddball behavior. Arriving at the airport for the flight to Latvia, both he and his manager were wearing animal masks. On the ground in Riga, Alf amused himself (and the press) by showing up to press conferences wearing a stack of seven hats and distributing postcards with an image of himself crucified emblazoned on the front. He also caused more than a few raised eyebrows, declaring Eurovision a, “musical holocaust,” and labeling the current state of Europe a, “spiritual and physical Hiroshima.”
Austria performed 2nd at the 2003 contest and was the bookies’ favorite to place last. But not everyone was ready to write Alf Poier off completely. Commentating for the BBC, Terry Wogan quipped:
“He’s favored for last place. I’m not so sure. There’s always a lunatic fringe.”
For once, Terry Wogan would be proven correct. After delivering more or less the same performance he had presented at the national final, Alf returned to the green room. He had done what he came there to do. He had stuck a middle finger up at the cultural establishment, delivered a satirical takedown of the excesses of the Eurovision Song Contest. There was nothing else to do but await what were sure to be dismal results. There was only one problem.
People loved it.
That night, Austria received points from 17 countries, including 10 points from both Iceland and Portugal. (Worth noting: All points in 2003 came from televoters, save for the scores from Ireland, Russia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina, the last of which gave Austria five points.) After collecting 101 points on the night, Alf Poier had trolled his way to a 6th place finish, trailing 5th place Sweden by only six points.
Speaking live that night to a correspondent from Liquid Eurovision, a BBC after show, Alf could barely contain his amusement at the night’s outcome and couldn’t help but break character. (See below.)
While loudly protesting that he should have won and that, “Europe has no musical taste,” his laughter and shit-eating grin betrayed the reality of the moment. This wasn’t a man outraged at ONLY finishing 6th. This was a man who couldn’t believe what had just happened. He had come to Eurovision with a song trolling the contest for what he perceived to be its mundane excess, and he had left with Austria’s best result in more than a decade.
To delighted gales of laugher from the in-studio hosting panel, Alf shouted:
“I hate this contest. Fuck the Eurovision Song Contest.”
But his huge smile said otherwise. Besides, if he REALLY had such a bad time, he wouldn’t have tried to return. In 2005, he competed in the Austrian national final with two songs, placing 2nd with the song ‘Good Old Europe is Dying‘ and reaching the online voting semi in 2011 with ‘Happy Song‘.
1977: Schmetterlinge- ‘Boom Boom Boomerang’
Austria’s first bite at the satirical song apple didn’t have as happy an ending.
In 1977, the country was represented at the London-hosted Eurovision by political folk group Schmetterlinge. The song, ‘Boom Boom Boomerang’ was a commentary on the exploitation of musical artists in the recording industry, as its opening lines made quite clear:
🎵 Music is love for you and me
Music is money for the record company 🎵
Schmetterlinge brought a level of spectacle to the Eurovision stage rarely seen before. Fronted by lead female vocalist Beatrix Neundlinger, a contest veteran who had represented Austria as a member of the folk group Milestones in 1972, the five-member band began their performance with a few a cappella bars. They then moved into the meat of the song, a slapstick-y blend of gibberish lyrics (sung in English), puppet-like choreography, and subversive commentary on the way the music industry manipulates artists to fit into specific, preexisting molds. This final point was driven home by Schmetterlinge’s biggest stunt: at climactic moments of the song, the four men in the group would spin around, revealing that their backs had been transformed into the grotesque, grinning visages of record company executives. This effect was achieved by turning the back of their costumes into frontward facing tuxedos and placing human masks on the back of their heads. (See left.)
All the while, the German-language lyrics bitterly parroted back the messages musical artists are constantly receiving from the powers that be.
🎵 Mono or stereo, live or at the studio
So Big Brothers voice spoke
‘Smash hits for girls and boys’
But critique of the music industry was only one of the things on Schmetterlinge’s minds. There was also more than a little fun being poked at Eurovision’s expense. The onomatopoeic and mostly meaningless lyrics of ‘Boom Boom Boomerang’ were meant to evoke the spirit of previous winners like ‘La, la, la’ (ESC 1968), ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ (ESC 1969), and ‘Ding-a-Dong’ (ESC 1975).
🎵Boom Boom Boomerang, Snadderydang
Kangaroo, Boogaloo, Didgeridoo 🎵
Their marionette-ish choreography wasn’t just making a point about the way record executives pulled the creatives’ strings. It was also parodying the act that had won the contest just one year before. The UK’s Brotherhood of Man won the 1976 contest with the square, yet charming pop pleasantry ‘Kisses for Me’, and the simple wave-and-bend choreography of that performance had helped the group stand out among the field. (See right.) Plus, the men of Schmetterlinge weren’t just pulling double duty to skewer record executives with their costume reveals. They were parodying the rule that limits all Eurovision acts to a six-performer max on stage.
Schmetterlinge performed 4th on the night. Sadly, they only managed to secure points from four countries and placed 17th out of 18 entries, finishing above only Sweden’s Forbes with the song “Beatles”. (That song was, coincidentally, discussed in another recent article tied to the release of ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ You can find it here.) Suffice to say, their message didn’t resonate with the jurors at Eurovision 1977.
Time will tell how Teya & Salena’s message will land with this year’s Eurovision audience, but one thing’s for sure: the next time we second guess Austria’s aim with a satirical song, we should take inspiration from their incorporeal ghostwriter and think, “Nevermore.”
Do #YOU have a favorite Eurovision troll track? How would #YOU like to see Teya & Salena stage their performance for maximum impact? Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.
Sources: Phoenix ESC, Der Standard, ESC Today 1 2 3 4, Eurovision-Spain, Treibhaus, Der Standard
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