“Je moet mild worden gestenigd, je verdient de brandstapel voor het schrijven van het slechtste nummer ooit en het land internationaal voor schut te hebben gezet.” – Translation: “You should be mildy stoned, you deserve the stake for writing the worst song ever and for internationally humiliating the country.”
‘Mild’ expressions of fury such as the one mentioned above have dominated Dutch media throughout the last weeks of April 2013. They pointed to the composer (John Ewbank) of a song called het koningslied – the king’s song – made for the inauguration of the newly crowned king of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Willem Alexander. The song was published on the 19th of April 2013. Within only hours there was a Facebook page called Sorry voor het Koningslied – Sorry for the King’s song. Within a day there was a petition initiated by Dutch Journalist Sylvia Witteman with 30.000 signatories and the Facebook page had around the same amount of ‘likes.’ The Facebook page is currently reaching a ton of ‘likes’. The song was even accidentally taken off YouTube because too many protesters reported it as spam. The twitter hashtag #koningslied is one of the most popular tags at the moment.
The national committee for the inauguration of the king asked John Ewbank to write het koningslied. The goal of the song was one of the humble pillars of the French Revolution: fraternité, brotherhood. They stated in a news item that the inauguration is supposed to be a party for everyone, but now people are being threatened.
Why are people angry?
I needed time to process the absurdity around het koningslied. I could care less who the king is and wants to be, especially since he is eating comfortably from tax money while undocumented migrants are made illegal citizens of the Netherlands. Let alone care about a song made in his name also through tax money. Don’t forget the inauguration ceremony itself, which was about 5 million tax euros. Why aren’t we democratically electing a king anyways? I am just flabbergasted by this ridicule. So please consider this post as a personal therapy to help me understand the irrationality of the mayhem around het Koningslied. It might have a sprinkle of social science, but it is by far not academic.
Why should the people care so much? And what are they apologizing for? Are they truly so obsessed with ‘their King’ that no song or tune in their mind can be majestic enough? These questions entered my head as I heard about the discussion for the first time during the evening news of Monday April 22nd. And by then, the composer of de koningslied withdrew the song as he could no longer take the verbal abuse.
The arguments against
According to local newspaper Volkskrant the critics were confused about the text, which supposedly contains a lot of language and grammatical errors. I am personally not sure if this confusion was before or after the fact that the Dutch linguist Wim Daniels brilliantly slaughtered the lyrics of the song. He simply used strict Dutch grammar to show errors. He left no room for artistic interpretation. He did not leave one sentence untouched. But aren’t we giving the Dutch population a little too much credit, by stating that they recognized too many grammatical mistakes? And why were critics confused? Is it because the song was not as ceremonious as they would have liked? Or is the opposite true, is the clip too pompous or dramatic?
Another critique the Volkskrant channeled was that the song is too complex to be a ‘sing-along’? Is that because of the overload of 50 or more Dutch music artists singing in the video clip? Is it because the song contained a ‘difficult tongue-twisting’ rap in the middle? Is it because the song is unlikely to be a song you could sing-along with after 20 beers in a bar? If you ask me, the song sounds just like any other song from a Disney Cartoon; made for a prince manning up to his destiny.
A smaller group of people also said the song is copied from a American gospel singer. Even though this is not the most popular argument, I find it the most objective. However, remixes are made all the time nowadays.
In all the confusion on whether the song remains official after John Ewbank withdrew the song, some students in Utrecht made their own Koningslied called je bent een koning - you are a king. This song gained at least 14.000 likes on Sorry voor het Koningslied and seemed to be quite popular with the general public. What is different about this song one might ask? Well, it is amateurish. There was no hip hop. Instead of a boring ballad it sounded like something that came out of a street organ. The lyrics are even more simple and childish than the official song. And whereas the official clip contained images of a colorful and diverse Netherlands this video was solely made by native white Dutch men.
I don’t really have an answer for why this song has been received in such a negative way by the general public. There is no clear reasoning to be found in the critique, which binds all the arguments. There are also no real arguments in favor of het koningslied to which we can contrast the critiques. I can only say that the national committee for the inauguration achieved their goal. Brotherhood is reached through disagreement.
It seems that the society is protesting because the content of the song has been made without their consent. The whole charade around het koningslied is a great case of a network society. It’s bottom-up, technological and makes use of crowd sourcing to create opinions. But whether top-down or bottom up, the Netherlands still is hypnotized by the royal symbols of the dynasty. Same as in the inauguration of Wilhelmina in 1898, Juliana in 1948 and Beatrix in 1980 the royal family in the Netherlands is placed on a pedestal and treated as a delicate vase. Rest assured, the power remains in the vase and still possesses the minds of the public at the end of every April. People treat the royal family very seriously. The slur that came out of het koningslied seems to say that the composer did not take the occasion serious enough. No Disney tune for the king. Still everyone sang loyally for the newly crowned king the night after the ceremony. See you next year on the 27th of April!