At Least It Pays to Be Funny”: Of Feminism, Creative Agency, and Lipstick in Teya & Salena’s Who the Hell Is Edgar?”

9 April 2023 ☼ Artist: Teya & SalenaEurovision 2023Pop Music

Y’all know that I love thinking way too hard about silly pop songs and their accompanying music videos. Thus it’s not much of a stretch to imagine me finding a YouTube channel devoted to overthinking silly pop songs and their music videos, specifically made for Eurovision, and squealing in delight. I don’t get into Eurovision every year, but sometimes it offers the right amounts of interesting music with more going on just behind the curtain. I especially recommend Overthinking It’s video on the crusty Croatian punks who will be bringing an anti-Putin, Bertolt Brecht-inspired epic to Liverpool, but this year will also feature K-pop by way of the Faroe Islands, an ode to pan-Slavic sisterhood and excellent makeup work, a joyous story about drinking while introverted that develops a third-act twist, Serbia channeling The Matrix and Nine Inch Nails, Slovenia channeling 2004, and if the masses cry out for it I will come back here and explain what Romania’s entry has to do with Pitchfork’s meant-to-attract-attention slam of Måneskin.

We have all that, and Austria’s entry, Teya & Salena’s Who the Hell Is Edgar?”, which is not only a very catchy song but a song that practically begs to be thought too hard about.

To make a long story short: Teya (black hair) and Salena (blond) are a pair of singer-songwriters who co-wrote Who the Hell Is Edgar?” (though I don’t think they were the only writers) at a songwriting camp together, and it’s about the act of songwriting in the early twenty-first century. The narrator writes so easily she feels like there’s a force within her driving her hands, and gets excited because this song is something special and it’s gonna make me rich.” (On Teya’s website, under net worth,” Teya writes, too low.” Her biography includes her most important goal in life, which is to be able to live off of music and forever be in the industry surrounded by creative and like-minded people.”) The excitement gets tempered when the singers realize they’ll only get zero dot zero zero three” per stream. (As of my writing this, Who the Hell Is Edgar?” has 2.56 million streams on Spotify, which grosses Teya & Salena about 7,700 euros.) Finally, they shrug, At least it pays to be funny,” and from there the song soars.

Other people have explained this background in detail; what I want to bring your attention to here is a narrative in the music video that builds on the original song. (I’ve looked, and haven’t yet found a director’s credit; email me if you know so I can credit them properly.) Because Teya & Salena have said that Who the Hell Is Edgar?” is also about fighting for recognition as professional song-writing women, and that narrative is even more visible than it is audible. Let me show you what I mean, with stills from the video.

(Edit 11 April: the director is Ruy Okamura, who’s Prague-based; the full video credits are here. Many thanks to Teya herself for providing the info, and Joanna Holman for putting the word out on Twitter, which I am terrible at doing.)

image of Salena looking down while holding a piece of paper

So first we see Salena. What I want to draw attention to is the use of the color red throughout the video, specifically red lipstick. Salena’s wearing red lipstick here, but otherwise she’s in browns and greens.

image of Teya looking up from her typewriter

Contrast to Teya, who’s wearing a bright red jacket and red earrings. She’s the one who’s such a good writer!”, but she demurs: Oh, it’s not me, it’s Edgar.” Red is going to be the color of creativity, but Teya associates it with Edgar, not herself, even though when we actually see the name Edgar”…

image of an old-fashioned typewriter with “Edgar” in script

…it’s on the black typewriter.

wide shot of Teya sitting at her desk with objects around her and a bulletin board behind her

Now we can see why Teya associates the color red with Edgar Allan Poe: his name is written over and over on a red background; the The Raven” poster behind her prominently features red; and there’s a red mask on her desk, a nod to The Masque of the Red Death.” But there are also, in the foreground, two silver tubes of lipstick, one open (and pointing at Teya), one closed. Also Teya has red fingernails. Yes, this will be important.

wide shot of the room, with several women watching a man dance

In this shot, after the bigwig has discovered Teya’s lyrics and begun dancing, you can see that the desks are all red but none of the other female secretaries are wearing red. The creativity’s there; they just haven’t seized it yet.

image of Salena and Teya smiling at each other

Okay, when I originally saw the video I thought Salena’s nails were completely neutral until the bridge. It turns out they’re already red-tipped. Darn it, Veteran Music Director Ruy Okamura! We could’ve worked nail art into the symbolism! Suffice to stay that the point holds: Teya, the one writing, has more access to red, and more ability to show the color red, than Salena does.

image of Teya and Salena wearing suits, surrounded by stacks of files

Teya and Salena hide in the file room so they can disguise themselves as men and present their song to the bigwigs. Notice that Teya changes from her previous black shirt / red jacket outfit to a red shirt under a black jacket; she’s bringing the red closer to her body, but also hiding it somewhat under a more masculine” color (black, which we’re already associating with Edgar Allan Poe via the typewriter). Salena’s still in whites and neutrals.

image of a bunch of men in suits dancing around a wide table while Teya and Salena look on

None of the bigwigs are wearing red; in fact, red is entirely absent from this room, a place where creativity is downplayed and business decisions are paramount.

image of a man in a fedora looking at an annoyed woman in a blue suit

Also denied any red (orange doesn’t count): the detective who arrests Teya and Salena, and the secretary who sells them out.

image of Salena holding up a placard that says “Allan Poe,” as if posing for a police lineup

image of Teya holding up a placard that says “Edgar Poe,” as if posing for a police lineup

Teya and Salena are booked,” but they don’t even have their own names; they’ve been completely hidden behind Edgar. This is the low point in their hero’s journey.

image of Teya sitting at a table, closed lipstick tube in hand, Salena in teh background looking at her

Salena notices Teya playing with her now-closed lipstick, which Teya will be playing with when she sings, Edgar cannot pay rent for me”—the realization that attributing her creative energy to a (dead, white, male) ghost” isn’t working.

image of Salena holding up an open tube of red lipstick

The Lipstick! Is Open!

image of a silhouette of a man in front of a window, on which is written the word “Poe” in red lipstick

And they have escaped! Contrast to the initial scene where Poe” was written in white on a red background; now that Salena and Teya are in charge, the actual writing is in red.

image of Salena singing

A new look for Salena: she’s still in white from the neck down, but her makeup is much more vivid and eye-catching than it was in the first scene.

image of Teya singing

Admittedly Teya screws up my whole narrative by being mostly in black now, but she has super-fabulous dangling red earrings to make up for it.

image of Salena seated behind the wheel of a red convertible with Teya next to her

And of course their getaway car is bright red. (And a BMW, because whoever put this much thought into this music video was not going to lose a chance for some votes at the last minute by sticking them in a Hyundai.) Note that Salena is driving now, not Teya; having discovered that the secret to the creativity lay with them and their femininity (the lipstick), she is now contributing. But they are clearly together in their escape. The last shot we see is of them grinning at each other.

image of a woman in a blue suit bending over to catch her breath and looking offscreen

And we end with the treacherous secretary giving the last Who the hell is Edgar?”, because she doesn’t get it yet; she still thinks creativity has to come from a male place.

And there you have it! I’m not sure Who the Hell Is Edgar?” is going to win; it’s not an obvious crowd-pleaser, and it’s up against several obvious crowd-pleasers of various genres. (Admittedly, my general prediction record is usually terrible.) But I do think it deserves to be known as more than just another entry in the wacky (and, let’s face it, frequently mediocre) sub-genre of Eurovision songs. I won’t say it’s too smart for Eurovision; that seems wrong, condescending to song and performers and venue alike. But it’s definitely smart enough to be entertaining even without Eurovision.