Watergun: A Damp Squib

So Switzerland, a country so committed to neutrality that it hasn’t been involved in an international conflict for more than 200 years, released its 2023 Eurovision song Watergun.

My first reaction: YIKES

My second reaction: What a TONE DEAF YIKES

My third reaction: I’m not listening to this incredibly misjudged song a third time! It’s a YIKES from me, dawg!

But because this is ostensibly a review video, I guess I need to link to the song. Listen to it if you want, but all the context you need to know appears below:

Okay! I’m assuming you skipped that, so let me describe the song.

Switzerland’s Voice winner Remo Forrer sings a plaintive ballad where he notes that the war games of his childhood have – wait for it – REAL consequences when actual weapons are involved! And he’s not so into being a soldier because people die!

Now, Eurovision is a contest designed to promote peace and understanding. But the optics of Switzerland, a country that has benefited from wars without participating in them, sending a song that talks about the horrors of war – a concept purely theoretical to Swiss citizens – in a year when Ukrainians are actually dying in a war caused by Russian aggression? Those optics aren’t great!

This song is more than an empty, platitude-strewn gesture. It’s actively offensive.

“But” you might say, “is it really an empty gesture? Switzerland is committed to neutrality!”

Neutrality, yes. Peace, no. The Swiss government maintains an active army. The country manufactures weapons which they sell to other countries (with caveats). Swiss men are conscripted into the army (or an alternative civilian service that last one and half times as long.) Switzerland is fully prepared to take up real guns!

“But” you might say, “doesn’t that just prove the point of the song? Isn’t Remo protesting against his own country’s demands for military service?”

Well, no, because conscientious objectors can do alternative civil service. Remo doesn’t need to go anywhere near guns if he doesn’t want to! And assuming that Remo is protesting against Swiss policies assumes that Remo is more than just the delivery mechanism for a song.

Which he’s not. Watergun was actually written by two British men – Argyle Singh and Ashley Hicklin – and the Polish Mikolaj Trybulec. Both Hicklin and Trybulec have a track record of creating songs for Eurovision artists. Together, they’ve been credited as co-writers on Blas Canto’s Universo and Ochman’s River.

And that leads me to the question – was Watergun actually written to be the Swiss entry, or was Watergun written somewhere in a songwriting camp and then shopped around to various countries?

Because this is one of the larger problems with Eurovision songs. Singers don’t have to be composers (only Samanta Tina can do both). Songwriters can help to punch up an idea or polish a concept. But the factory machine method of matching a voice to a song is far less likely to pay off in a time when authenticity is what helps a song stand out from the competition.

(Since 2016, only two songs that haven’t had the performer credited as a songwriter have won Eurovision. One was Amar Pelos Dois, which was written by Salvador Sobral’s sister, and the other was Toy, both of which had absolutely inimitable performance styles. )

Remo Forrer is a talented singer, but the fact that he’s singing lyrics to which he has absolutely no personal connection? It comes through. I don’t blame him. I blame the whole system which paired a platitude waterfall of a song with a country where a “universal” message turns out to be not so universal.

As I said, Eurovision is a contest about peace and unity. It’s also a contest about songwriting camps and Voice contestants and the sausage making of the modern pop industry. Unfortunately, Switzerland’s entry this year is one that lives down to the worst parts of the contest, and that’s why Watergun is my bottom rated entry in 2023.

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