Photo credit: YouTube
When Spain aired their national final Benidorm Fest on Saturday 3rd February, many had already anticipated its eventual winner. Alicante-based electropop duo Nebulossa had already caused a stir on the Spanish music scene with their song ‘Zorra’, which had already reached #1 on the country’s Spotify Viral 50 a month before the contest aired.
The song has continued to perform well commercially but has not been without controversy: some wondered if the group would be forced to change the lyrics and more recently feminist groups and conservative figures in Spain have called for the song to be withdrawn, claiming it denigrates women. One has to wonder if these groups have actually listened to the song or watched its music video. An even cursory glance at ‘Zorra’ reveals that the song in fact explores the derogatory language and double standards imposed on women and aims to reclaim that language, all while celebrating important feminist trailblazers in Spanish culture.
Before you read on, this article will closely reference the music video for ‘Zorra’ as well as its lyrics, so make sure you watch it below if you haven’t already:
What’s a ‘Zorra’?
When ‘Zorra’ won Benidorm Fest, fans immediately queried whether the song would be allowed to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest in its current state. The EBU famously prohibits the use of unacceptable language in any entries, with examples of this as recent as Latvia‘s 2022 entry ‘Eat Your Salad’, where Citi Zeni were forbidden from singing about “veggies and pussy”. Although ‘zorra’ literally translates as ‘vixen’ in Spanish, it is more commonly and figuratively recognised as an umbrella term for a number of slurs aimed at women, such as ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ and ‘whore’. However, the multiple meanings applied to both the word and song have allowed the EBU to give the song the green light. On Tuesday 6th February, in a statement to the Spanish media, the EBU said:
The EBU understands there are many interpretations of the title of the song submitted by RTVE to represent Spain in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Considering its intended use in the context of the song’s lyrics and message, as explained to us by RTVE, we have concluded the song is eligible to participate in this year’s competition.EBU, Tuesday 6th February 2024
The use of the word ‘zorra’ is instrinsic to the song’s message, which we will explore further, and its literal meaning can also be used without altering this. Therefore, ‘Zorra’ is here to stay and will not have to alter or tone down its message in order to present in Malmö.
The Message of ‘Zorra’
So what is ‘Zorra’ all about? The meaning becomes clear from the opening lines of the song but it is in its second verse that we see singer María Bas highlight the unfair standards placed on women: ‘If I go out alone I’m the bitch/If I have fun, the biggest bitch/If I come back home after dawn/I’m even more of a bitch.’ A woman going out and living her life to the fullest is cause enough for people to shout the derogatory ‘zorra’ at her.
Compounding this issue further is the difference in the use of this word when applied to men: the male equivalent ‘zorro’ literally translates to ‘fox’ and when applied to men connotes someone who is sly, cunning and astute. Meanwhile, ‘zorra’ denotes a woman who is loose and promiscuous, while also somehow being criticised for being “stone cold” according to the lyrics of the song.
However, in singing this song, María is here to reclaim ‘zorra’. As she says in the climax of the track “that bitch that you feared so much/Became empowered/And now she’s a picture-perfect bitch.” The chorus features chanting of the word ‘zorra’, which the Spanish crowd took up with gusto during Benidorm Fest. Under the masterful eye of Nebulossa, then, ‘zorra’ moves away from being a chauvinistic slur and instead becomes a rallying call to arms, imploring women to unapologetically live their lives and be themselves.
Adding to this is the song’s music video, in which María performs in a club dressed in red to an audience of men and women. She is styled to resemble the Spanish artist, opera singer and politician Manuela Trasobares. In 2007, Manuela was the first trans woman elected to a city council in Spain. Her popularity with voters was helped tremendously by an appearance she made on Valencian TV in the 1990s, which resurfaced during her campaign.
In what was for many Spanish viewers their first experience of a trans woman in the mass media, Manuela spoke of her experience travelling the world while she studied and performed music. She noted that she had not received the same support and acceptance in her native Spain as she had in other countries: “Why? Because I am a woman who outrages people.” While talking about her experiences of transphobia and misogyny, Manuela threw her drinking glass to the floor and encouraged women in the audience to do the same. Towards the end of ‘Zorra’s music video, María does exactly the same, inspiring the women in the crowd to get up and dance with her. Just as the song advocates for women to be themselves, however outrageous and provocative, so did Manuela all those years ago.
‘Zorra’ is Sexist?
Since its Benidorm Fest win, The Women’s Institute allegedly fielded more than 300 complaints about ‘Zorra’, with calls for it to be pulled from Eurovision. The Feminist Movement of Madrid, in a petition they have called on others to sign, describes use of the term ‘zorra’ as “verbal violence against women”, arguing that the song will lead to “trivialisation” of the word and branding the argument that it is reclaimed to empower women as “nonsense”. Conservative religious critics have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the song, with Spanish bishop José Ignacio Munilla saying that the song “denigrates” women and is evidence of a cultural crisis in Spain.
Perhaps if critics of ‘Zorra’ took the time to closely read its lyrics and explore the references in its music video they would think differently. It’s a lot more than just a swear word and as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez pointed out in his defence of the song “Feminism can be fun.”
And if nothing else, why not end on the words of María Bas herself?
“I have often felt marginalised and mistreated, and that word has accompanied me for a long time until I decided to take control and let go all I kept inside.”María Bas, Efe
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, Croatia’s ‘Mama ŠČ!‘ here and Austria‘s ‘Who the Hell is Edgar?’ here? Don’t forget to follow us on all our socials.
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