Selin Genc takes us on a return trip, economy class, to the Eurovision of the early 00s, where austerity was answered with excessive performances – and a singing turkey!
In the past decade, Eurovision has been in decline. The old charm had waned through the years as it became increasingly self-important and serious, all ballads and tears. But this year, 2021, conjured the lively spirit of the late 2000s and the early 2010s again. A thread, an aesthetic and spiritual sensibility, connects them: the state of mass crisis. As times get dingy and spirits are low, the more ridiculous the show.
Even in times of fiscal paralysis, why do we counterfeit surplus through displays of extravagance? As Eurovision demonstrates, the more there is to fret, the more glamour we parade. Or is it an elaborate charade to keep the spirit uplifted during trying times? Perhaps countries send their most outlandish contesters to divert a triumph and avoid hosting the expensive display. ‘I got no ambition // For high position in competition // With air condition’ Rambo Amadeus wisely states. When the bubble had burst and the worst had happened, the performances became all the more fervent and ecstatic.
Let’s take a retrospective look at some boisterous examples from a previous period of catastrophic financial scramble. Dial in, send a text, or download the app. Give your vote to your preferred nation in this game of collective determinations!
First up is an Irish tune with no fiddle or mandolin, but instead a nasally song by a beaked crooner called Dustin. He is steered from below, fed his movements and words by a human nobody knows. The puppet jabbers in a rowdy patter. Dustin the Turkey’s insistent demand (give me douze points!!) will drive you as mad as a hatter. Plumed people, half-naked and varnished in gold, parade like on carnival day, and in black-and-white, plasmatic displays hypnotically swirl. Dustin couldn’t even make it past the semi-final, gobble gobble, which should come at no surprise, as the song is openly hostile. The year is 2008, and the last thing Ireland really wants are those douze points that would only come with an interest rate.
Eurovision has no real consequence; gratuitous yet significant, it is for its own sake. Homo ludens meddle with the realms of the sacred and profane through the act of wasteful yet vital play. Wholly conscious of these dimensions, Dustin presents a satire so evident that it has doubled back into becoming concealed; hiding in plain sight, he is steering a guerilla warfare in and against the limelight. A simulacrum, a puppet act, a game, against the farcical intentions of the jury and ethical dimensions of the spectacle, and cynical of the multinational flavouring of the festival. So he parrots and impersonates, mimics and infiltrates. Embraces the role and performs. Disguises, mesmerises and transforms.
5 years later: Florin Cezar, aka Cezar the Voice, a singer educated in classical Baroque. Cape bedazzled, hair gelled, stance astride. On a stage full of smoke, crawling and writhing, dance sanguine people – blood personified. Suspended above are tall luminescent crystals, glowing in magenta and blue, and flashes of fluorescent thunder. A vampire king and a disco queen, ‘This is my life,’ Cezar proclaims in operatic grandeur. Ascending a ladder of notes and reaching a penetrating falsetto, he wonderfully sustains scales that pierce the sky to the beat of the dance tempo.
Just as thirsty fangs convert the human to the beastly, Cezar transforms the image of a spiteful ruler, and high-culture music, to something positively cheesy. The ominous aristocrat rose from his morbid slumber with a new incandescence that only Camp sensibility has to offer. If life is a theatre, let us conjure glamour, not horror. One critic scoffs that the song is a ‘potential sanitary towel advert anthem’, as if operatic pop with a dubstep drop has always been the hallmark of any Kotex jingleever exciting, ever experimental. Our vampish hero offers splendour in an androgyne abundance of skill and passion.
Overriding the Impaler’s doom and gloom with a joie de vivre, a touch of innocent self-love and unpretentious theatricality imbues Cezar’s performance with great tenderness and glee. Perhaps, having just barely survived a period of cataclysmic deflation, it is the generosity of spirit and the spirit of indulgence that the people appreciate in Florin.
Uno. Let’s return to the year 2008, when a troupe of plasticine women are garbed in sticky, squeaky, scroungy dresses that hug their bosoms and flash their bottoms. The girls, in plastic fuchsia and violet spandex, circle Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. In this theatre of classic roles and conventional portrayals, the guy sings and the chicks do the dance: Cheesy cheesy chiki, cheeky cheeky chiki. The music is garish and it is all an utter assault on the senses. One of the dancers can’t keep up with the prance; under the spotlight she seems so defenceless.
Dos. Chikilicuatre is a consenting man with no fidelity to a single essence. His machismo is effervescent and his minstrelsy incessant; he is fungible like a token, the king of feign.
Today, for your amusement, he is a reggaeton singer par excellence, representing Spain. He is the untragic hero of this epic theater; man equals man, and nothing else, he proclaims in a Brechtian vein. Flashy, pliable and automatic, a bootleg Don Juan, in his failure he is fantastic. His wig is big and stiff, held up by quotation marks like a cliché and fountains of hairspray.
Tres. The Spaniard signals ¡Perrea! ¡Perrea! This swift sway of the arms and hips is a reggaeton move, a thrust, a wriggle, a groove. Chikilicuatre revels in abstracting his gestures by multiplying his words and actions. He merely quotes Perrea, so it becomes interrupted and suspended. In this state, it is anything but candid. His performance is duplicitous and obnoxious, and offers no catharsis. Against all initial appearances, it is not a salve to dull the masses. Spain had already suffered from a mass illusion; before the dreadful year, Spain was, in fact, an exemplar to the whole European Union. Euro Nero! Experts blame the fragility of the monetary union for the subsequent ruin. As Chikilicuatre exposes the cheap underbelly of a chief export of his country, perhaps he also lampoons the nation’s present state of precarity.
Boom and bust. Prosper and flop. Perrea and stop.
About Selin Genc
An emerging writer and intermedia artist, Selin Genc has recently graduated from History of Art from the University of Edinburgh, and is partaking in a pre-master’s programme for Modern European Philosophy at Leiden University. Her writing has been published on Lucy Writers Platform, the Rattlecap, the Gallyry, the Debutante, and Mad’in Europe. Selin’s essay ‘Creative Cartographies’ was featured as a podcast episode on Technecast. Her art practice is informed by a feminist surrealist trajectory. Her online portfolio can be found here: https://selingenc-art.wixsite.com/portfolio. She also runs a history of art blog on instagram @ladyhamiltonasbacchante.
This piece was commissioned for our latest guest editorial, BAROQUE
The ‘baroque’ is an intemperate aesthetic. Once a period term to describe the visual arts produced in the seventeenth century, its use and significance has exploded over the last fifty years. No longer restricted to the fine arts, the baroque has fallen into pop culture and become an icon.
Inspired by the work of Shola von Reinhold, this series takes ephemera and excess as its starting point for a new exploration of the b a r o q u e. It wants to look back at the past and queerly experiment with it, to rip it up and reclaim a new space for the future – or, in von Reinhold’s words, ‘to crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past’. The b a r o q u e is present in moments of sheer maximalism, in ornament, frill and artifice. It celebrates the seemingly bizarre and the unintelligible, the redundant and fantastical. Disorienting and overwhelming, it offers a decadent way of experiencing present and past worlds.
Click here to see the full Call Out and submit to b a r o q u e, Guest Edited by Frankie Dytor.