So. In the year where Belarus kicks up an almighty fuss over Austria sending a transvestite and next-door neighbours Russia tighten their homosexuality laws, BRTC *democratically* selects Teo’s “Cheesecake” to represent them in Copenhagen. “Cheesecake”, which, upon closer inspection is a blatant pastiche of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, which makes it a stubborn display of heterosexuality and misogynistic objectification if only by association, and thus stands as more of a political statement than “I Love Belarus” ever was. Discuss.
I warn you, I’m not going to be *nice* or *politically correct* in the following review. I don’t see the point in glossing over the glaring problems in the Belarussian national final, and in ignoring the accidental bursts of hilarity for an international viewer such as myself. If that’s not your bag, then I do apologise. But you have been warned! :’)
The Belarussian national final meandered towards its conclusion in the last couple of hours; a conclusion which involved Pasha Parfeny look-alike Teo (I’m not capitalising it. No.) seemingly assembling a collection of cardboard Belarussian hearts which constituted a victory. Apparently.
Here are the facts. If the result of this national final stands (one can never be quite sure with Belarus, as Rory mentioned in our preview article) Teo’s song “Cheesecake” will be the Belarussian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest 2014. The live performance from the national final can be found here – and I would recommend watching it simply to admire his impressive live vocals. However, for the purposes of this article, I’d like to draw your attention to the official music video released to accompany the song:
I’ll start by saying that, whilst I’m not it’s biggest fan, and I much preferred the glamorously fabulous “Via Lattea” from Elena Siniavskaya, and the audibly pleasing “Starlight” by Darya, I don’t hate this song by any stretch of the imagination. It’s very contemporary, and – dare I say it – pretty catchy. The Google Maps reference will likely have to go, à la San Marino 2012, but from a musical perspective, they could have picked a lot worse.
Taking a more widescreen view at the entry and what it potentially represents, however, I’d like to state my objection. In bullet points.
- Problem #1 is the use of the word “Cheesecake” in itself – the official line is that “cheesecake” was an affectionate name given to him by his ex-girlfriend, hence it’s inclusion as the song’s theme. However, whilst this would corroborate the initial reference “when you called me my sweet cheesecake” in the first verse, it falls short of explaining the chorus “I’m tied up in your sweet cheesecake”. What COULD he be referring to there, I wonder. No longer a term of endearment, it’s now a twisted euphemism.
- Of course, this blatant metaphor is one of the many facets of the song which shackle it to “Blurred Lines”, in that male dominance and their subsequent objectification of women is a central – yet veiled – theme. Is this technically *acceptable*? Granted, “Cheesecake” does approach the theme from a different angle than “Blurred Lines”, in that the male protagonist in the lyrics does appear to be “trying to escape” from the advances of a woman portrayed as a dangerous seductress, but in reality, is referring to woman as a kind of adversary really any better than referring to her as an “animal”?
- Then we get onto the official video, posted above. A whole other can of worms. Anyone with half a brain can see that this is a deliberate imitation of the aforementioned Robin Thicke single, these similarities are not accidental by any stretch of the imagination. From the blank background and flashing titles to the composition of the camera shots and the outfits of the performers, this is as far from subtle as it is possible to get. Jumping on a popular formula in an attempt to win votes? Possibly. However, I would argue there’s a potential for a darker subliminal message to all this.
- Okay. So, remember a few months back when we experienced a completely unnecessary furore whereby online pressure groups sought to jeopardise the Belarussian participation by calling for BRTC’s withdrawal or editing of the show owing to the presence of Austria’s transvestite singer Conchita Wurst? Lovely quotes such as the “hotbed of sodomy” one spring to mind. Of course, as we all know, BRTC did not take action based on these threats, however, there is no denying that the entire region is experiencing a profound rejection of homosexuality in general de nos jours, and I for one was always anticipating a recurrence of this problem in some shape or form as the NF season crept closer. Well, now we’ve got it.
- “Blurred Lines” is arguably the most sexually controversial song of 2013, yes? Not only that, it’s a blatant assertion of dominant masculinity – dominant heterosexual masculinity.
- “Cheesecake” is an unashamed parody of “Blurred Lines”, so could therefore be interpreted as the Belarussian incarnation of dominant heterosexual masculinity. Possibly. The link is there. Tenuous, but it’s there.
- To add to all this, as I will cover later in this article, it was the national jury – with their precedent for dubious decision-making – who swayed the victory in Teo’s favour. The national jury, who are employed by BRTC, who are organised under the iron fist of Lukashenko, who is heavily influenced by the politics of Mother Russia, who are currently instigating the most controversial wave of anti-gay sentiment of recent years. Somehow, Belarus have ended up with a musical creation which will present them as a very masculine, very straight institution. Gone are the Lanskaya discoballs, gone are the male Diana lookalikes, instead we’ve got a blokey bloke, with token facial hair to match, arrogantly preaching his way through an ode to heterosexuality, complete with less-than-subtle allusions to the purported irresistibility of the female form. (if you still don’t buy this, skip to around 2:10 in the video. Whatever could she be doing?)There is most certainly room for speculation there.
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not an advocate of squabbling over a problem that doesn’t exist, but the literature student within me has gone to town on this one. It’s a very very tenuous theory, I know. But to me, these apparent coincidental similarities cannot be accidental. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this song really is what it seems on face value: a fun song about a lover’s tiff. Who knows. Feel free to call bullshit if you don’t buy my theories on this one at all, I am genuinely interested to see if anyone else would read so deep into it as that, and whatever alternative conclusions you could draw from this.
Watching Belarus’ national final was a decidedly uncomfortable experience. I can’t help thinking – with my very sheltered, very British mentality – that the whole thing came across as a watered-down version of North Korea. (kill me now, I know.) The first thing I noticed – admittedly thanks to Rory, who pointed it out – was the use of canned applause. That audience was not making all the noise we heard, and if you listen very closely, you can hear the exact repetition of the patterns of clapping and cheering in a couple of occasions across the show. Plus, the occasional pans across the assembled crowd showed a decidedly unenthusiastic and nervous group of people, whose fixed smiles were triggered mere nanoseconds after they appeared on camera. The point being that the excitement was amplified, and upon closer inspection, that wasn’t the only occasion where one could sceptically speculate falsification.
We should have predicted Teo’s victory early on. Though my Belarussian is virtually non-existant, even I couldn’t miss the male presenter’s reference to “you got the moves like Teo”, substituting his name into the Maroon 5 song, discussing and marvelling at his contribution, attempting to drum up a buzz around his entry before the voting lines are even open. You’ll notice that at ESC, no opinion on the songs is expressed by anyone until the voting has closed. And it’s like that for a reason.
A similar phenomenon could be attributed to the return of Alyona Lanskaya. The semi-successful return to the ESC final in Malmö made her a household name in Belarus, and earned her the position of revered national treasure. Or at least, that’s what you’re intended to think, judging by the way they formulated an aura of adoration around her appearance in the show. The Belarussian public are essentially being told “this is your girl, this is OUR girl, be proud of her!”. Is that right?
Working with a very VERY basic grounding in Russian to leech comprehension from tonight’s show, my observations could of course be way off the mark, and all the anomalies highlighted may have been explained in the abundance of dialogue exchanged between the two hosts. With the advent of the internet, however, these national final shows are no longer just domestic television shows, but mini pan-European events in their own right
More humorously, there was plenty of derogatory hilarity observed on our Twitter feed, for example the resemblance of Artem Mikhailenko to Rasputin from the cartoon film of “Anastasia”, and the DREADFUL hairstyle of the male presenter. Anastasia Unpronouncable-surname singing “Runaway” did at one point look a little like Mirna from Moje 3 plus about three stone, in a White Witch costume; and that distinctly odd quintent featuring both Chuckle Brothers, the twins with the painfully awkward facial expressions and the fat bloke who I am 99% sure was the blue one in Kreisiraadio was most certainly the show’s lowlight.
Oh, and as the frequent ad breaks informed us, there will be what looks like a dramatic wartime romance film on at 21:45 precisely on January 13th on Belarus 1. In case you’re interested.
And Shakira was in a Belarussian toothpaste advert. Sure she’s thrilled.
What did you think of the overall production? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
As a result of my views on the message and purpose of the song, I can’t see them changing this one – artist, song or both. This one is staying, this one will go to Copenhagen. I’m sticking my neck on the line there, but I think I’ll be proven correct in this regard. It is an engineered challenge to the values of many viewers which will likely go unnoticed, and, henceforth, will simply be interpreted as a decent modern song, brilliantly sung and confidently performed. Belarus look set to feature in two consecutive finals for the first time in Eurovision history, I certainly think so anyway.
And from a musical point of view, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see this one picking up a decent amount of votes. It’s still my current least favourite out of the 3 selected songs so far, and I would still be a lot happier to be saying “VIA LATTEA WILL REPRESENT BELARUS” etc etc… but what’s done is done. We’ve got “Cheesecake” and all the related corny humour that will doubtless accompany it over the next few moths. Brace yourselves, Eurovision fans. I hope you’re hungry.
Nelly Takis from Greece: IF this is their final song (and they dont change it 2-3 times) its okay, Teo dances nicely but nothing special imo. I dont see this making the Final.
Nadine Glöck from Germany: It won’t be the final decision. Hope they choose Max or Janet when they change the entry
Marco Muntean from Romania: This is realy AWFUL,shit,booooring….and what for a lyrics, looool
Simone Missaglia from Italy: Great song! Better than Albania and Ukraine. I only hope they won’t change it…
Once again, I do sincerely apologise if any of the opinions I expressed above were offensive to you in any way, but at the end of the day, I’m not here to pretend everything’s all lovely and innocent because it’s not. I’m here to let you know what my genuine thoughts on the national final are, and more importantly, to find out what you, the fans, think too. So, on that note… fancy leaving us a comment with said thoughts?