In 1957 Soviet scientists launched Laika — a street dog from Moscow — into outer space. Strapped into Sputnik 2, the three-year-old canine became the first animal sent into orbit. It was a cruel experiment. Technicians bound her in chains to restrict her movements to standing, sitting or lying down, and the pup had no room to turn around. In a history of Soviet space medicine, one doctor famously wrote that she had taken Laika home to play with her children a few days before lift-off: “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”
Indeed, Laika burned to death within a few hours. But Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the earth for five months. During re-entry into Earth, the spacecraft disintegrated in the atmosphere along with Laika’s corpse.
It’s that harrowing story — of a stray taken from the streets of Moscow — that sets the tone for “Laika” — the Melodi Grand Prix entry from experimental music and performance art group The Hungry Hearts.
“When I heard about Laika when I was a little kid I was really distributed by the way she was left in space,” says songwriter Tonje Gjevjon. “Now that I’m a grown-up person I figured I could write a song about Laika so the echo will continue forever.”
That echo is filled with melancholy and longing, and the canine cosmonaut’s experience becomes a metaphor for all who have endured loss. It’s a touching and poetic look at isolation, lost love and our never-ending journey to nothingness. The Hungry Hearts use accents and intonation to great effect, taking us to the Cold War and back, all the while making us want to dance. And when we do it’s with love and nostalgia and an acute awareness of our missed opportunities and disappointments.
“Laika had a good life on the streets of Moscow with her girlfriend and with the disco music. And then they snatched her and sent her into the atmosphere. She was going around in orbit around the earth and there is no disco and no girlfriend out there. So she is quite angry. Her longings to her life on Earth, this is what the song is about.”
In the days after the song’s release, Eurovision fans were quick to draw connections between the song’s same-sex relationship and the current situation for LGBT people in Russia. But Tonje and featuring artist Lisa Dillan don’t find it political, but rather organic to them.
“I’m a lesbian, so when I talk about love in songs it’s natural for me to say ‘she,'” Tonje says. “I think if it had been a heterosexual man writing the song and he had sung ‘the streets of Moscow with my girlfriend,’ nobody would have noticed.”
Lisa agrees: “I guess the question is more controversial than actually just singing about love life.”
Are you loving their song as much as we are? Do you think the retro feel will speak to Norwegian voters? Let us know in the comments below!