March 3, 2007
Israeli Band’s Antiwar Song Pushes Pop Contest’s Buttons
By STEVEN ERLANGER
JERUSALEM, March 2 — The Eurovision Song Contest, an annual event that proves European popular culture can take itself just as seriously as the American variety, has created a mini-scandal of its own, with the suggestion on Thursday that contest organizers might ban this year’s Israeli entry, “Push the Button,” because of what they call an inappropriate political message.
The message of the song, such as it is, seems to be a banal and perfectly understandable plea not to be incinerated by a nuclear bomb in the hands of a lunatic.
But as performed by a punky Israeli group called the Teapacks, there is some degree of irony to the banality, with such undoubtedly immortal lyrics as:
I don’t want to die; I want to see the flowers bloom
Don’t want to go kapoot-kaboom, and I don’t want to cry
I wanna have a lot of fun, just sitting in the sun.
But nevertheless — he’s gonna push the button.
“He” is unspecified, but some among the organizers of this year’s contest apparently worry that the singers might mean the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“It’s absolutely clear that this kind of message is not appropriate for the competition,” said Kjell Ekholm, an organizer of the contest and a representative of the host broadcaster, YLE of Finland. “We’ll have all the delegation leaders here in Helsinki next week, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this case.” He told Reuters that the station had received “many e-mails complaining” about the song.
Israelis are increasingly obsessed by Iran’s pursuit of enriched uranium, which few here doubt is intended to create a nuclear weapon. And Mr. Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he would prefer to see Israel disappear.
Still, the band denies that it has Iran specifically in mind, pointing to a more generalized verse that could apply, say, to an entire “axis of evil”:
There are some crazy leaders they hide and try to fool us
With demonic, technologic willingness to harm
They’re gonna push the button
Push the button, push the bu, push the bu, push the button.
Certainly no one has ever accused Mr. Ahmadinejad, renowned for denying the Holocaust and wishing that Israel be wiped off the map, of trying to hide or to fool anyone.
Kobi Oz, the lead singer, told the Israeli newspaper Maariv: “The song has a line that talks about ‘some crazy leaders,’ but we didn’t mention names. The state of Israel has gone through enough so that it can laugh at terrorism. The Israelis chose the song because that is the best way: not to be afraid, but to laugh in their faces.”
Mr. Oz vamps the song in Israeli-accented English, French and Hebrew. Under the rules of the contest, “Push the Button” was chosen by Israeli viewers as the country’s entry after a live performance on television. The other members of the European Broadcasting Union — which includes nearly all of Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Israel — similarly choose their representatives by national vote, and there is a much publicized bake-off, this year in Helsinki on May 12. (The official Web site has posted a countdown to the contest.)
The winner is determined by a complicated system in which each participating nation conducts its own telephone vote, with callers unable to vote for their own nation’s entry.
Songs must be original and meet certain standards. A small Eurovision Reference Group, including the producer of this year’s program, past producers and a member of the European Broadcasting Union, adjudicates controversies and rules on questions of originality.
Held since 1956, and intended to help bring the continent together at the height of the cold war, the contest has been the source of many execrable songs as well as a few stars, like Sweden’s Abba and Celine Dion, who appeared for Switzerland. Though broadcast in many nonmember nations, and a kind of model for shows like “American Idol,” it has been greeted with little interest in the United States.
Still, it is thought to be one of the most-watched nonsporting events in the world, and it is also broadcast over the Internet.
The Irish have won the contest more often than any other nation, seven times, followed by the French, who have won five times. Israel has won three times — in 1978, 1979 and 1998 — the last with a performance by a local transsexual who calls herself Dana International.
Iran, however, is not a member of the European Broadcasting Union and so will not have a chance either to sing or to vote.
To get a sense of the growing anticipation among Eurovisionphiles, see the official Web site at www.eurovision.tv. To watch the Teapacks perform “Push the Button” go to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpWYFoSrmRA.
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