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XTRA Debate: Do joke entries ever have a place in the contest?

We all love a joke. A smirk, a giggle, an uncontrollable cackle. Much like music, the ability to conjure laughter is an art form which should be appreciated. Comedy music tries to find a way to balance humour and some form of musical integrity. However, when it comes to Eurovision, do joke entries that use music to create laughter or satire belong in the song contest? 

Defining a ‘joke entry’

A ‘joke entry’ is a surprisingly tricky and awkward term to navigate an objective definition. The term is an easy go-to tag which is thrown around, but taking somewhat of a structuralist approach, we can navigate and negotiate what we generally can describe as a ‘joke entry’.  

For that reason, I am outlining different forms of a joke entry. The first, and probably easiest form, stems from the nature of the act. Artists that primarily work within the realm of comedy music, or who are outright comics who have happened to dabble in music. Even this is can be difficult to outline, as it does not adhere to a conventional musical sound or genre. Nonetheless, the act goes out of their way to include novelty or embed jokes within songs. Containing moments of irony, wordplay,nonsense or perhaps satire, these acts take a whimsical approach to the songs they perform. Obvious contenders include Verka Serduchka or Silvía Night.

Meanwhile, there is a much trickier, more subjective version of a joke entry: the troll song. Songs that could fit into this category may contain elements of the above. However, these types of songs seem to be intentionally written to troll the contest, the audience or a country. These songs may not be of the highest quality, and often can have a sense of self-awareness that they may not end up at the top of the scoreboard on Saturday. That is, providing they even make it that far! LT United have to be mentioned here… oh dear.

Now, quite obviously, the two types of joke entry can blend and interact with one another. But do they add value or enrich the contest?

The joke is lost on us

To answer that question, I am so very torn. My initial instinctual reaction is a firm ‘no’. Following the resounding success of Verka in 2007, it seems that broadcasters were open to the idea of a comic act/entry into their national finals. Now, of course, joke acts/entries did not begin in 2007, but it was the first time one almost won the contest. In fact, an argument could be made that Ukraine did win the ‘popular’ vote. Every country bar Albania gave points to Ukraine, compared to five nations that failed to give Serbia a point.

I recently re-watched Eurovision 2008 and found myself either skipping or rolling my eyes every time a joke entry started to perform. It felt as if the contest was somewhat cheapened or diminished by the volume of acts that seek to make you laugh rather than enjoy some form of musical artistry. I remember watching Eurolaul 2008 with fury and confusion as Kreisiraadio won the ticket to Belgrade. I was so angry I ‘rage-quit’ for a few weeks. Even watching this now, I feel kind of violated. Despite singing in several languages, the ‘joke’ was is lost in Europe. Although the group are popular in Estonia, the precise humour did not translate well. It was almost too self-aware. The translations get increasingly worse, a comic technique that only is successful if you know Serbian, Finnish and German. Nonsensical words thrown together in an attempt to make sentences. The absurd visuals. 

Nobody wants, nor needs, piano thrusting. No thank you!

The power of comedy

However, despite the catalogue of horrors I’ve outlined in one song, it is reductive to suggest that joke entries have no place at Eurovision. There are no rules against it. Comedy music is just a valid a genre and style as any other performed on stage. In fact, on a personal note I enjoy some comic parodies of popular songs. It would be hypocritical to dictate what genres can and cannot be performed.

I think a part of my initial resistance, especially in the case of 2008 is the amount of comedy entries that make digs at the contest? Fast-forward to 2010 and I wanted Lithuania to qualify. A group of male singers being self-referential. But what makes this different toLithuania’s rather tacky 2006 entry is the focus of the joke. Laughter is not conjured by a man essentially fitting on stage, or by boastfully taunting the audience about winning.

InCulto use satire to effectively tackle xenophobic presumptions about Eastern Europeans by channeling stereotypical phrases or headlines you may unfortunately hear or read in Western Europe. With lyrics such as ‘[y]es Sir we are legal we are, though we are not as legal as you/NoSir we’re not equal no, though we are both from the EU’, the band use self-deprecation to make their point. 

The same can be said of one of the most viral Polish entries: My Słowianie. The staging is an obvious extreme parody of Polish stereotypes to create a sense of cultural identity. The busty milkmaid is designed to allure, shock and cause a giggle at the spectacle of what is going on. Yet beyond this, the song makes continual digs at internal conservatism, and outside perceptions of Poland.

So, where does this leave joke entries? I am unconvinced they are absolutely necessary. In fact, I still think some songs are best left at a national final level. It is evident that in some cases, humour just doesn’t translate across the continent. Similarly, a self-deprecating satire or parody is much more successful than a performance mocking the audience. Of course, the energetic, nonsensical performance of Verka Serduchka has become an iconic image of the modern contest. But let’s ensure that the surreal performance most probably using a play-on-words to make a political jab becomes the exception, not the norm. That said, they do brighten and add another dimension to the contest. So much so, we’ve even named a few of the acts I’ve mentioned to be put in the Big Brother house!

Nick’s view

There is, in my eyes, not a shadow of a doubt that these entries do indeed enrich the Eurovision Song Contest.

First and foremost, the contest we all love so much is an entertainment show. Of course, we all like to listen to good music and hear some fantastic singers and songs, but there’s always a place for a quick three minutes of entertainment and, where possible, laughter. Entries like these liven up the contest and provide a bit of light-hearted fun. And that immediately brings me to my second point. Joke entries should always be a bit of light-hearted fun. They can do that by making a joke of themselves, acting funnily on stage, lyrics, the song itself – you name it.

But we do know examples of joke entries aiming at others or more precisely, those that try to make a political statement. Two prime examples for me include Israel’s 2007 ‘effort’ “Push The Button” and the 2009 disqualified Georgian entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In”. Those songs did not have musical merit and weren’t there to provide light-hearted fun, those two were just there to provoke. That’s a line I wouldn’t want to cross if I were in charge of sending an entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Success stories

Now, if we look at more successful attempts at providing a joke entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, I’d say Germany did really well in 1998. Their entrant Guildo Horn climbed whatever he could climb on stage, sang about raspberry ice cream and rang cow bells on stage. And he finished sixth with his “Guildo Hat Euch Lieb”. That’s the piece of light-hearted fun I want to see on a Saturday night. The same goes for another entry that finished sixth, namely “Weil Der Mensch Zählt”, the Austrian effort from Alf Poier in 2003.

What Oliver said when defining the joke entry is also important. There needs to be a bit of self-awareness that they’re not going to top the leaderboard if they even make it to Saturday night. I therefore enjoyed how Rambo Amadeus just said so during his performance of “Euro Neuro” in 2012, where he sings: “I got no ambition for high position in competition with air condition.”

That one, simple sentence turns this song into a parody of the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as of the other elements Rambo mentioned. A job really well done, despite its musical merit being less than existant. These three examples all have that final bit in common: They enter the Eurovision Song Contest with the aim of also making fun at that same contest. I love how they manage to do that. And let’s be honest, sometimes it’s good to make fun of things you love – and that is why I always applaud the entrance of a (small) amount of joke entries.

What place, if any, do joke entries have on the contest? Let us know in the comments or on social media @ESCXTRA!

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