Are the songs in Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga supposed to be bad?
I am just going to come out and say it: I think "Volcano Man" is a real banger.
I'm not sure if I'm … supposed to feel this way? The way the song is used in Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga — the new Netflix comedy starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, out Friday — it certainly seems like it's intended to be a joke. Its lyrics are very dumb! There's a "distant eagle cry" in it! It's mostly indistinguishable from generic, simplistic Europop! But at the same time, "Volcano Man" is obnoxiously catchy, and just a little too much fun to believably pass as a "bad song."
Which leads me to a confusing and admittedly rather embarrassing question: Are the songs in Eurovision Song Contest: Fire Saga even supposed to be bad?
At first pass, the answer is "obviously yes." In the vein of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), or Blades of Glory (2007), Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga is a throwback to Ferrell's heyday of spoofs. This time around, though, the SNL alum riffs on the annual international song contest Eurovision; in the film, he plays Lars Erickssong, one half of the Icelandic duo Fire Saga, who dreams of winning the contest to bring glory to his hometown (McAdams plays his devoted partner — and the actually-talented half of Fire Saga — Sigrit Ericksdottir).
On paper, the movie's premise is a little weak: not only are Americans largely unfamiliar with the Eurovision Song Contest and its tropes, but the kind of absurdist parody that made Will Ferrell a household name back in the late '90s and early 2000s is no longer as effective in our beyond-parody world. "There was a time when the spoof genre reigned supreme above all other forms of comedic cinema, but sadly that era seems to have come to a close," wrote Cinemablend back in 2016, while a recent series on the genre at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City pointedly asked, "How does an artist reckon with a political environment that has grown too gloomy for soft spoofing, too deranged for caricaturing, too proto-fascist for ambivalence?" Eurovision Song Contest seems not only like a relic from a different era of comedy, but one that is out-of-step with our new reality.
That's before you hear the music, anyway. Because despite Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga being a vintage spoof on the page, the songs in it fail to be the sort of off-key awful you'd expect from such a parody. I'm not saying the movie is hiding the next "Purple Rain" or "Fight the Power," but Fire Saga's submission to the contest, "Double Trouble," will probably make it onto my trashy pop music running playlist. "Lion of Love," performed by Russia's bejeweled entrant (Dan Stevens), is hilariously plausible as a global hit. And while I'm not proud to say it, even Fire Saga's raunchy and unquotable "Ja Ja Ding Dong" is weirdly … good? To quote Will Ferrell in a different movie, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills — because all the songs are clearly supposed to be bad. Lars rants that "I can't take this s--t!" when fans go crazy for "Ja Ja Ding Dong," and at one point a local judge describes Fire Saga as "horrible. Terrible. So bad. So, so, so, so, so … bad."
There is a reason, though, that the music all sounds so passable. Eurovision Song Contest: Fire Saga tapped Savan Kotecha — the co-writer of infectious hits like Ariana Grande's "Problem," The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face," One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," and Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love," among many others — to be the film's executive music producer. No wonder, then, that even the dumbest songs are total bops; they're being written by someone whose literal job it is to write singles that you know are objectively bad but can't stop listening to anyway. Additionally, Eurovision Song Contest delves deep into the Eurovision pool of talent; McAdams' vocals are performed by former Junior Eurovision Song Contest contestant Molly Sandén of Sweden, for example, while a parade of former contestants like Netta, John Lundvik, Loreen, Salvador Sobral, and others make appearances and cameos.
Which brings us back to the subject being spoofed in the first place: Eurovision. Is it possible to even parody something that already so frequently seems like a spoof of itself? I mean, how do you improve on this:
Or this? (This song won in 2006. No, I'm not kidding).
The answer is simple: You don't. Instead, you channel it with sincerity and earnestness, which is exactly what Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga decides to do. So much of the humor is reliant not on exaggeration, but on the absurdity inherent to the actual show; even Lars' on-stage hamster wheel has real-world precedent. It almost seems a stretch to call Fire Saga much of a spoof at all; it is more of an affectionate pastiche of Europop, made not from a place of cynicism or ridicule but winking good fun. Americans' general lack of familiarity with the competition might even be as much of the reason it works as anything else; it's entirely possible superfans of the show watch the movie with a shrug of, "so what?"
That's because the humor draws from a place of appreciation, above all else. While the plot follows a rather formulaic rom-com route, Eurovision Song Contest sets itself apart with its incessantly catchy tracks, each one seeming to top the next (thankfully, there are lots). Even the creators' most inspired attempts at writing a "bad" song result in something suspiciously earwormy. I dare you not to be demanding to hear "Ja Ja Ding Dong" again, too.
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