Rambo Amadeus’ ‘Euro Neuro’: Eurovision Takes On the Euro Zone

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Rambo Amadeus' "Euro Neuro" is Montenegro's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012

Rambo Amadeus, who describes himself as “one of the most prominent cult figures on the ex-Yugoslav music scene,” made a name for himself as a musical freedom fighter. In 1989, with the communists still pulling the strings in Yugoslavia, the Montenegrin singer penned “Cataclysm of Communism” — a rebellious song that authorities renamed “America and England.” In it, Amadeus called for the overthrow of the Yugoslav Politburo by mocking its tendency to blame perceived evils on capitalism. “The climate of racism and liberalism/ AIDS and homosexuality/ All this is a product of capitalism,” he sang. “One of these days even Japan/ Will fall into the hands of drug addicts.”

In the two decades that have passed, Amadeus — whose real name is Antonije Pusic — has continued to generate witty, and frequently crude, satire. He has poked fun at everything from local politics to ethnic conflict in the Balkans. “I like to explore the space between wisdom and silliness,” he tells TIME. “I like to look at unexpected places.” So when Montenegro’s state broadcaster invited him to represent the country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest — the pan-European singing contest that is the world’s most-watched nonsporting television event — Amadeus reached into the ether and grabbed inspiration from the ongoing European debt crisis. “The E.U. and euro are in some kind of neurotic situation, so I wanted to help,” he says. “I do not have a cure. It is just a diagnosis. ‘Euro Neuro’ is a diagnostic song with therapeutic side effects.”

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It’s not a topic you’d expect at a competition that’s been dubbed a cultural Chernobyl for its thrusting young singers and frothy pop acts. But Amadeus plays into the kitsch of it all. “Euro Neuro” is a rap-spoken word hybrid largely devoid of melody and full of ostensibly nonsensical rhyming. But you can mine meaning from the fun. The dark strings and sinister laughing that open the song augur ill for Europe if its leaders remain rigid in their approach to the crisis: “Euro skeptic, analphabetic/ Try not to be hermetic.” It then goes on to advocate for E.U.-led bailouts. “Euro neuro, don’t be dogmatic, bureaucratic/ You need to become pragmatic/ To stop change climatic automatic/ Need contribution from the institution/ To find solution for pollution/ To save the children of the evolution.” That’s rather timely. On March 30, euro-zone Finance Ministers announced they would contribute an additional $670 billion to the financial firewall meant to prop up countries facing debt problems. Amadeus will sing to that. “Euro neuro, euro neuro/ Monetary break-dance/ Euro neuro, euro neuro/ Give me chance to refinance.”

Watch Rambo Amadeus’ “Euro Neuro” video here:


The promotional video weaves together multiple strands of the crisis in rather comical ways. A man on a donkey represents the rural poor. He journeys from village to health club to massage parlor to seaside marina working odd jobs. Despite his efforts to make ends meet, the city folk he encounters look at him — and his efforts to get his finances in order — with contempt. Women in sports cars laugh as he slows traffic with his donkey. Swedes sunbathing on their yacht look horrified when he jumps on board. Their scorn is overt. But equally toxic is the indifference shown by German tourists who remain blithely unaware of how austerity impacts the less fortunate. As Amadeus guides a tour boat through the Adriatic, he says, “Blaue grotte ausflug do Zanjica, heute habe hobotnica.” It’s a mixture of German and Serbian that translates roughly as: “On today’s excursion to the Blue Grotto and Zanjica” — some of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the Balkans — “we’re having octopus.”

Culturally and politically, Eurovision frequently acts as a barometer of contemporary Europe — and the same has held true throughout the financial crisis. On May 9, 2010, Europe’s Finance Ministers — pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel — created the European Financial Stability Facility, which amounted to €750 billion at the time (equivalent to around $1 trillion) and was meant to help bail out economies from Greece to Spain. Three weeks later, at the Eurovision final in Oslo, European voters showed their appreciation. In a year of over-the-top acts and high-budget spectacles — the Armenian contestant danced around a giant apricot while flames shot into the air — Europeans handed the Eurovision crown to Lena Meyer-Landrut, a German teenager in a simple black cocktail dress. Commentators suggested that voters were thanking Germany for leading the E.U.-led bailout response. Of course, Germany also became the butt of a few jokes. As an announcer presenting Eurovision in Russia said following Meyer-Landrut’s win: “Clearly everyone knows where to turn when they need money.”

But Amadeus’ video implies that self-reliance — not a direct line to Germany — offers the best path forward. At the end of the video, a donkey eats all of the protagonist’s hard-earned money. “Well, if you ever had a donkey, you would know that it is a real threat. Donkeys like paper,” Amadeus tells TIME. “They can eat the whole newspaper for breakfast. So if you are not careful you can lose money. That is the message.” In that sense “Euro Neuro” can be interpreted as a cautionary tale. It’s also a clever attempt to pull in the Eurovision electorate during leaner times. “The song is directed to everyone feeling a bit nervous about not being able to understand things like the financial roots of the euro-zone crisis,” he says. “I am looking forward to their vote.”

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Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.