Punk rock developed in the mid-1970s as a critique of the mainstream music scene. From the genre, we have been treated to the likes of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and the Clash’s “London is Calling.” Its influence has continued throughout the past 40 years as punk has inspired politically-charged rock and metal bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Pussy Riot.
I myself see Eurovision as a microcosm of the state of the musical world in its entirety. So although it is surprising that a punk song has successfully entered the Eurovision foray, it is not surprising that the country to push it through was Finland. Acts like Lordi leaned more towards the side of hard rock. However, beneath the makeup and prosthetics, there was quite the perfect little pop song. In 2008, Finland gave us Teräsbetoni and the song “Missä miehet ratsastaa.” Compared to “Hard Rock Hallelujah,” this was a bit grittier, but still with what my ears considered to be a song with a typical pop structure. It would take a 7-year break of dance-rap, folk-pop, balladry, and Katy Perry-esque tunes that we would return to something a bit hardcore. “Aina mun pitää” is 90-100 seconds of what appears to be banging noise with no song structure whatsoever. But with this comes its brilliance. Allow me to explain.
1. The lyrics. Countless websites have discussed the lyrics as being anti-establishment. The band members’ mental and learning disabilities impede their ability to enjoy the things that we take for granted. “I am not allowed to see my friends…I can’t eat candy, drink soda…alcohol.” Music is the outlet that allows them to vent their frustrations and to be equals. But there is more than the lyrics that make Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät punk.
2. The music. I am no expert in punk music, and I have yet to hear any punk music aficionados speak their thoughts about “Aina mun pitää.” However, the fact that the music is not what us Eurovision fans are used to is pretty anti-establishment. As mentioned, previous Finnish rock entries still had the typical pop song structure. Other rock songs, such as Iceland’s “Valentine Lost” and Slovakia’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” still had pop song structures. And lyrically, we had songs that could be argued as “anti-establishment” as they poked fun at Eurovision. I am talking about “Boom Boom Boomerang,” “Euro-vision,” “Congratulations” (Silvia not Cliff), and “We are the Winners.” But this may be the first time that an act combined anti-establishment lyrics with anti-establishment (i.e., non-Eurovision-friendly) music.
3. The song length. Fans are crying out that a Eurovision song should be between 2.5 to 3 minutes long. Unless the EBU received an extended version of the song a few weeks ago at the Head of Delegations meeting, we may be witnessing one of the shortest songs in Eurovision history that we have ever seen. This goes against the establishment of what we expect from Eurovision music. Most expect that competing acts would take up the maximum allotted time to impress jurors and televoters alike. But in this case, the Finnish act is saying screw the expectation, we believe we can get the job done in half the time.
4. Being at Eurovision. The original winner of the German national selection, Andreas Kümmert, decided to opt out of representing Germany at Eurovision. In some sense, I am almost surprised that Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät did not do the same as a punk band. You hear of many musical acts refusing to do Eurovision as they perceive it to be some badge of shame. I’d expect that any punk band would be in front of that line. However, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät are not only going against the establishment of what is Eurovision, but they are also going against the establishment of what is punk mentality. From what we have seen in interviews, these guys are so excited to be going to Vienna. Rather than scoffing at the idea, they are embracing it. I have witnessed firsthand certain acts at Eurovision that showed up and played the “too cool for school” route. And in a sense, I would expect a punk band to be doing the same. However, I am personally hoping that these guys end up being as friendly and easy-going as the media is portraying them. They seem genuinely happy to have won the Finnish national selection and thrilled to be going to Vienna.
In a certain sense, to have a Eurovision fan like myself trying to justify the presence of punk music and an anti-establishment mentality at Eurovision may be seen as blasphemy by punk music fans. However, Eurovision has always been about trying new things out. We are in our fourth or fifth iteration of a voting system. The winners, once determined solely by jurors, is also determined by televoters. Producer-driven running orders are entering their third year. And this year, we welcome Australia, a non-EBU country, for the first time. So let’s give it a go. For people who dislike Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, hope for them to come and go in their 100-second timeslot. For fans of Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, hope they can make it to the finals. Either way, I welcome them to the Eurovision community and hope they have a heck of a time in Vienna. I cannot wait to meet them.
Zack Kerr has been an Editor with ESC United since 2012. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.