From the land of Sibelius, a song for Satan

“Every song is a cry for love,” crooned Ireland’s Brian Kennedy during Saturday night’s 51st Eurovision Song Contest. He obviously hadn’t heard Lordi, the Finnish horror rock sensation which beat him and acts from 21 other countries to clinch the most emphatic ever victory in the annual festival of kitsch pop.

Dressed as bloodthirsty orcs and warning Europe to “get ready to get scared” the rockers from Arctic Lapland took the stage as Eurovision outsiders and left as winners who had taken the contest to what Terry Wogan described as a new level of foolishness with their song Hard Rock Hallelujah.

The cartoon metalheads wore latex monster masks and played spark-spewing instruments as they sang: “Wings on my back, I got horns on my head/ My fangs are sharp and my eyes are red.”

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And they found that a combination of shock and comedy value made them irresistible to several hundred million TV viewers, many voting by phone and text message. Lordi gained 292 points, the highest score in Eurovision history, and their crushing victory was heralded as a turning point for a contest for years dominated by lightweight pop and sugary ballads. “This is proof that there were rock fans watching Eurovision,” said the group’s singer, Mr Lordi. “This is a victory for rock music and also a victory for open-mindedness.” Terry Wogan, doyen of British Eurovision TV coverage, jokingly described the performance as “nicely understated” and added “every year I expect it to be less foolish, and every year it’s more so”.

Despite giving Finland its first win, Lordi’s shock tactics have not met universal approval at home. Scratching his nose with his plastic talon after his band’s victory, Mr Lordi said: “In Finland, they’ve said things like we eat babies for Christmas. Whenever we appear in public people there do their best to ignore us … We are not Satanists. We are not devil-worshippers. This is entertainment. Underneath [the mask] there’s a boring normal guy, who walks the dogs, goes to the supermarket, watches DVDs, eats candies. You really don’t want to see him.”

Finland’s president Tarja Halonen congratulated the band with a telegram, and the culture minister, Tanja Karpela, said it showed Finnish music could succeed abroad. As Finns celebrated on the streets of Helsinki, Satu Puolakka, a 19-year-old student, struggled to come to terms with her new heritage. “It’s not Sibelius, but they have their own way,” she said. Others had been so determined to end Finland’s history of failure in the contest that they launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the band’s pyrotechnics.

The win was seen as a victory for silliness in a contest which, in recent years, has seen some po-faced attempts at victory, notably from the UK, which drafted in Jonathan King in 1995 to produce a “credible” entry from Love City Groove. Lordi’s victory has confirmed such tactics were a wrong turn.

“It has become an event all about spectacle and flamboyance and is so much the better for it,” said the Guardian’s rock critic, Alexis Petridis. “When did quality music ever come from the Eurovision anyway? To see people from countries you’ve never heard of perform weird concoctions on stage is just fantastic.”

Britain’s entry this year, Teenage Life, a very British refraction of hip-hop from the rapper Daz Sampson, might have been more listenable than Lordi but, crucially, it was less entertaining as a spectacle. It came 19th out of 24.

Sampson was disappointed with Britain’s lack of support for its singer-songwriters in a competition it has not won since 1997, when Katrina and The Waves triumphed. He said the country was not sufficently “positive and passionate”. “I don’t think it’s anything to do with Terry Wogan, but everything to do with our attitude to Europe.”

Nevertheless 9 million Britons tuned in to the victory of comedy over music, a phenomenon which cost the bookmaker William Hill its heaviest losses on the contest. Lordi came in from 25/1 against to 7/1 when the show started. “We took the view that despite the hype Finland had no chance,” said a William Hill spokesman, Rupert Adams. “We will be far more wary of novelty acts in future.”

Finland will try to retain its taloned grip on the title on home ground next year, when the circus rolls in to Helsinki.

Winning words

Wings on my back, I got horns on my head

My fangs are sharp, and my eyes are red

Not quite an angel, or the one that fell

Now choose to join us, or go straight to Hell


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Guardian, UK
May 22, 2006
Robert Booth and Helena Smith
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 22, 2006.
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