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.
Earlier this week, Austrian pop duo Teya & Salena asked the world a very important question: “Who the Hell is Edgar?”
The ‘Edgar’ in question? Edgar Allan Poe, the 19th century American writer and poet best known for works of Gothic horror like “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”. And now he has returned to possess the mind of an up-and-coming songwriter in Teya & Salena’s satirical take off on the modern music industry.
“There’s a ghost in my body
and he is a lyricist
It is Edgar Allan Poe
and I think he can’t resist”
But Mr. Poe is far from the first public/historical figure to receive an eponymous Eurovision tribute track. Here are 10 more luminaries who received the prestigious honor in contests past:
Cleopatra was the Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BCE and the last ruler of the kingdom before it was absorbed into the Roman Empire. A figure of some fascination while she was alive, her cultural mystique has only grown over the centuries. She has inspired works of art, books, plays, films, operas, and even a brand of cigarettes. But most importantly to the topic at hand, Cleopatra was the subject of Azerbaijan’s 2020 Eurovision entry.
Intended to be performed by Efendi at the cancelled 2020 contest, ‘Cleopatra’ was initially submitted to the Sammarinese delegation. A demo with San Marino’s 2020 artist, Senhit, was recorded and scrapped before the song made its way to the Azeri broadcaster.
The song celebrates the perceived cultural wisdom of Cleopatra as a legendary lover and sexually fluid temptress:
“Cleopatra had Mark Antony
You know who I mean, not the Latin king
The one from Rome who lived long ago
After Caesar died, Cleo’s gigolo”
Though the real Cleopatra may have been confused at a reference to the ex-husband of Jennifer Lopez in 2,000 years’ time, the insinuation that Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was her glorified rent boy may have given the Egyptian queen a chuckle.
Efendi goes on in the song to compare herself to Cleopatra, singing:
“I can feel her spirit run through me
I can see it in my mind like a movie”
One hopes the movie playing in Efendi’s brain turned out better than the 1963 biopic Cleopatra, a legendary Elizabeth Taylor flop that nearly bankrupt 20th Century Fox and was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made. But speaking of Efendi …
The song so nice, Azerbaijan sent it twice!
Following the cancellation of Eurovision 2020, Efendi returned the very next year with ‘Mata Hari’, a thematically and sonically similar song that even namechecked Cleopatra in its lyrics:
“Just like Cleopatra
The army of lovers”
‘Mata Hari’ was the stage name of a Dutch exotic dancer accused of espionage during World War I. In 1917, she was executed by French authorities after being convicted of selling military secrets to the Germans. Though she always maintained her innocence and the subject of her guilt is still highly contested, the image of her as a provocative femme fatale endures.
Much like she did in ‘Cleopatra’, Efendi celebrates the woman in question for her legendary sexuality and ability to play men for her own advantage.
I am a dangerous lover
Drinking my poisonous water
And you’re under my spell”
(Has anyone checked on TIX recently? Just asking.)
But 2021 wasn’t the first time the myth of ‘Mata Hari’ made its way to the Eurovision stage. In 1976, blonde beauty Anne-Karine Strøm also sang a tribute to the sneaky sexpot for Norway.
Strøm’s song celebrates the idea of Mata Hari as a laissez-faire lover who used men and disposed of them when they ceased to be of use. (Again, can we get a welfare check on TIX?)
“Those you conquered with your dance – they never did have a chance
You walked away laughing and left them alone with their shame”
Unlike the subject of her song, Anne-Karine Strøm did not have much to laugh about. She finished in last place at the 1976 contest, the second time she had done so after landing at the bottom of the scoreboard in 1974 with the song, ‘The First Day of Love’.
Norway would have better(ish) luck the very next year, placing 14th with Anita Skorgan’s 1977 contest entry, ‘Casanova’.
Giacomo Casanova was an 18th century Italian adventurer who spent much of his adult life mingling with the upper crust of European society. Though his writings would become invaluable to historians looking to understand the customs of his day, his name has most famously become synonymous with womanizing. He was renowned in his day for his sexual escapades, once being sentenced to five years imprisonment for his ‘affront to common decency’.
In Anita Skorgan’s tribute, she sings in character as the wife of a ‘Casanova’, a man with a wandering eye and lubricated libido.
“Have you seen a man? I’m just asking…
Someone who thinks he’s a big charmer?
An amazing Don Juan
who calls himself Superman?
Say hello to him
and tell him that I’m married to him”
Anita Skorgan returned to Eurovision in 1979 with ‘Oliver’, another lament of a woman left behind by her man. She would later become a very public wife, marrying fellow Eurovision-obsessive Jahn Teigen in 1984. All told, the pair represented Norway at the contest five times, both together and separately. In their case, the ‘Casanova’ that always got away was, perhaps, the title of contest champion.
Casanova himself booked a return trip to the Eurovision stage in 2008 as the inspiration behind Andorra’s entry. That song, also titled ‘Casanova’, was performed by Spanish pop star Gisela and finished 16th in the first semi-final.
Gisela sings of a ‘Casanova’ who fulfills all of her wildest, most romantic dreams.
In a fairy tale I found you
I’m alive when I’m around you
I can’t live if we’re apart”
Though the legendary lothario could not propel her into the Eurovision Grand Final, Gisela had better luck over a decade later with one infamous ice queen. As the voice of Elsa in both the European Spanish and Catalan dubs of the Frozen movies, she and eight other international voices of the character performed ‘Into the Unknown’ with Idina Menzel at the 92nd Academy Awards. Beat that, Giacomo!
Casanova isn’t the only figure on this list to run into trouble with the Catholic establishment.
Galileo Galilei was a pioneer in the study of physics and observational astronomy. Active in Italy in the early to mid-17th century, he championed a heliocentric conception of the universe, arguing that the earth and all of the galaxy’s other planets revolved around the sun. This put him in the crosshairs of the Roman Inquisition, and he was eventually convicted of heresy against the church and sentenced to house arrest.
Belarussian duo Aleksandra and Konstantin invoke the astronomer’s name in their 2004 Eurovision entry, ‘My Galileo’. Adapting the man’s fascination with planetary revolutions into a metaphor for (possibly) codependent relationships, they sing:
“You’re my pier, centre in my life
My Galileo – I rotate to you, I’m here”
‘My Galileo’ was Belarus’ debut Eurovision entry. Unfortunately, the planets did not align in Aleksandra and Konstantin’s favor, and they were left in the semi-final.
It isn’t only spies, queens, and explorers who have received the Eurovision tribute treatment. At the 1977 contest, the same one where Anita Skorgan was asking after her Casanova, Swedish dansband Forbes paid tribute to their favorite rock band with ‘Beatles’, a song about a band that needs no introduction … but let’s do it anyway:
John, Paul, George, and Ringo were rock ‘n roll pioneers of the 1960s and spent much of the decade as the most famous entertainers on the face of the planet. Their songs have become woven into the shared lexicon of Western culture, and they remain the best-selling music act of all time. After the band split in 1970, it was only natural that the foursome’s legion of fans had a hard time letting go.
As Forbes sang on stage in London:
“The Beatles gave us their music
Girls uttered wild screams
We’ve still got all the records
We shall remember Ringo Starr
And George and Paul and John”
The Beatlemania described in the song was a very real thing. That fervor did not, unfortunately, translate into success for Forbes. Despite being on The Beatles’ home turf, Sweden finished in last place at the 1977 contest. It thankfully wasn’t a nul points situation, as the band received two points from the German jurors. And speaking of generous Germans …
Berlin born actress and singer Marlena Dietrich is remembered for a few things. For one, she was a humanitarian and spent much of World War II advocating on behalf of and financially supporting French and German refugees. But her biggest cultural footprint are her movies. After beginning her career in silent German films in the 1920s, she emigrated to The United States to work in Hollywood. She was a striking, daring screen presence who did things audiences had never seen before. In the 1930 film Morocco, clad in a men’s white tuxedo and top hat, she performed a cabaret number and kissed another woman.
In Monaco’s 1970 Eurovision song, ‘Marlène’, Dominique Dussault sings of the silver screen icon’s alluring sexual appeal.
“Your black stockings in Cinerama
A silhouette in sexyrama, Marlene”
(Sexyrama is quite a turn of phrase.)
But Dominique doesn’t only sing of her love for Marlena Dietrich; she sings of her desire to possess even half of the movie star’s inner magic.
“I wanted to resemble her so much
To bewitch you, to ‘Marlenise’ you”
(‘Marlenise’ or ‘Marlèniser’ is also quite a turn of phrase. Dominique is being driven mad with lust and envy!),
Dominique did not, as it turned out, have that some power to command an audience. She placed 8th at the contest with a total of five points, losing out to the sugar-y sweet ‘All Kinds of Everything’ by Dana. Juries at the time weren’t in the mood for the song’s smoky, silent film-evoking charms. Would they feel differently 16 years later?
One of the earliest sex symbols of the Hollywood film industry, Rudolph Valentino appeared in over a dozen silent films in the early to mid 1920s, usually playing the romantic lead in swashbuckling action spectaculars. So overwhelming was his allure that women were said to be fainting in the aisles at theaters showing his films. When he died prematurely at age 31, Valentino become enshrined forever in the pantheon of screen icons, and his name became synonymous with effortless cool and a debonair attitude.
Spanish band Cadillac dressed up accordingly when, in 1986, they presented the song ‘Valentino’ at Eurovision. Inspired by the movie star’s legendary romantic prowess, the six-man pop group sings of their own tricks of the trade … and they do it dressed in their very best ’80s fashions.
“A tango and a kiss, the warmin’ of her lips
And the orchestra will play the whole night long”
The song isn’t merely a tribute, however. It’s a throwing of the gauntlet, a challenge to Rudolph Valentino’s sex symbol supremacy. Cadillac thinks they could teach the silent film fox a thing or two.
“I hear Hollywood
must find a brand new dream
I’ll be Valentino’s rival on the screen”
Embarrassingly, Rudolph Valentino issued no response to Cadillac’s challenge. He had been dead for 60 years, though, so perhaps he deserves a pass. His ghost can no doubt find solace in the fact that Cadillac only finished 10th at the contest.
Cadillac were not the first Eurovision act to shout out Valentino. In a roundabout way, Greece’s Tania Tsanaklidou beat them to the punch in 1978. In her song, ‘Charlie Chaplin’, she describes the man of the hour as:
“Never quite the clever Valentino”
Charlie Chaplin may not have possessed the raw sexual magnetism of Rudolph Valentino, but he was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of the film industry. Chaplin was a writer, a director, a composer, a technical innovator, and an early studio head. Films like City Lights and The Great Dictator are considered seminal masterworks, and his character of ‘The Little Tramp’ is still instantly recognizable. (Also, his granddaughter was murdered at ‘The Red Wedding’, if that means something to you.)
Sporting her best pastiche of Chaplin’s iconic outfit, complete with top hat and cane, she sings the slapstick comedian’s praises.
funny little hero of the matinee
king of all the kings of comedy”
Tania Tsanaklidou tops it all off with a little dance routine, a bow, and a smile. Much like Chaplin himself, she’s ever the showman.
The very next year, Greece returned to the contest with an entry much more recognizably, well, Greek with an ethno-disco ode to Socrates, the father of Western philosophy. The celebrated Greek thinker, active in the late 4th Century BCE, was a teacher to other great philosophical minds like Plato and pioneered a dialogue-intensive based teaching style that we now refer to as the ‘Socratic method’. His radical thinking put him at odds with authorities of his day, and he was eventually executed for sacrilege against the gods.
Greek superstar Elpida laments the man’s untimely end in her contest entry, ‘Sokrati’.
“Socrates, first superstar
Your teachings, they said, were indecent
So they wanted you dead”
Alongside four Hellenistic backing singers, all dressed in togas, Elpida soulfully recounts the loss of one of the world’s greatest thinkers. In other words, it’s about as Greek as you can get. But Greece wasn’t the only country compelled to honor Socrates with a Eurovision anthem. In 1988, Iceland (?!) would get in on the action.
It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that Beathoven’s ‘Þú og þeir (Sókrates)’ is a tribute to the man in question. Truthfully, it is more of a shopping list of the names of recognizable men that happen to rhyme.
“I worship Harold Lloyd
I worship Sigmund Freud
And John Wayne and Mark Twain
And you and Michael Caine”
Beathoven may not have been the first act to bring up Socrates on the Eurovision stage, but they were undoubtedly the first to invoke the name of Icelandic powerlifter Jón Páll Sigmarsson.
The fates did not smile down upon Beathoven on the night of 30 April, 1988. The group only managed a 16th place finish. Socrates himself would see some justice in 2012, however, when The Onassis Foundation hosted a retrial of the philosopher and found that the death penalty was an unjust punishment. Perhaps Beathoven can ask for recount of the jury points in, oh, the year 4023 or so.
And now for the one you’ve all been waiting for.
Surely not at all inspired by the success Eurodisco hitmakers Boney M had with 1978’s ‘Rasputin’, German disco band Dschinghis Khan entered the 1979 contest with a song invoking the spirit of 13th Century warlord Genghis Khan. After fully uniting various Mongol tribes into one unified nation, Khan hacked, slashed, burned, pillaged, and took control over much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. His kingdom would grow to be the largest contiguous land empire in history, and his influence would reshape the world and its customs.
On stage in Jerusalem, Dschinghis Khan imagined what it would have been like to serve under such a great ruler.
“Up, brothers! – Swill, brothers!
Scuffle, brothers! – Again and again!
Send for vodka
Because we’re Mongols”
The members of Dschinghis Khan are joined by a flamboyantly dressed stand in for Genghis Khan. Whereas the legendary ruler trained his men to battle, his on-stage dancing proxy teaches the group to twirl and execute choreography.
The song also finds a moment to tout Genghis Khan’s legendary sexual appetite.
“And every woman that he liked,
he took into his tent
It’s said that there wasn’t a woman in the world who didn’t love him”
Though I might like to get a second opinion on that from all the women in the world, Dschinghis Khan do make a valid point: a 2003 genetic study found that as many as 16 million living men had genetics that could be traced directly back to Genghis Khan. Perhaps some of those descendants found their way onto the jury for Eurovision 1979. ‘Dschinghis Khan’ finished 4th on the night with 86 points.
Do #YOU know who the hell Edgar is? Which historical figure do #YOU think should get the Eurovision tribute treatment next? Personally, I’m rooting for Germany to give us a song about Johannes Gutenberg. Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.
P.S. Here’s a special bonus … “tribute” to another infamous public figure, brought to us in 2008 by Stephane and 3G of Georgia:
If you know, you know.
You must be logged in to post a comment.