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You are currently viewing 🇦🇹 Editorial: Can ‘Who the hell is Edgar?’ teach us about the realities of being a female songwriter?
Photo credit: ORF/Huy Tran

When ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ by Teya & Salena dropped on 8th March 2023, it already had Eurofans hooked. The now-notorious Twitter account, CrystalBallESC, had already leaked two snippets of the song, along with other hints about its content. However, these seemed to leave listeners with more questions than answers. Why are two Austrian girls singing about a dead American writer? Just how much do musicians make per stream on Spotify? Who the hell is Edgar?

Dive deeper into the lyrics of the song, as well as the history of its subject, and you will find it actually offers us insights into the reality of being a songwriter, particularly a female one. The music video is also important for understanding the song’s message, so make sure you familiarise yourself with it below before reading on:

‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ – A Feminist Anthem

Teya & Salena have both been working as singer-songwriters separately and have also applied to represent Austria (and in Teya’s case also Serbia) at Eurovision before, albeit without success. Their paths would ultimately cross at a songwriting camp in the Czech Republic and it was here that they wrote ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ together. The song was then internally selected by ORF, the Austrian broadcaster, for this year’s contest.

With Teya & Salena having both experienced what it’s like to struggle to make your mark in the music scene, it’s not difficult to see their lived experiences through the song. This was something confirmed by the artists themselves in an interview with Vorarlberg Online, with Teya telling the publication:

“It’s about our experiences as female songwriters. If you speak plainly in a room, as a songwriter you very often have the feeling that you’re not being taken seriously. That’s a clear one difference to my male colleagues.”

Teodora Špirić, Vorarlberg Online

This feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer compared to a man is immediately made apparent in the song’s lyrics and corresponding music video. The song begins with Salena praising Teya’s lyricism, telling her she’s “such a good writer” but Teya immediately deflects the compliment by saying “It’s not me, it’s Edgar.” Edgar, of course, being the great American gothic writer (and the inspiration behind the song’s catchy chorus) Edgar Allen Poe.

Female writers having to hide their talent in the guise of a man is nothing new: some of the most popular female authors of all time, including the Bronte sisters and George Eliot, were forced to use male or gender-ambiguous names to have their works published without prejudice and to encourage male readership. Likewise, although another woman – Salena – compliments Teya’s songwriting ability, Teya knows that her song will not be taken seriously without the “ghost in [her] body”. This is further emphasised by the fact that the girls’ male boss only appears mesmerised by the song after Edgar’s name is invoked, and the subsequent image of Teya & Salena dressed as men, pitching their song to a rapt audience of old, white men before being arrested.

The Struggles of Songwriting

Given the clear feminist themes of the song, it is unsurprising that it was released on 8th March, celebrated around the world as International Women’s Day. However, in the latter half of the song, the lyrics move away from the struggles of a female songwriter struggling to be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, to the struggles of being a songwriter in general.

The song’s third verse begins with the number “0.003”. This is a reference to the $0.003-$0.005 that artists receive for each stream their song receives on Spotify. This was something that CrystalBallESC alluded to before the song’s release, tweeting “How much does an artist earn for one Spotify stream?” Despite feeling that the song is “something special and it’s gonna make me rich” and that they should “call Universal” in the first two verses, Teya & Salena have now realised they will receive a paltry sum for their efforts. They may be able to provide a free dinner in “two years” or afford “gas station champagne” but little else.

Interestingly, this is something that Edgar Allen Poe himself would be all too familiar with. Although he is widely considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre, and a pioneer of science fiction, he died penniless and received little financial recognition for his work throughout his lifetime. Perhaps his most famous work, the 1845 poem ‘The Raven’, made him a household name while also simultaneously only earning him $9 (nearly $355 in today’s money). Could it be that the reason Teya & Salena chose this writer for the song’s hook is because he understood the struggles of being a starving artist too?

How the Hell Will This Do at Eurovision?

Before kicking into the song’s final chorus, the verse ends with the sardonic line “At least it pays to be funny” before Teya makes a scoffing sound. There is the possibility that this could refer to ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ itself: both Teya & Salena have been successful in representing Austria at Eurovision for the first time in their careers with a clever, witty song. At the time of writing, the song has been on YouTube for 11 hours and in that time it has amassed almost 225k streams and is currently #8 on trending. Perhaps it really does pay to be funny!

However, will this pay off in the long term? Austria last qualified for the Grand Final in 2018 with ‘Nobody But You’ by Cesár Sampson. They are performing in the second semi-final, widely considered by Eurofans to be the weaker of the two overall. Could this stand out and earn Teya & Salena the Grand Final spot they are hoping for, clearly evidenced by the number ‘1305’ on their mugshots in the music video? Of course, this number represents the date of this year’s Grand Final: 13th May!

‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ is certainly causing a stir in the fandom and we’re really excited to see how ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ will translate on the Liverpool stage!

Teya & Salena clearly want to make it to the final. Do you want them to as well? Photo credit: YouTube

If you would like to read more deep dives into Eurovision song lyrics, why not read our articles about Serbia’s ‘In Corpore Sano’ here and Croatia‘s ‘Mama ŠČ!’ here? Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok so you don’t miss a second of Eurovision content!

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