The End of Innocence How Much Lena Is Too Much Lena?
She was cute, charming and wildly successful. In 2010, Lena Meyer-Landrut won the Eurovision Song Contest for Germany. Now she's back to defend her title. But after a year of constant media exposure, she's not the same Lena she once was. Which might not be a bad thing.
Forty-thousand ecstatic fans gathered in front of the Hanover city hall on May 30, 2010, to welcome Lena Meyer-Landrut home from Oslo, where the 18-year-old had just become the first German to win the Eurovision song contest in 28 years. It seemed like a moment for the ages: Almost three decades of sometimes abysmal failure were forgotten in a whirlwind of charm, innocent impudence and questionable-yet-cute dance moves.
Germany had fallen in love.
Then Stefan Raab, the TV producer and show host who had discovered Lena and propelled her to Grand Prix stardom, grabbed the microphone. "Next year, we will host Eurovision in our own country," Raab, an ESC veteran himself, said. "I think it appropriate were the victor to defend her title next year."
It might be inaccurate to point to that moment as the threshold of Lena's transformation from a beguilingly guileless yet sharp-tongued teen to a German trademark. But public doubts were already starting to circulate. Lena owed her victory to an endearing naiveté that might be tough to repeat a year later. So was sending her back to Eurovision really a good idea?
For a while, most people didn't even bother posing the question. Germans far and wide were humming her new hit "Satellite" -- and even singing the ridiculous lyrics ("I even painted my toenails for you / I did it just the other day"). But if the title-defense idea was bad, so what? The campy, made-for-TV Grand Prix is hardly the kind of event that people spend much time thinking about outside of the first two weeks in May.
But it soon became clear what a title defense might mean. For those who like to relax in front of German TV in the evening, there was suddenly no escape from Lena.
Raab is no stranger to German television; he hosts his own show and owns his own production company, called Brainpool. In the first weeks and months following Lena's triumph in Oslo, whenever he went before the cameras, Lena was sure to follow.
Then there were the talk shows, and her engagement as the voice of a cartoon turtle named Shelly. And her appearance on the German version of "Sesame Street." And a stint as a contestant on Germany's most popular game show.
That wasn't all, though. Last autumn she won the media prize known as the Golden Hen. She followed it up in February with a Golden Camera. By the time the German music awards (called "Echo") rolled around, many viewers were done. An audience member even shouted "Give it up!" during Lena's stuttering, discombobulated acceptance speech.
'A Shitty Idea'
Lena overkill, though, proved to be the least of Raab's problems. A year earlier, he'd landed a television coup with his casting show "Unser Star für Oslo" (Our Star for Oslo), a song tournament which enchanted millions of viewers in the run-up to last year's Eurovision. Advertisers, not surprisingly, were overjoyed.
But this year? Raab, it must be said, did his best. Instead of multiple contestants, the selection show involved Lena competing against herself -- a dozen songs narrowed down over the course of three shows. Lena in evening gowns. Lena in jeans and tank-top. Lena in black. Lena in pale pink. Lena sitting. Lena standing. And, most of all, an entire collection of half-finished, rheumatic Lena dance moves.
Ratings for the first two shows were atrocious before rebounding to average for the final. Ticket sales for her concert tour weren't any better. Even Raab himself began to have doubts. "It could be that the title defense project was a shitty idea," he told SPIEGEL in February. Lena-mania, it would seem, was dead.
But with just days to go before the curtains rise this Saturday in the decidedly unexciting western German town of Düsseldorf, something wholly unexpected is taking place. You may not be able to bottle the kind of sweet, saucy innocence that led to last year's outpouring of Lena-love. But you can, apparently, replace innocence with insouciance. Add a dash of attitude, and voila -- you have Lena's second coming.
Smoking Out Back
Instead of last year's teenage ode to love, this year's Lena will sing a ditty with the suggestive title "Taken by a Stranger." The lyrics are impenetrable, but they include lines like "she can't escape from telling lies" and "turn into the danger" -- lyrics which might be proverbs from a year in the media spotlight. The enormous -- and dangerous-looking -- high heels she intends to wear on Saturday complete the image of a schoolgirl who's graduated from pizza parties to sneaking cigarettes near the back of the schoolyard.
Lena knows it. In a recent interview, the 19-year-old expressed frustration at her new-found fame. "Everyone just stares, comes to your table and wants an autograph," she said. "Sometimes that really fucks me up and makes me sad."
She followed up the interview with a sarcastic performance on German public television this week. Faced with a less-than-incisive interviewer with old-fashioned attitudes and a gray mustache -- who couldn't even remember the name of the Eurovision contest -- Lena reverted to single-word answers intended mainly to correct his myriad mistakes. At the end, as he prattled on about Eurovision preparations, she even mimicked him behind his back.
Germany is once again infatuated.
But is Europe? Google thinks so. Lena is currently ranked second behind the Irish twins known as Jedward in the site's predictor -- and she's gaining rapidly. The site was right last year.