Complaining is an age-old pastime, but here’s a modern twist: Singing about it.
“Complaint choirs,” as they’re known, are popping up all over the world, where men, women and children gather to sing their complaints about everything from lost jobs and dwindling 401(k)s to unwanted hair, dating and the cat next door.
It all started a few years ago in Helsinki, Finland, when performance artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen decided their next project would be how to take all the energy people spend on complaining and channel it into something else.
How they settled on singing was that, in the Finnish vocabulary, there is an expression — “valituskuoro.” It is used to describe the resulting cacophony when many people complain at once but literally translated, it means “complaints choir.”
They took the expression literally and created the first “complaints choir” in Birmingham, England, which is known for um, well, being a place where one might find a lot to complain about.
The choir begins, “Birmingham has changed so much, I don’t like it any more …” They complain about the dangers of bicycling, slow computers and how expensive beer is there.
“I want my money back / My job’s like a cul-de-sac!” they sing as the chorus hits full stride.
“Why don’t they pay me more!” they cry.
“And why is the beer so expensive in town?” they demand.
One recession and several years later, there are at least two dozen complaint choirs across the globe, from Junea to Chicago, Hamburg, Ljubljana, Jerusalem, Singapore and Melbourne. They’re usually sponsored by an art museum.
In Tokyo, the choir issues grievances ranging from “I don’t know how to use my iPhone” to “Whales and dolphins are delicious! Please understand Japanese culture” — set to a bossa nova beat. The traditional staid position of the choir is interspersed with choreographed wandering that looks like musical chairs — without the chairs — and punctuated by individual complaints, such as a young boy who says quietly into a megaphone, “I can’t own a dog” and a young man in a knit cap who screeches, “Why is it raining today?!”
In Jerusalem, you might be surprised to learn, the list of grievances includes pushy aunts, movies that don't make sense and the proliferation of passionfruit.
And in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, they complain about —
Well, to be honest, I didn’t watch the Ljubljana video. But I imagine they complained about their country being overrun by consonants — and their snow being too fluffy!