Friday, 3 October 2014

‘The X-YU Factor’ – 7 Easy Steps to Balkan Pop Stardom

If Shakespeare was right and “all the world’s a stage”, then Eastern Europe’s standing in the spotlight with its people singing and dancing away in front of the old ‘iron curtain’.  Now I’m not painting it as a region of show tunes and spirit fingers.  With a seemingly endless supply of Eurovision contenders and popstars with catchy tunes, it’s a healthy balance of kitsch and cool.  It’s arguably the best place in the world to consider a path to the top of the pops and they have a fine-tuned formula for success.  So if you’re one of the budding performers out there less interested in climbing a “stairway to heaven” and more interested in taking the less arduous “escalator to fame”, this might just be the handy instruction guide you’ve been looking for.  From concept to reality, here are your ‘poptions’.

Step #1 – Sing about the unattainable not the affordable

The first step to Balkan pop stardom is simple; make sure you’re singing about things no normal person in your home country can afford.  Few things will make you look like a big star more than appearing to live a life your formerly-Socialist listeners couldn’t.  This means making sure you’re singing about rolling in Audis and Ferraris in the Summer time on the way to a private party on the Adriatic coast aboard a yacht with models and top-shelf drinks.  Fact; no one ever wrote a hit song based around trying to jump start a Fiat on their Winter caravan park holiday by a pond in Romania.  The ‘rule of three’ is a safe bet for what your song should contain; luxury cars, excessive alcohol consumption and the Montenegrin coast.

Here are a couple of popular and sure-fire song themes to get you started:

Winning theme for girls:  You’ve just broken up with your boyfriend, you’re fine about it and now you’re heading out with 16 of your closest girlfriends to drink, dance and party the night away.

Winning theme for guys:  Your girlfriend’s just broken up with you, you’re fine with it and now you’re going to try and woo a new one with a combination of a fast car, VIP parties and all-night partying and drinking.

This leads me to the next step….

Step #2 – Gratuitous product placement is essential

You don’t know how long this Miley Cyrus 'Balkan wrecking ball of fame' is going to keep swinging so do everything you need to do, short of naming the song “Cash for Comment”.  Include lyrics like, “cruising in my Merc while I’m sipping on some Moet, grab a booth at Eve then Crown Casino’s where we’re going.”  In the midst of that, make sure you mention so many capital cities that Google Maps might want to chase you for royalties.  You haven’t made a truly catchy and kitschy Balkan pop song until you’ve mentioned the top ten cities that Eastern Europeans have migrated to in the last 50 years.  From Zurich and Vienna to Berlin and Sydney, start practicing your pronunciations.

Step #3 – Piano accordion or trumpet solos are ‘instrumental’ to success

Whether your song is a woeful tale of lost love or a power ballad with more electronica than a Berlin rave, you don’t have a chance at a hit unless you squeeze in the old squeezebox somewhere.  Think of it as a piano you can walk around with that has the sounds of summer inside it.  As for the sound of Balkan trumpets, they’ll get people up on their feet quicker than a surprise terror raid by federal police.  It might even mean that you have the privilege of being ripped off by Jason DeRulo.

Step #4 – It’s OK to make a DJ your new BFF

You’re going full Balkan on this one so you have no choice but to do it right.  This means teaming up with an average-looking Eastern European DJ who seems hell-bent on his main contribution to the track being a short blurb about the song and random announcements throughout the track in very broken English.  I mean properly ‘written-off’ English.  Like ‘Allianz’ Insurance would need to replace his accent and vocabulary kind of ‘broken English’.  The technical term for the accent you’re looking for is ‘Eurovision vote announcer’.

Step #5 – Be your own hair, make-up and wardrobe team

In terms of the male Balkan popstar hopefuls, a $200 gift voucher to spend at Tarocash and $20 for Hairhouse Warehouse will have you covered.  As for the potential Balkan popstarlets, in much of Eastern Europe the saying “less is more” may not apply to meal sizes or economic strength, but it definitely applies to the outfits of the female popstars.  You could be forgiven for thinking the people hardest hit by the economic crisis in Europe have been Eastern European clothing retailers.  The budget for wardrobe is usually inversely proportional to the budget the singer’s spent on cosmetic surgery.  So say $45,000 has been spent on nips, tucks, fills, extensions, keeping things up and sucking things in, the wardrobe receipt should be around $16.50 for a white two-piece bikini that only gets more revealing as the video clip progresses.  It actually makes a lot of sense; if you’ve gone ahead and spent $250,000 on a new sports car, you wouldn’t go and cover it up now would you?

Step #6 – Making music doesn’t mean having to make sense

For the Balkan popstar, the irrelevant and illogical video clip narrative is king.  This means even that if for some reason you choose to sing about your tough upbringing and the state of human rights in the world today, you’re still well within your creative rights to do so alongside bikini-clad girls or oiled-up guys on a beach in Mykonos.  It’s important that your video clip and lyrics make no sense when compared to one another.  That means more room for creativity plus it should at least double your YouTube hits as people go back to watch the video again in a quest to figure out exactly what’s going on in it.  You want to leave your audience asking questions like, “Did they just use this as a chance to hook up with the model acting opposite them in that video?”  Make sure at some point in the video you’re throwing around dollar/euro bills at an amount the equivalent of the GDP of Bulgaria.  If, on top of this, your song and video clip contain more spilling of champagne than a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner’s podium, you’re on the right track.

Step #7 – Cooking-up the video: Turn up the heat and just add water

Hot Balkan pop hits aren’t set in the cold so your video should make it look like Summer in Eastern Europe is year-long and Winter’s been exported to England.  Plus it’s harder to get away with wearing a lace bikini or singlet when you’re standing in front of a glacier rather than a beach bar.  Summer videos are the realm of hit pop songs and attractive people enjoying life.  Winter videos on the other hand are for Bear Grylls expeditions and Rocky Balboa training montages.  Remember, this is why people write songs about partying away in Serbia rather than “living it up in Siberia”.  If you’re a girl singing, your lyrics should be telling the opposite of your visuals.  Sure you’re drinking copious amounts, dancing with strangers, wearing next to nothing and have filmed a sex tape prior to the launch of your pop career, but you should definitely remind people incessantly that you’re not ‘easy’.  Partying by the beach is essential.  Realistically, the bigger the body of water, the better.  The video should show you either on it, in it or beside it.  Here’s a guide for you; ither on it,Sea > Lake > River > Swamp.  However a private pool on a boat, in a club or above a hotel is like your Uno ‘Wild Card’ and trumps them all.
So there you have it, your step-by-step guide to becoming the Balkan popstar you've always admired from afar but thought just disappeared into hibernation in a Macedonian cave somewhere once Eurovision was over each year.  In the end, I guess to really achieve that vibe of the true Balkan popstar, your song and video should basically be the TAC and VicRoads' worst nightmare; a mix of young people drinking excessively, driving fast cars with no seat belts on while standing up with the roof down.  After all - one man's Euro trash is another man's treasure!

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