ByeAlex’s was the first name called out on Thursday’s ESC Semi Finals to enter today’s Grand Finals. The Hungarian entry may be a big surprise today as well.
The young man with a beard, in huge, black framed glasses, black knit hat and a way too small corduroy suit – with his ankles and goofy socks showing – seemed terribly nervous on stage, and his voice was trembling while he performed his song Kedvesem. No wonder he was scared shitless, he never performed in front of more than maybe a hundred people, apart from the rehearsals. Still, the audience immediately clicked with him, they started clapping the rhythm, humming the catchy tune and giving him a huge ovation.
‘Very cute, but you have to agree he cannot sing’ – commented a viewer on ESC’s Facebook page after the semi finals. The singer was labelled ‘hot’ and compared to Johnny Depp by some, others wrote he looked ‘broke’ and ‘stole the glasses of the Israeli contestant’.
Only a few complained that they didn’t understand a word of the song, but this wasn’t a problem for the majority – in fact, they liked the weird, but melodic Hungarian language. Others also sang in their mother language, this will not be a decisive factor in the voting loaded with centuries of historical antipathies and neighbour conflicts within the radius of the Baku-Reykjavik circle. The refrain ‘Alcohol is free’ repeated by the Greek band didn’t resonate with the audience because of its English either.
All my foreign friends were fascinated by the Hungarian entry, and said exactly the same like many people here after the national finals: the song is refreshingly different and of much better quality than the usual Eurovision bubblegum pop, world music techno and retro glam rock acts. He was very lucky that his performance was followed by the high-tech industrial music/dominatrix show of the Norwegian entry so his simple, innocent song stood out even more.
On the press conference after the semi finals, it appeared that the Swedish organizers and international rivals looked at ByeAlex – who murmured a quote from Nietzsche, very unusually for this scene – as a kind, lovable freak, harmless to the competition. But that self-important attitude around him might as well fuel the audience’s defiance which pushed the shy, humble Alex through the Hungarian contest.
He is not a singer with a routine. He had two hits so far played in the radio (one of them is the adorable MILF-song Csókolom about the confessions of a poetic young soul in love with a much older woman), but his songs were so smooth and elaborated that I always assumed he had years of experience in composing and performing music. Until I first saw Alex Márta, the singer who’s being constantly teased for his choice of the stage name ByeAlex (Hello Alex, Why Alex and so on) in the first semi finals of A Dal, the Hungarian Eurovision Song Contest.
I almost fell out of my pants when he said it was his 6th live performance on stage ever. He was competing with professional musicians, with decades of experience, as well as talent show rising stars performing songs written by renowned and expensive songwriters. His delicately simple song has only some easy, allegoric lyrics repeating (his love dancing on top of the clouds, diving into the deep of the oceans and building a carriage of rosemary), a pretty guitar tune, enhanced with an equally simple and pure electronic sample produced by an acknowledged DJ Zoohacker (he was the biggest name behind the production) and a cute animated background made by Alex’s sister, a young graphic artist.
The jury of the Hungarian contest didn’t take him seriously and made nasty remarks teasing him that the kindergarten kids happen to like his song, after cover and karaoke versions by kids started flooding YouTube shortly after his first performance. One jury member swooned, ‘Kids will want to dress up like ByeAlex for the upcoming mardigras in the kindergarten’ – ‘Yeah, because it’s cheap’ – replied another.
I cannot contest that kids really loved his song. My 5-year-old daughter told me after the first semi final that ByeAlex is going to win, and they agreed on it with her friends in her Little Mole Group – of course I smiled. Even after he got through the second semi final solely with audience votes, nobody thought of him as a possible winner. Except for the kids of course, who were already sporting Alex hats and singing Kedvesem in the bathtub. They must have been the ones too, who sent 20 votes each on him, so he won the finals…
Oh, it was such a public outrage! Celebutants posted suicidal status messages, haters trolled his page, and he became the centre of merciless media attention for weeks. On the other hand, he quickly got over 20 thousand new followers and fans, and for some time he even responded to their messages one by one in person, taking things a bit too seriously. My colleague, who interviewed him, told me he was really the sincere everyday guy we saw on stage, and he was totally clueless what he was thrown into, but it affected him deeply.
The singer – who previously worked as a part-time journalist for a tattoo magazine after finishing his masters in Philosophy – spoke many times about his hurtful feelings, being unfairly bashed for his win. Finally, a few of the sites and blogs which were at first supportive, also started mocking him and calling him a sissy.
In spite of his success to get to the finals, Hungarian opinions have never been more extreme. His fans consider the ardent philosopher-musician a hero and an oracle, while others will never come to terms with the ‘anti-Hungarian, anarchist looking weirdo’ representing our country in the equally slurred song contest.
Now he is fuelled by the desire to prove – he said in an interview. It would be time he let go of the mission and started singing for himself. Because no matter how tonight will turn out, he will never amaze haters at home. Still, he has a good chance to make a difference in the Eurovision Grand Finals, if he could overcome his anxiety and won’t screw up the performance.
Tonight will be a long night for many Hungarian parents – including me –, with all the small kids staying up to watch their ByeAlex…