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Letter from Athens: Greece’s Tone Deaf 2022 New Year Start Seems Familiar

January 6, 2022

Meet the New Year, same as the Old Year.

Well, that didn’t take long. About 17 minutes before ushering out another horror show year in 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic and Omicron Variant sweeping through like an invisible plague, the City of Athens decided to ring it in 2022 at a cost, including hypocrisy.

While musicians around Greece were huddled in their homes, banned from performing on New Year’s Eve by a loophole-ridden government edict aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, pop singer Sakis Rouvas got a pass.

He was paid – well we don’t know what he himself was paid – but the 17-minute event with a 17-member orchestra cost the city 211,000 euros ($239,990) and Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis won’t reveal any details about who got paid what, apart from a general outline about the workers needed for the production.

Music was banned on New Year’s Eve unless you were Rouvas and the orchestra, and Bakoyannis in one fell swoop lost much of the goodwill he had deservedly built up with plans to beautify the grimy, charmless capital city.

It was sheer ignorance, shoving aside real musicians who for almost two years have been mostly left by the New Democracy government to fend for themselves, barred from playing while Mafia nightclubs were packed with ‘dog’ singers and the clueless.

The performance in a parking lot atop Mt. Lycabettus was a perfect spot for the both of them and their friends and a favored few to listen to them (where are ear plugs when you need them?) and look down on everyone else at the same time from their perch.

Rouvas is best known, perhaps, outside Greece, which prefers pop schmaltz to real music, for finishing third in the 2004 Eurovision contest – the best venue for his alleged music – for his song Shake It, showing him shaking his stuff.

He sure knows how to shake the money tree too, so maybe that’s what Bakoyannis should plant on sidewalks in Athens so people walking by can hope a few euros fall out so they can go get a souvlaki or a Rouvas album.

You’ve got to hand it to Rouvas though, because with his charm, model’s good looks, and pop voice he’s accumulated wealth, fame, and even won 15 Pop Corn awards, which should be named Pop Corny given what he belts out.

But it’s hard to be tough on a guy who was named by People magazine as Greece’s Sexiest Man Alive, Entertainer of the Decade, has sold millions of albums and was in 2010 named by Forbes magazine as the third most powerful and influential celebrity and highest-ranked singer. Phew, if he can sing after rattling off that list he’s got more wind than we thought.

You thought the late Mikis Theodorakis knew music? Rouvas sang songs that will live forever – how can you deny the sheer genius of…Disco Girl?

New Year’s Eve in Greece was supposed to be a wide open affair before Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was going back-and-forth over whether to ease or tighten restrictions settled on a half-baked scheme that shut out musicians.

And there shouldn’t have been music in clubs because for days leading up to the holiday there were scenes in nightclubs that looked like orgies in Caligula, bodies packed tighter than a party at the late Jeffrey Epstein’s house.

But if that was the rule, it should have been a rule and if you wanted to mark the truth of 2021 it wasn’t by letting Rouvas chirp away while musicians locked out were throwing tomatoes at their TV screens.

Bakoyannis strolled onto the stage looking like he had no idea there was a pandemic or that anyone would be upset with his shamelessness at paying Rouvas perhaps more than what a teacher in Greece makes in 10 years.

If you were going to ring in the New Year with a real sign of solidarity and symbolism and wanted music to bring a little lift, why not hire 100 musicians and let them perform for an hour, a real chorus, not of pop and dog singers but some of the country’s best, who labor unrewarded in near obscurity.

Now there’s a concert: Greece’s real and best musicians atop that hill singing the best of Greek music, which doesn’t include Disco Girl, but music of enchantment and hope to carry into 2022 the voices of the living and those of the dead taken away by COVID-19.

In this age of social media, the voices of the disaffected and angry weren’t kind to Rouvas and Bakoyannis, and rightly so. “Vote for Bakoyannis again there in Athens. In his next term to bring Remos to sing with 430,000,” was one scathing Tweet, referring to another dog singer, Antonis Remos, the genre which drives dogs to cover their ears to hide the pain.

The sad part, apart from the obvious overlooking of people struck by COVID, the ill at home, in hospitals, on ventilators, in morgues and graveyards is how a privileged showcase ignored the masses and blew money that could have helped them.

For Rouvas, who was known for humanitarian efforts – unless he donated the phenomenal fee to laid-off musicians – it was an irrecoverable mistake and he has sullied his good reputation.

But, if you got, shake it.

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