Ott Awooga

Those of you who've been following me on Twitter this year will know the amount of mileage I've extracted from poor Ott Lepland - specifically his trouser area. The man has single-handedly (well, single-memberedly) kept me in smutty jokes and silly memes since March, when he won Eesti Laul (AKA The Battle Of The Bulge) and celebrated by bounding down the steps to the stage apparently commando with a stonking semi. Since then, his "goodies" - as Ciara (not Chiara) would no doubt term them - have gained notoriety, so much so that they even come up as a Google autocomplete suggestion. (So does "Ott Lepland gay", but that applies to pretty much every male celebrity.) Like Ott on a good night, the puns have come thick and fast: Ott Dogg, Ott Right Now, Otter Lepland, Ottle Pland (thanks to Chris for that one), Kuula Than Me, Ott's Semi... you get the picture. Aside from being a great source of erection-related humour, Ott is also genuinely adorable and a tremendously talented heart-on-sleeve musician. (Which almost makes me feel bad about all the jokes. Almost.)

It was thus with some excitement that last weekend, I trekked to the annual Eurovision Club Germany concert night in Cologne to gawk at him in person. He's the only reason I went - well, OK, Darja Ċ vajger, who I also love, was another good reason. The third and final act on the bill, Fabrizio Faniello, wasn't particularly. (In 2010, when Marcin Mrozinski was the main act, I didn't bother going.) I've been to a number of these Eurovision concerts before, generally featuring 3-4 invited acts, and the organisers typically save the best, most successful and most recent acts until last. This being the case, I was reasonably expecting Fabrizio to be the lightweight warm-up, followed by serious sets from Darja and Ott.

Ott dogs

Ott Dogs

Imagine my disappointment when Ott was shunted on first in the early part of the evening and given only around 40 minutes. He used this time to perform a series of stellar, fragile, emotive Estonian-language piano ballads, mostly self-penned - and much of the majority-gay audience sat and talked all the way through them. During his performance of Kuula, a disco ball was activated. As I was too far back to see much, and as Ott was hidden behind a piano anyway with only his head (not that one) visible, I laid back in my seat, closed my eyes, and enjoyed 40 minutes of goosebumps and auralgasms as his powerful, soulful voice soared through every fibre of my being, while the disco ball flickered and the audience gossiped. It was probably my most transcendental concert experience since seeing Lisa Gerrard perform "Sacrifice" at the Palais des Congres de Paris (the host venue for Eurovision 1978) five years ago. At one point, Ott performed a song that his mother had written for him as a child when he was ill with a very high fever and she was worried about him. As he explained this - and as I emotionally melted in my seat, like a piece of Milka left out in the sun - the talking continued. At the end of the set, an autograph session with Ott in the corridor outside was announced, and the theatre instantly evacuated. Nobody wanted to listen to Ott's music, everyone wanted his autograph. I didn't go out and join the queue because collecting autographs is meaningless, turns the artist into a commodity, and is a poor excuse to speak to them. Ott Lepland's signature is of no value: he is.

A couple of people I spoke to afterwards suggested that Ott had been too downbeat, should perhaps have sung more in English, and had performed the wrong type of music for the event. What's he supposed to do - fucking dancepop? Fly around the theatre wearing giant bat wings, vomiting glitter onto the audience? Have his trousers ripped off by Bobby Gee? (Well, I might approve of that one.) God forbid people be exposed to some actual culture. I know, I know - complaining that a significant proportion of hardcore Eurovision fans have somewhat limited musical palates is like complaining that a child raised on Turkey Twizzlers won't touch its foie gras. That's not to say I'm suggesting we forcibly thrust Ott's nozzle down these people's yakking gullets and pump their stomachs full of Estonian piano ballads until their livers swell to bursting point with rich and creamy Lepland goodness, but... well, actually I am suggesting that. I wouldn't mind it myself. If you've paid to see Ott, you sit and shut up and at least try to listen - it's the entire message of his song, for crying out loud. If you're privileged enough to be an audience to an artist of his calibre, one who pours their heart and soul into every note and who's flown halfway across the continent to be there, it's the least you can do. And Estonian is one of Europe's most beautiful and phonologically and structurally unique languages, so bugger English.

Ott Tongue

Giving it a bit of tongue

Here's where I'm going with this: what is music? Art. What is art? A form of personal expression. As such, it can pursue a variety of aims. It can aim to entertain, for instance - like Fabrizio did capably at the end of the evening, despite my misgivings, and like the babushki, Tooji, Ivi Adamou and countless others did in Baku. However, while the raison d'etre of much popular music is to entertain, entertainment is not the primary goal of music per se. (The same argument applies to films, books, plays... in fact all art.) Don't get me wrong, I love La La Love as much as the next man - it's hook-laden and superbly structured and produced. If you asked David Guetta to write a Eurovision song, he probably couldn't do better: it's entertaining, and yes, it's art. But serious art can and should have higher goals than merely to amuse. It should aim to stimulate, challenge and provoke. To be progressive, to question conventions and to transcend boundaries, and to push its respective genre forward. And to touch. To move. To leave you thinking. I'm talking about the difference between ABBA's first and last album; between Kejsi Tola and Rona Nishliu; between The Fame and The Fame Monster; between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings; between Fabrizio Faniello and Ott Lepland. I'm not saying one form of art is better than the other - both are needed and both serve different purposes. They're yin and yang, like the comedy and tragedy masks of Greek tradition - a necessary counterpoint to each other. What I am saying is that the serious end of the spectrum - the tragedy mask - is all too often dismissed, ignored or outright scoffed at by too many contest fans, especially those that make up the hard core of the fan community. Like people talking over Ott (and over Darja too, for the record, who was also stellar). Like much of the fan reaction to Suus from people reared on a diet of easily-digestible Western radio pop. And like the "Schlagerboys" calling Magdi Ruzsa the toilet-break song in 2007 (while simultaneously worshipping the execrable Scooch).

So: Ott was good. The audience was bad. Where do we go from here? Well, in my own small attempt to provide a counterpoint to this bias in the Eurovision fan world towards lightweight and upbeat songs, and towards Western Europe and Scandinavia in particular, in my next article I'll be looking at a selection of Eastern European "dark ballads", ranging from well-known contest songs to lesser-known pearls from national finals. I hope you'll join me, despite - or perhaps because of - the lack of ribbon dances and glitter. Because ultimately, Eurovision's true greatness as a showcase for all types of music from every part of our incredible continent lies in its diversity - bulging crotches are just an added bonus. Isn't that right, Ott?

Ott Hypnotise


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