You’re probably here because you have no idea what you just saw. A group of men in dresses/uniforms, with caps and mustaches reminiscent of certain dictators, but also with lipstick and makeup, and something about tractors and rockets. The most striking act of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 is likely Croatia’s. The band Let 3 causes a stir with the song Mama ŠČ – but in case you think this is all just one big joke, read on.
Who are these people?
Not just a random bunch of pranksters. Let 3 (Croatian for ‘Flight 3’) has existed since 1987! Frontmen Damir Martinović (52) and Zoran Prodanović (49) have since released ten studio albums in varying band lineups and have been immensely popular in Croatia and surrounding countries for years.
They have been known as provocateurs from the very beginning, fighting against all sorts of things: rulers who are bad for their people, norms and laws that exclude people, rules that oppress and restrict. Time and again, the band members have been removed from stages or TV studio’s due to their lyrics (often harsh and filthy), their appearance (often unannounced nudity or otherwise explicit), or their actions (ditto). Their popularity has never been affected – on the contrary: especially at the beginning of this century, the group received numerous awards, and their albums sold massively. Their participation in the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 is just a new chapter in a long and exciting story.
Is this a joke?
Yes and no.
Yes: Damir and Zoran always use exaggeration and absurdity in their work. With this, they have often drawn all eyes to themselves. They know all too well how to shock, shake up, irritate – so it would be strange to pretend that their three Eurovision minutes are meant to be taken completely seriously.
But there’s also a no. Most of the time, and certainly with this song, Let 3’s intention is not just about the joke. Behind Mama ŠČ is a message. The message may not be unambiguous, but it is there, and it lies somewhere between the many possible interpretations. A first hint: the band members themselves call the song ‘an anti-war anthem’.
What are they singing then?
Due to the many repetitions in the song, the actual lyrics are not that long:
Mama bought me a tractor (repeated many times)
Mama loves an idiot (repeated many times)
Mama, I’m going outside to play
Mama, I’m going to war
Little angry psychopath
You might have thought just now: what did I watch? And now you might be thinking: what did I just read?
First of all, the title: Mama ŠČ. ‘Mama’ speaks for itself, as it constantly appears in the lyrics, but what does the ‘ŠČ’ mean?
Perhaps this: ŠČ is a letter from the Russian alphabet, and throughout literature and art over the centuries, Russia has been portrayed as a woman, a female figure – yes, often as a mother too. Could it be that the ‘mama’ in this song is Russia? And if so: which idiot does mama love?
An answer to that question might be found in (or on) the tractor. When Vladimir Putin celebrated his seventieth birthday last year, amid the war with Ukraine, he received a special gift from Belarusian President Lukashenko: a tractor!
With that in mind, it’s tempting to view the following lyrics in a certain way: ‘Mama gave me a tractor! / Mama, I’m going outside to play / mama, I’m going to war,’ and then those repeated exclamations about the little, angry crocodile-psychopath, who keeps shouting ‘War! War!’
By the way, ‘crocodile’ is also the nickname of a horrifying hard drug mainly used in Russia, as a cheap alternative to heroin. Hundreds of thousands of young people in Russia have already become addicted – which usually leads to death within one or two years.
Is this all really intended?
It might be our tunnel vision. But perhaps Let 3 wants the above suspicions to be as obvious as possible, WITHOUT their song being banned from the Eurovision stage due to overly explicit political messages.
And why do they look like that?
What you see on stage might at least make you doubt between different gender stereotypes: feminine (dress, lipstick, makeup) AND masculine (mustaches, deep voices, masculine posture and gestures). Those mustaches, with some imagination, resemble the mustaches of dictators we know from the twentieth century. Yes, Hitler is an obvious one, but it might be more logical to look at one of his contemporaries, also sporting a mustache: Stalin.
Another reason why this isn’t a crazy idea can be found on the forehead of the man who later comes on stage during the performance, holding two large (nuclear) rockets in his hands. On that forehead is written ‘Njinle,’, but if you put the last two letters at the beginning, you get… Lenin.
It is unlikely that the men of Let 3 would want to mock Eurovision or the queer community with their outfits. In their previous work over the years, they have often strongly advocated for equal rights for women, LGBTQIA+ people, and against conservative political parties and the power of the church.
It seems more logical that they want to make a joke of the aforementioned dictators, including those still alive and in power (and starting illegal wars). By using childlike lyrics in which the ‘little psychopath’ calls for his mama and mixing gender-specific characteristics, the self-proclaimed ‘strong man,’ with his masculine norms and values, is put in front of a funhouse mirror – and we can all laugh at it for three minutes.
Why did Croatia choose this?
It’s just one way to look at it. But perhaps this explanation accounts for the fact that Let 3 won by a colossal margin in both jury and public votes in the Croatian preliminaries. And why they are likely to make it to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. Sure, you might find it terrible, but it is far from thoughtless. In various ways, Eurovision this year also provides a stage for voices that express protest against the current state of our world. You can do this by presenting a compelling song with a message of peace, or you can explore the boundaries of aesthetics and stretch our sense of beauty and ugliness, right and wrong, as far as possible.
‘Our only wish,’ the members of Let 3 said in the Croatian media, ‘is for the war to end as quickly as possible, and for peace and love to regain the upper hand.’ Or, to quote the lyrics of Mama ŠČ: hold on, they are idiots who cry for their mama, they will inevitably perish in their own armageddon.
Photo: Franko Kelam/Eurovision.tv