On the Band That's Pelted with Frozen Fish Fingers: ‘Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced’
Though it’s earned the tagline, “Norway’s This Is Spinal Tap”, Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced is far more subtle than that, and much closer in tone to BBC’s The Office.
Get Ready to Be BoyzvoicedDirector: Espen Eckbo, Henrik Elvestad, Mathis Fürst
Cast: Espen Eckbo, Øyvind Thoen, Kaare Daniel Steen
“Because modernism has conquered art, kitsch is the savior of talent and devotion.”
-- Odd Nerdrum
In the winter of 1999, Norwegian boy band Boyzvoice’s debut single “Let Me Be Your Father Christmas” reached the number one spot on the pop charts. The song was a catchy, sleighbell-tinged slow jam dedicated to a woman who had lost her faith in Santa Claus:
Let me be your Father Christmas tonight (tonight)
Klippety-klopp, ding-dong (ding-dong merrily on high)
Let's make love behind the Christmas tree
Where nobody sees us
Hooray, hooray, it's the birthday of Jesus
Boyzvoice, in true boy band fashion, wasn’t a real band but were hastily assembled by Espen Eckbo and Henrik Elvestad to give a face to the song they had written. The unexpected success of the single, which stayed in the Top 20 for ten weeks, extended Boyzvoice’s expiration date and the “Boyz” -- going by the stage names M’Pete, Hot Tub, and Roar -- would have the chance to record an album and perform at Norway’s annual HitAwards.
This is where Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced (2000) begins.
Everything up to this point in the story of Boyzvoice is true.
Through the course of the film, we watch as the documentary crew follows brothers M’Pete (co-writer Espen Eckbo), Hot Tub (Øyvind Thoen), and Roar (Kaare Daniel Steen) as they attempt to launch a global pop career, suffering the inevitable scandals and setbacks familiar to any view of VH1’s Behind the Music. Manager Timothy Dahle (co-writer Henrik Elvestad) starts a preteen riot at a Pop Against Drugs (“Pop Mot Dop”) charity event. The band gets pelted with frozen fish fingers at a country music festival. Hot Tub is outed. And throughout the film they are hounded by rumors that they don’t sing their own songs. But M’Pete’s determination to be a pop star by force of sheer will (amply supported with peppy Europop with vaguely inappropriate lyrics) never flags.
If that sounds ridiculous, and not just regular boy band ridiculous, it’s because Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced isn’t a documentary but a mockumentary. The band was cooked up as a one-off gag for satirical TV Norge program Mandagsklubben (The Monday Club) to which Eckbo and Elvestad were contributors. The pair roped in two non-actor friends to participate in the song -- Øyvind Thoen, who also sang on the tune, and Kaare Daniel Steen -- and that was Boyzvoice. It may not have been their first choice but Eckbo and Elvestad weren’t willing to waste a chance at a bigger budget and broader audience and swiftly hustled their way into a record deal with Universal and a NOK 3.2 million film budget from the Norsk Kulturråd (Arts Council Norway).
Boy bands are a tempting target for parody and many have tried to lampoon the construct, though few have succeeded. Most parody boy bands go too broad, attempting to further exaggerate the already exaggerated qualities of actual boy bands. How can a parody boy band be more ridiculous than One Direction not so subtly encouraging group orgy subtext, referred to by fans as OT5, with their videos? ( Tumblr, One Direction ) And how could any parody costumes be funnier than the time that Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson wore a skirt? ( “Skirt, the Issue”, by Nicholas Fonseca, EW.com,19 May 2000) The result is mean-spirited parodies like Blink 182’s “All the Small Things”, whose only purpose is to scorn the young women and gay men who make up the typical boy band audience, because the boy band construct is stupid and valueless, and then, so are the fans who enjoy it.
Get Ready to Be Boyzvoiced circumvents both overly broad parody and troubling sexist undertones by using a precise pastiche instead of parody. Though the lyrical content of the songs has a humorously wicked twist, the music, styling, and everything else is as close to actual 2000-era boy band as the filmmakers could get it. And the lyrics are played completely straight, so the more exact the details of styling and music are, the funnier the song is.
Songwriter Jens Thoresen hits the nail on head for every one, giving us songs that are as genuinely catchy as the pop hits they are mimicking. They’re in a sun-speckled warehouse, the band in floor-length duster coats. “How could you be so mean, told me you were sixteen. I'll never stop blaming myself, for not seeing that you only were twelve,” sings M’Pete in the Backstreet Boys-esque “12 Year Old Woman”. “What’s Happening to My Body,” a funky LFO-style song about a boy enjoying pornographic magazines, sees the boys roaming school hallways in baggy jeans, backed by a troupe of female dancers in Britney Spears’ schoolgirl chic. And the big single from the albume, “We Are the Playmomen”, has the band acting as toy submissives to their fans, combining N*Sync’s “No Strings Attached” with a healthy dose of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”.
Whether or not they intended it as such, Get Ready To Be Boyzvoiced turned out to be much more than a vehicle for the songs. Though it’s earned the tagline of “Norway’s This Is Spinal Tap” over the years, the film is actually far more subtle than This Is Spinal Tap and much closer in tone to BBC’s The Office (2001). The writers drew much of the narrative from personal experiences in the industry and the humor in Boyzvoiced can be bleak and self-depreciating. Like David Brent in BBC’s The Office, M’Pete wears his blustering show business persona like the layer of foundation that covers his face, just barely hiding the fear underneath.
One scene, in particular, stands out. Boyzvoice are in the studio recording their new song “Hey Mister President” and they sound raw and unrehearsed. After a few half-hearted attempts to get them to sing better, the engineer (a cameo from the elder statesman of Norwegian comedy Trond, Viggo Torgersen calls in a ringer, singer Heine Totland (also in a cameo role). The engineer tells the group they can go on break and he sends Heine into the studio to record the song.
While Heine is layering vocals, M’Pete in the control room getting more and more agitated. He finally asks the engineer when the group is going to return to the studio and the engineer dismisses them saying their parts are complete. M’Pete knows what is going on but he can’t do anything about it, especially with the cameras there. As M’Pete leaves, he stalks through the studio where Heine is singing and gives this look that’s part menace, part desperation, and part despair.