I’m A Joker: “Joke entries”, novelty acts, and the Eurovision Song Contest 2022

I’m A Joker: “Joke entries”, novelty acts, and the Eurovision Song Contest 2022

It’s that time of year again, everyone. The time of year when the joke entry discourse returns. For a contest like Eurovision (and, really, there is no contest like Eurovision), entries which are kitsch, colourful, joyful and playful are part of the rich history of the contest. However, there appears within any discussion on the subject, that there is an indefinable line between entries which are acceptably silly, and those which have no place in the contest.

We’re no exception at TES. We’ve already done a podcast episode on it:

As I was writing this piece, our group chats were buzzing with discussion on the topic. What counts as a “joke entry”, why are some entries considered to be “joke entries” by others, and what place do they have in the contest in 2022? I can’t promise I have all the answers, but I do want to dive into these questions a little further.

What songs are we talking about here?

I’m going to set the parameters of this article to include songs which use humour, novelty and/or shock as a key part of their entry. This is often primarily as part of the lyrics, though could also include things like elements of production, instrumentation and staging for the live performance.

Songs that I won’t be including in this discussion include:

  • Songs that may be considered as novelty entries (usually by casual viewers) due to traditional or otherwise unfamiliar styles of singing or music (such as Spirit in the Sky or Pali się, or from this year, Trenulețul)
  • Songs that may only be considered novelty entries due to their staging (such as My Lucky Day or Skeletons)
  • Songs that incite humour purely due to poor live performances (I’ll let you fill in your own example here)
  • Songs that, for some reason, are considered novelty entries due to the characteristics of the performer (such as Party for Everybody or Aina mun pitää, and also this is horrifically ableist, please stop)

I’m also not going to attempt to talk about Euro Neuro, because it’s been ten years and I’m still trying to figure that one out. You do with that one what you wish.

What do we even call them?

For the sake of this article, I’m going to refer to them all as “novelty” entries, and define them using the parameters that I’ve set out above. To refer to some of the entries I’ll be discussing as a “joke entry” feels not only derogatory, but completely ignorant of some of their intentions, meanings and messages. Your mileage may vary here.

I don’t necessarily believe myself that all of the examples I have listed already, or will list, are joke or novelty entries. I’m instead looking here at observations I’ve made from my time in the fandom, which is primarily based on Twitter and Reddit. When we look at songs that people typically class as joke or novelty entries, here’s what I’m seeing as patterns.

How do we categorise novelty entries?

The key to categorising novelty entries, to me, lies in the intent of the songwriters and performers. This is not always clear-cut, and these categories aren’t always neat and distinct. Not everyone is going to interpret these in the same way, either, even within acts themselves; while many commentators suggested that Poland’s My Słowianie was a clear mocking of the stereotypes surrounding Polish and Eastern European women, some have raised a few eyebrows at the place the song, music video and performance hold in the context of Donatan’s previous work. What I’m saying here it’s that I’m certainly not going to be objectively correct in how I categorise things, and I absolutely cannot claim to understand the intent of everyone whose song makes it to the Eurovision stage. I’ll be doing what I can from my own interpretations of lyrics, plus what we know from interviews.

There are two main axes that I use to consider novelty entries:

  • Fun vs. Serious
  • Songs with a (serious) message vs. Songs without a message

There’s also a third axis that I would also consider in the crafting of a novelty entry, though this is not always one that is relevant to every song that might fall into this category:

  • Songs which hold disdain for the contest as a whole vs. Songs which have an affection for the contest as a whole

So how do these work in practice?

“Instead of meat, I eat veggies and pussy”: Fun entries with a serious message

Eurovision has welcomed entries which centre purely around fun from as far back as 1970s. An article by one Rory Gannon suggests that the first “joke” entry to grace the Eurovision stage was Schmetterlinge’s Boom Boom Boomerang (Austria 1977). With a chorus full of nonsense words, it’s easy to see why. However, a closer look at the verses reveal something a little deeper:

Music is love for you and me
Music is money for the record company

This is the Eurovision novelty entry that’s like an ogre, or an onion: it has layers. Behind facades of everything from innuendo, to cultural references, to a catchy chorus about facial hair, these are the Eurovision entries that reveal something deeper underneath the surface. Sometimes, these messages are political, or critical of the society or societies that we live in. Sometimes, they’re about something universal, like saving the planet, or equality. Sometimes, they’re just about accepting yourself for who you are.

It’s a genre for which I could list countless entries. I’ve tried to pick out a variety.

Eat Your Salad is the latest in a long line of songs to follow this path in Eurovision. The lyrics are full of innuendo, and provocative to some, but they make no attempt to hide their greater message – that “being green is hot, being green is cool.” Following that opening line is a song which is a self-aware, but ultimately positive endorsement of the shift towards eco-friendliness and climate consciousness. It’s just got a great saxophone line behind it.

“And before that wolf eats my grandma, give that wolf a banana”: Fun entries without a message

A genre that is synonymous with Eurovision of the 2000s, but not one which began there. Not long after Boom Boom Boomerang, we begun to see other songs appearing which fit both this category and the one above it. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen a song that truly fits this genre of unashamed fun in Eurovision now, but Subwoolfer are bringing it back.

Other examples of this genre that you might look to are:

This is the genre where it is most often worth considering the intent of the artist and their relationship to the contest. While many of the entries above do come from a place of providing just a little fun and silliness for the contest, others come from a place of upset or disillusionment. Dustin the Turkey’s Irlande Douze Points was met with boos the first time it was performed at the Irish national selection in 2008, and has divided opinion ever since. The lyrics express frustration at Ireland’s downfall in the contest since the 1990s. The song ends with Dustin simply yelling out the names of competing countries, asking for points. It makes no attempt to send a message greater than the song itself; it’s a novelty act written, submitted and performed through frustration at the state of the contest in the late 2000s.

Give That Wolf A Banana provides an updated version of a song from this genre for the 2022 contest. The mysterious Subwoolfer have wholly embraced the contest across their social media, and therefore this entry represents a positive addition to the genre. The lyrics tell an updated version of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Some have suggested that it’s an allegory for the Covid-19 pandemic (Subwoolfer have, in true Subwoolfer fashion, neither confirmed nor denied this). It’s not clearly intended to be for anything greater than the song itself – it has no message, no agenda, other than a bit of fun.

“What is the secret behind Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?”: Serious novelty entries with a serious message

A “serious novelty” entry might sound like something of an oxymoron, and perhaps it’s why this is one of the rarest forms of novelty entries we see at Eurovision. However, the past few contests have given us a couple of excellent examples, which lay the stage for Serbia’s entry from this year, In Corpore Sano by Konstrakta.

“Serious novelty” entries have much in common with fun novelty entries, but instead of using shock or humour to warm an audience up to a message, they are actively confrontational about what they are trying to say. Often these entries express a deep anger at some aspect of society.

The biggest example of this in recent years has been Hatari’s Hatrið mun sigra. A song which, in keeping with much of Hatari’s other discography, presents a critique of capitalism, exploitation and intolerance using imagery of BDSM and fetishism. The aim of the song and the performance is to shock people, and then to get them thinking further.

Another that does the same thing to a lesser degree is Tornike Kipiani’s Take Me As I Am. The song criticises the dominance of Western European culture with a frustration that his own identity is seen as inferior:

Why don’t you want me to be just the way I am?

I guess you don’t love me

Why don’t you love me?

Following in their lead this year is Konstrakta, whose song criticises the wellness industry, an obsession with bodies and beauty (particularly for women) and Serbia’s own healthcare system which can leave freelance workers (such as musicians) without access to healthcare. The lyrics play with tabloid headlines, the words of snake oil salesmen and traditional latin phrases, but do so from a place of anger and frustration, not from fun. There is wit and humour to both the lyrics and the performance, but it’s to make people sit up and listen, not dance alongside.

Can they be called novelty entries at all? I’m not sure, and personally, I feel using that term serves to alienate the songs in question from their meanings. I have, however, seen enough people suggesting otherwise that they can and should form a part of this discussion. They may use shock, wit or humour as part of their songs, but they’re intended to provoke and to satirise first, and to entertain second.

Why does this even matter?

To the general public (certainly at least where I am, in the UK), Eurovision has become synonymous with the kitsch, camp, humour and shock that can come from a novelty entry, and often in a way that is derogatory. However, to only consider songs on the surface level, particularly some of the ones that have been discussed as part of this article, serves to completely ignore the intent of the artists and performers. Sometimes the meanings of songs are obscured behind barriers of language. Sometimes, an entertaining stage performance will become the focus instead.

This is not a call for artists and performers to change their approach, or compromise their artistic integrity, vision and message – quite the opposite. It’s a call for us as viewers to meet them where they stand.

Some of this could be done by broadcasters. They could, for example, provide optional subtitles or translations of lyrics in the language(s) of their population that are easy to access during broadcasts. There is also a responsibility on the shoulders of commentators here. Their role as guides to the show should include providing at least a brief context and meaning to each entry, especially when it may not be understood by most viewers at home. We can save the shout-outs to Paula from Blackpool until the songs are over and the recaps are playing.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably more of a Eurovision fan than most, and so some of this is also on us. Look up the translation of the lyrics. Read interviews with the artists. Understand what the song is about, rather than simply dismissing it, laughing at it, or deriding it.

You don’t have to like a novelty entry, but you can afford it the same understanding and respect as any other competing song. The diversity of performances, styles of music and messages that these “novelty entries” bring to the contest create the network of musical and cultural exchange that the contest thrives upon.

All of us come to Eurovision with an understanding of the transformative power of art and music. It’s one of the reasons why many of us love it so much. Humour, wit, shock and satire are powerful tools that have been used by artists of all kinds for generations. Alongside that, there is a meaningful space for entries designed simply to put a smile on someone’s face, or to get someone up on a dance floor. What I’m saying, ultimately, is that the contest would be less joyful, and less impactful, without them. We just sometimes need to dig a little deeper.

What role do you think novelty entries have, or should have, at the contest in 2022? Which ones are your favourites? Are there any you think we’ve missed out that you love? Let us know in the comments or on social media. Be sure to follow THAT Eurovision Site on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

News Source: That Eurovision Site

Photo Source: Terje Bendiksby / NTB

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