No, we're not talking about Eric Clapton's "Layla," hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
This is about another song, a newer one with the same name that's been stirring controversy in Germany. The song by Robin Leutner, aka DJ Robin and his partner Schürze (German for "apron") tells the story of a brothel madam.
The controversy all started when a spokesperson for the city of Würzburg, in southern Germany, announced that they "would make sure the song would not be played in the future" during its festival, the Kiliani-Volksfest, declaring the Schlager hit was sexist.
'Ballermann' Schlager: An infamous music genre
The "Partyschlager" genre — folksy songs with a catchy tune and loud disco beats — gained popularity in Germany thanks to a particular form of mass tourism on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The name of a beach pub in the El Arenal resort area, known as Ballermann 6, serves as the rallying point for the masses of German tourists who hit the bottle starting midday, drinking pitchers of alcohol with straws, entertained by party hits.
"Ballermann" has become a term used to refer to an entire subculture — the all-day partying German tourists, but also the music and its stars, which include Mickie Krause, Jürgen Drews and lately, DJ Robin. A group of people drinking from the same jug of alcohol with long plastic straws. Over the years, "Ballermann" became a synonym for an infamous type of tourist: This photo is from 1997
Much ado about nothing?
The song would have probably gone unnoticed by anyone outside a discotheque, but officials in Würzburg obviously paid attention and asked the organizers of the Kiliani folk festival to not play it. Arguably, many German songs have highly problematic passages, which one could either brush off as plain recklessness or a worrying disregard of sexual boundaries.
German rap and even the kitschy and emotional Schlager scene boast of content that treats mutual consent during sex as a burdensome triviality and presents the woman as a mindless object. Ballermann songs often play on sexual offensiveness; the size of the male sexual organ or female breasts are core themes.
The lines of the song go, "Ich hab' 'nen Puff und meine Puffmama heisst Layla. Sie ist schöner, jünger, geiler" (I have a brothel and my madam's called Layla. She is more beautiful and younger and more lustful). People who are used to the songs played at the Rhineland Carnival, the Oktoberfest or any skiing lodge are used to a lot meatier content — though that doesn't mean "Layla" needs to be played at a folk festival. Meanwhile, Düsseldorf has also declared it wanted to steer clear of the song during its Rhein fair.
The text about lustful brothel madam Layla is by no means mature, but a Ballermann hit can only become one if it's also easy to sing along while you're completely drunk, perhaps even as you throw up in the toilet.
The protagonists, DJ Robin and Schürze, have learned the principle through experience. The former lives in "Bierkönig" (German for "beer king"), a disco-pub in Playa de Palma, where Schürze won a Schlager competition for upcoming stars some years back. Fast forward to 2022, and both singers are topping the single music charts in Germany.
Above all, it is surprising how successful "Layla" is despite its objectionable quality, music-wise and lyric-wise. A 16-year-old hobby musician would probably be able to produce something similar with free software.
German Justice Minister — who's also a hobby musician — comments
Speaking of hobby musicians, German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann also happens to create music in his free time. As MBSounds, the lawmaker posts his creations on SoundCloud, including "Driving to the Bar," which, despite its misleading name, is not a Ballermann hit.
In his capacity as justice minister and hobby musician, it is only natural that Buschmann would feel compelled to pass critical comments on the "Layla" controversy. He tweeted that banning the song text officially would be "going too far." Of course, law experts were quick to comment that banning the song lyrics would be against the law — with others adding that a law on banning song texts does not even exist in Germany.
Down the summer hole
Altogether, it seems like the whole matter is brewing a storm because it is otherwise a slow news period, known in German as the "Sommerloch" — or summer hole, with most of Germany being on holiday. Meanwhile, the actual debate on social media is not so much about sexism, but about which of these Schlager songs will top the charts in Germany this summer: "Layla" or "Dicht im Flieger," a title that can translate as "an overpacked airplane" or "drunk in the airplane."
For Ballermann fans, the party can also begin before they actually reach Mallorca. One YouTube commentator aptly sums up the high standards of these songs: "Every country gets the summer anthem it deserves."
Author Torsten Landsberg
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