Cover image: Eurovisionworld
March 12, 2016. It’s a date. But not like any other date. On that very night an ensemble calling themselves Afterskilandslaget (“The National Team of Après-Ski“) took to the stage of Oslo Spektrum and by all accounts entertained the crowd wildly. If you do a bit of digging on social media you will find the official Instagram account of said entertainment troupe, and the first two posts read like a threat. I mean, the eternal enfant terrible Tix is literally brandishing a knife towards the camera in the first picture. The second picture shows the lads all decked out in some sort of team gear, screaming and waving their fists and Norwegian flags at the camera. If you still feel comfortable, I guess you’re one of them.
What does this have to do with the illustrious Melodi Grand Prix? Five of the people pictured participated in MGP 2021 as songwriters and/or performing artists (Stian ‘Staysman’ Thorbjørnsen, Andreas ‘Tix’ Haukeland, Magnus ‘Morgan Sulele’ Clausen, Petter ‘Katastrofe’ Bjørklund Kristiansen, Robin Sharma of Robin & Bugge), and two of the rest have participated as performing artists/songwriters in 2015 (Lasse ‘Lazz’ Jensen as part of Staysman & Lazz with their terrifying ode to pizza and getting shitfaced ‘En Godt Stekt Pizza’) and 2016 (Fredrik ‘Freddy Kalas’ Auke offered the world his comedy version of pop-reggae with ‘Feel Da Rush’ and was rewarded with second place, no doubt bolstered by an endorsement from Tix). But wait! There’s more! The full line-up of the once-in-a-lifetime happening in March 2016 reads as follows: Alexander Rybak, Vidar ‘Vidar Villa’ Andre Grødset Mohaugen (MGP 2018), Gaute Ormåsen (MGP 2010 and 2013), Lars Erik Blokkhus (MGP 2012)… surely we’re done now? Finally, yes. And as the cherry on top: Samir & Viktor (Melodifestivalen 2015, 2016 and 2018) was also a part of the line-up. I’m exhausted.
Looking at the statistics of MGP 2021 a few things jump right out: Some of the songwriters are credited on more than one song. Magnus ‘Morgan Sulele’ Clausen is credited on no less than three MGP entries: ‘World On Fire’, ‘Vi Er Norge’ and ‘Coming Home’. He needs a bit more longevity to qualify as the Norwegian Thomas G:son, but the threat is truly real. Like Tix he has his origins in the national pride/shame (delete as applicable) that is known as russ music before quickly transitioning to Norwegian-language pop music. Like Tix he has received negative attention for the lyrics of his early oeuvre. The chorus of ‘Luremus’ goes like this: “Hun lar deg tro at du skal få/Sier stopp når du skal klå/Luremus luremus” (“She’ll let you think that you’re gonna get it/Says stop when you’re about to fondle/Cocktease cocktease”).
During his mainstream era Magnus has duetted with Måns Zelmerløw (ESC winner 2015), Ulrikke (MGP Winner 2020) and Tix. Like Tix he has even managed to snatch writing credits on songs for international stars (‘In My Mind’ – Alok & John Legend). Most heinous of all he has a writing credit on ‘En Godt Stekt Pizza’. Like Tix, Magnus has told us on national TV that he has struggled with anxiety and his mental health, but that he doesn’t regret any of his lame-ass early lyrics because he was young and it was never meant to be taken seriously anyway. That déjà vu, I really felt that.
Whilst working through the musical resumes of Afterskilandslaget a pattern emerges. We already know that Tix and Morgan Sulele have earned coins by making dimwitted anthems for the russ. Staysman & Lazz and Katastrofe have played sell-out concerts for the russ for many years. Indeed, Staysman & Lazz came up with the song ‘Russ 2013 (Du Er Deilig, Du Er Spretten)’ that consists of only four lines: “Du er deilig, du er spretten, du er russ 2013/Du er horny, du er pretty, du er født i fire og nitti/For vi er russ 2013, her kommer russen/Her kommer russen” (“You’re hot, you’re bouncy, you are russ 2013/You’re horny, you’re pretty, you’re born in ’94/Because we’re the russ of 2013, here comes the russ/Here comes the russ”).
Before transforming into Freddy Kalas, Fredrik Auke was better known as Freddy Genius and released a bunch of russ songs, working with both Robin & Bugge and Heux (better known as Mathias Haukeland, the nondescript yet omnipresent brother of Andreas ‘Tix’ Haukeland). Why are all of these guys getting their career started by pandering to the russ demographic?
If you’re young and like partying, being a russ is a godsend: 24/7 partying with your friends and having a good time. The downsides are predictable: Rape, drinking pressure, bullying and social exclusion, violence, being scammed and so on. Every year Amnesty International attempts to curb some of the damage through their “Nei er nei” (“No means no”) campaign, and in 2018 Tix gave the campaign his blessing. It comes across as empty posturing, seeing as his art contains the opposite message.
Source: Amnesty International
And honestly, russ celebration is not a thing that needs to exist. The idea that a gang of eighteen-year-olds need their own customized party bus, they simply have to attend all russ events and most absurd of all: They must have their own theme song – these things are simply not necessary. Schools in Norway are meant to be free of commercial pressure, and advertising is strictly regulated. Yet in recent years the industry surrounding russ celebration has flourished, and for most of the kids russ celebration is not optional, it is socially mandatory. Even having your very own russ song is a must. What are the mechanics that have propelled the demand for russ songs, despite the fact that school is meant to be an arena free of commercial pressure? How did we get to the point where the biggest russ music producer is literally bathing in money? Whatever the reasons, Tix took the opportunity and ran with it.
Though his current guise is a family-friendly mental health advocate who spent summer serenading weeping children, the majority of Tix’ discography is russ music, and for that he remains unapologetic. His undying devotion for the russ is oddly touching, and when the Covid-19 pandemic caused the large russ events of 2020 to be cancelled, he sprung to action. Tix announced that he would host a digital russ event, imploring the kids to stay at home in order to prevent spreading the virus. The event was a confetti-laden affair where the hitmaker interacted with russ crews via video call. At one point he is greeted by a group of russ girls who squeal with excitement, clearly overjoyed at finally meeting their overlord. He howls with delight and says: “You know what? This is the reason why I’m still alive”.
If you start scanning the writing credits of MGP 2021 and looking at the accompanying musical CVs the pattern of russ music intensifies.
|Songwriter||MGp 2021 song||russ song|
|Jesper Borgen||World on Fire||Snapshot 2011, Gators 2013|
|Magnus ‘Morgan Sulele’ Clausen||World on Fire/Vi Er Norge/River||Jungelbrøl 2014, Saints Of Barthelemy|
|Lars Horn Lavik||Barndomsgater||Eden 2016, Skrik 2019|
|Robin Sharma||Barndomsgater||Krueger 2012 (Robin & Bugge)|
|Espen Andreas Fjeld||My Lonely Voice/Walking In My Sleep||Paradox 2019|
|Vebjørn Jernberg||My Lonely Voice/Walking In My Sleep||Electric Feel 2015|
|Benjamin Sefring||Let Loose||Disco Demolition 2018, Grim Reaper 2018|
|Jørgen Troøyen||Psycho||Dystopia 2017, Consume 2018 (Hayabuza)|
|Torgeir Ryssevik||Nordlyset/Bli Med Meg På Garn||Goodfellas 2016, Unicorn Fanclub 2016 (Advokaterne)|
|Ole Hartz||Vi Er Norge||Skvetter Northug 2017, Attitude 2020|
|Simen Meland Handeland||Coming Home||Felix Finis 2014|
|Andreas ‘Tix’ Haukeland||Fallen Angel||Take your pick|
|Mathias Haukeland||Fallen Angel||Sorry Not Sorry 2019, Garfield 2017 (Heux)|
At least 13 of the MGP 2021 songwriters have written or performed songs for the russ market, possibly more. Bear in mind, it’s difficult to research this topic because for some reason not all of the russ songs are credited with songwriters on Spotify. It’s almost like they don’t want you to know. So the “stigma” of being the architect of a russ song has clearly not disappeared, despite Tix’ best efforts to combat it.
For the sake of comparison, here is the list of former russ music songwriters that contributed to songs in Melodi Grand Prix 2020:
|Songwriter||mgp 2020 song||russ song|
|Erik Smaaland||One Last Time||Vixen 2011, Thadland 2017|
|Kristoffer Tømmerbakke||One Last Time||Legenden|
|Magnus Bertelsen (MMB)||Love Who We Love||Frank The Tank 2015|
|Henning Olerud||Stem På Mæ||Wicked Wonderland 2014|
|Audun Agnar Guldbrandsen||I Am Gay||Morrapuler (Bean Bag 2020), Hjem og Runke (Slayer 2019) (SNUS)|
The number has almost tripled from 2020 to 2021. Based on this huge jump it is fair to say that having written russ music is not a disadvantage when entering Melodi Grand Prix. And I have to wonder: Why is this happening? You’d think this would be something the media or NRK would highlight, but no mention of it is found anywhere. Going from being a frequently maligned genre by both parents and the music industry to being the prominent genre where tomorrow’s mainstream songwriters and producers are found is quite the leap. The genre’s indisputable success on streaming is frequently mentioned as a reason for the industry’s growing acceptance of russ music, but it feels like the public is missing a piece of the puzzle. The lyrics debate just died off? Money and streaming are the only metrics that matter?
Let me tell you how this works. I love Eurovision, it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In later years I’ve started following some of the national selections like Melodifestivalen and UMK. Occasionally I will start following an artist if I really enjoy their song, and one of these artists is Lisa Ajax who has participated in Melodifestivalen three times. I absolutely adored ‘Cry Like Kim K’, a collaboration with Norwegian ‘producer/DJ’ Davai and British chanteuse Call Me Loop. It is a fluffy, sugary pop song about empowering yourself after a breakup that has amassed more than 6 million play counts. I played it to death in 2018, I loved it so much. By chance I discovered that Davai recently released a collab with Raylee (three-time MGP contestant with a love of big braids), and I decided to look up his social media. Seeing his other aliases was a straight punch to the gut. Davai AKA Solguden birthed ‘Playboy 2017’ with its stomach-churning chorus: “Er du tretten/Er du med/Når du suger/Så gå ned” (“If you’re thirteen/You can join/Go down/When you suck off”). I felt gaslighted and was instantly reminded of when Tix was asked about the difference between writing pop songs and russ songs: He half-cackled that “there is no difference, that’s why it’s so much fun”. ‘Playboy 2017’ rightfully caused public debate. Even Tix was appalled, but he noted that it was an obvious cry for attention and that the media played right into the authors’ hands.
Writing songs for the russ doesn’t have to be a big deal in itself. Plenty of russ songs are innocuous party songs with inoffensive lyrics that are meant for immediate consumption and are quickly forgotten the next year. Even the ubiquitous Alexander Rybak has offered his services for free and made a russ song. It has been suggested that some international songwriters are envious of what writing songs for the russ entails: Immediate payment, a guaranteed built-in target audience and clueless eighteen-year-olds as negotiating party – a strange but profitable version of musical apprenticeship. It is a financially rewarding way of starting off your songwriting career and a good approach to hone your technical skills whilst still getting paid. Getting started as a songwriter in the traditional way is challenging – years can go by before you start to earn money off your hard work, and there’s a big IF attached to the earning money bit. So starting off your career by way of russ music makes sense. Both Alan Walker and Kygo have made russ songs early in their careers, Alan Walker has loudly declared his love for Tix in the Youtube comment section of ‘Sjeiken 2015’. Popular music doesn’t have to be terrible, but russ music is a damning argument against popular music gone wild. It is clear that there is NO-ONE in the room saying ‘perhaps we should phrase that differently’ – it is hard to otherwise explain the release of songs with content that is homophobic (Slakteriet 2017), hebephile (the aforementioned ‘Playboy 2017’), contain ill-advised takes on Jamaican accents (Cannabus 2011) and most prevalent of all, sexist (see Tix et al). Thankfully ‘Playboy 2017’ and ‘Slakteriet 2017’ are seemingly taken off official streaming services, and one can only hope that Tix will come to his senses and put his garbage where it belongs. And whilst russ music seems to be a quickfire way to get your career off the ground, there comes a time when you have to grow up. If commercial pop music is what you dabble with, what is the obvious adjacent arena for promoting family-friendly and catchy original pop music? Enter Melodi Grand Prix.
Ole Hartz entered MGP 2021 with the nationalistic ‘Vi Er Norge’, a song about a guy who is cheering up the thirsty locals by selling home brewed liquor. Riveting stuff. While the official NRK presentation of him omits any mention of russ music, Ole has made no secret of his russ music past and says that he couldn’t make russ music forever and that he needed to change his image. As is tradition, ‘Vi Er Norge’ received a poor review in national newspaper VG and was awarded the devastating dice throw of 1. When asked about how he felt about said review, Ole cheerfully said he was well prepared for bad reviews and that reviewers didn’t seem to enjoy the type of party music that is his trademark. Katastrofe called him and said the review made him really proud of Ole and that it was “great promo”. The ducks were not all on the same row this time though. The VG review of ‘Vi er Norge’ unsurprisingly became a part of Tix’ one-man crusade against bad reviews, he sniffingly argued that a bad review could ruin a burgeoning artist’s career. For what it’s worth, dice throws of 1 haven’t stopped the financial progress of Tix and his cronies: They are not poor.
Ole Hartz performing Vi er Norge (Source: bygdeposten.no)
In stark contrast to NRK’s presentation of Ole Hartz, Tix’ russ legacy isn’t swept under the rug in their presentation of him. The presentation also proclaims that he has “converted grandmas and kids into becoming fans”. You honestly couldn’t make this stuff up, it is unbelievable. Tix’ eventual participation in MGP has been coming for some time – in a podcast interview with retired “general of MGP” Per Sundnes Tix said that MGP has been on the cards since 2016, but that he has said no when asked because of other engagements. However, he was “fervently hoping” to be able to enter MGP in 2017, but his participation was blocked by unnamed people in the music industry. He had unofficially been told that he was good to go as a participant, but in the end he was rejected. Apparently the meeting where his possible participation was being discussed ended up with people “throwing things and screaming at each other” because he was that polarizing. I need him to name names. Who are these people? They deserve flowers and then some for at least temporarily saving the Norwegian public from their doomed fate.
Skimming the surface all russ artists and songwriters appear to be male. Why no females? NRK published an article on this very topic and its wider implications in the party music genre. They managed to locate one female artist in the genre: MGP alumni Carina Dahl. She started out making traditional English-language pop music and continued in this lane for years to little or no success. She eventually pivoted into doing Norwegian-language party music – the same genre infested by Staysman, Vidar Villa et al. Carina posted a glowing tribute to Tix after his MGP win, where she conveniently inserted herself into his populist narrative of being looked down upon for making non-credible music. Of the genre itself she has observed that it is a bit of a “boys’ club”, but she is still seemingly comfortable with being the only female artist the genre has to offer. And as russ music is becoming an established career path into professional songwriting and music producing, it is worth asking what the consequences for recruitment of females to these very jobs will be. In theory russ music is available for anyone to try their hand at, yet no females are to be found. The reasons why are complex to unpack, and it’s about more than sexist lyrics. One thing is for sure: Using russ music as a source for recruiting new songwriting and music production talent is not improving an already disproportionate situation.
Does anyone in the music industry have anything to say about russ music that isn’t praising its financial success and obvious commercial appeal? After all, we live in a cursed timeline where Alexandra Rotan of Keiino says that “Tix is the Beyoncé of Norway”, without a doubt the worst take of 2021. Is there any room for dissenting voices at all? Superstar songwriter Ina Wroldsen tried. Her songwriting credits include Clean Bandit’s ‘Rockabye’ and ‘Symphony’. She provided MGP with what is possibly its best second place to date: Adelen’s ‘Bombo’. Tix and Ina were guests on the radio show “Christine” with the object of reviewing new music releases. Before previewing a new Freddy Kalas song, the subject of russ music was brought up. Ina quietly sneered: “I boycotted being russ.” Tix’ response was that he was struggling to understand her point of view, and the discussion was abruptly ended by him making a song and dance about an unintentional sexual double entendre.
Ina and her mother host a podcast in which they discuss pretty much anything – including russ music. Their discussion of russ music was prompted by a father of a russ defending his son’s choice to finance a song with the following lyrics: “Jævla hore, sett deg på kne” (“Fucking whore, get down on your knees”). Ina says she is thoroughly incensed by it, and she then finally addresses the elephant in the room: “I know it’s controversial, I love Andreas – he’s a cool guy. But I also think that he has contributed something to this. It’s good that he apologised, but this type of toxic culture is fucking horrible. (…) It is so degrading, it’s rape culture. I think it’s fucking horrible.(…) And then, after a few years, these guys show up and say ‘Hey, you wanna write a song?’ Buddy, I don’t think so.” They continue their discussion by pointing out the obvious: If girls stop giving the guys with the songs attention, they will stop. Because attention is what they thrive on.
I am not out to paint a dystopian nightmare future where the MGP entries will consist of 26 variations of ‘En Godt Stekt Pizza’ if MGP is to become a playpen exclusively for male former russ music hacks. Their combined contribution to the last two years’ MGP entries span different genres and are mostly of decent quality. But the russ music’s expanding overlap with MGP makes me uneasy. MGP 2021 ended up costing NOK 25 millions, all funded by the taxpayers. As a tax-paying citizen and as an avid music fan I am interested in knowing whose careers I am uplifting and funding via MGP. A touch more transparency wouldn’t go amiss. As it is now I have no choice but to do my due diligence when MGP 2022 comes around: Google every songwriter and look up their previous work on Spotify. Knowing that a genre with still-unresolved issues surrounding problematic lyrics and that caters exclusively to men (both as listeners and as creators) has been given that much preference as a source of songwriting talent in MGP 2021 is troubling. Seeing the genre go from being rightfully questioned to being met with blanket acceptance in the music industry is mystifying. I’m starting to believe that Tix was right when he said that he knew he was going to make it as a pop star because he simply wouldn’t quit. The secret to success is the refusal to take no for an answer. No means no until it means yes.