Five more songs are out for Iceland, and believe it or not, a couple of them are good!
I’ve seen a lot of appreciative tweets about Aldrei sleppir mér (‘Never leave me’) performed by Greta Salóme, Heiða and Guðrún Árný. And yes, it’s a great rock ballad.
But now I’ve got a confession. I’m feeling a bit more for two songs. One of them – Eilíf ást (Eternal love) - is performed by Herbert Guðmundsson, and it sounds a bit like… well, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s the closest we’ve got to Euroband this year. Have a listen.
The other song is Hugarró (Peace of mind), performed by Magni Ásgeirsson, who was in the contest last year. The lyrics are written by Þórunn Erna Clausen, wife of the late Sjonni Brink.
Hugarró is a song that I shouldn’t like. It’s rock! It’s not particularly fast! It’s a rocky bloke on vocals!
But I love it, and I’m going as far as saying that it’s the best song from this year’s contest.
Another five songs. More of the same. Has pop died in Iceland this year? It’s gone the same way as Reykjavík’s not-very-de-iced streets – frozen over. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that NASA, the club where Páll Óskar hosts his iconic Eurovision parties, is under threat of closure. It’s all really upsetting.
Especially given that Regína Ósk, formerly of Euroband, is back in competition. But, if like me, you were hoping for a bit of roof-raising (especially with Swedish songwriters on board), well you can forget it. She’s gone slo-mo. I’m devastated.
It’s interesting that in Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, unlike many other places, more emphasis is placed on the songwriters than the performers. This is certainly in keeping with the ethos of the show – to find new songs and talent – but also seems to produce a disproportionate amount of ‘un-pop’ music. That’s fine, but it doesn’t really cause any excitement. Perhaps it’s just this year, but 2011 had a similar feel. Other people will love the songs on offer this year, but as a pop and schlager fan, this year’s Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins is leaving me cold.
To Reykjavík for the first of this year’s Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins heats. As I said a few days ago, I wasn’t particularly enthused with any of the five songs in competition, and last night’s performances didn’t do much to change that (besides giving me a great laugh when the boyband came on, but more of that later).
We started off with Íris Hólm’s Leyndarmál (‘Secret’), which was one of those typical guitar-laden Icelandic rock ballads that only seem to appear for this contest. When it’s done properly (Jóhanna, of course), it’s stunning. And when it’s not, it’s just – well, it’s just very boring. Yawn. You can throw in as many big notes as possible, but there’s not much point when you can barely remember the song five minutes after it’s over.
Fatherz ‘n’ Sonz‘s Rýtingur (‘Knife’) is the sort of song that would have sent Terry Wogan running for more supplies of Baileys and volume two of the Oxford Book of Pithy Eurovision Commentators’ Quotes. Not that this song would ever stand a chance in Eurovision. I don’t want to be cruel (believe it or not). I actually do admire the people who compose songs, rehearse, and then put them forward for scrutiny by people like me. But Rýtingur is awful. It starts off with lovely strings, then chucks in some thunder noise (there’s a lot of that in Iceland) before bringing in some strange electro bassline. It’s all over the place. It might have been helped with some sharp vocals, but these were soft, restrained and didn’t stand a chance next to everything else that was going on.
Mundu eftir mér (‘Remember me’) is a funny one. I sort of even like it. Greta Salóme and Jónsi even look a bit like Euroband. This is one of those strange rock-opera ballads with urgent strings and frantic backing vocals, and this sounds like a calmer version of last year’s Eldgos (which I slated even more than this at the time, and secretly quite enjoy now). The rest of Europe would be a bit perplexed, though. The audience looks utterly unimpressed by the whole thing, but suddenly erupts (not like Eldgos) into ecstatic cheers when it’s over. Who’d have thought?
And on to Blár Ópal – a boyband called Blue Opal. I knew we were onto a good thing as the opening ”woh-ohs” of Stattu upp (‘Stand up’) were delivered by four disinterested and out-of-tune lads dressed in black. The dance moves are quite something, including some funny, not-very-in-sequence finger clicking, and especially the ‘I’m falling into a hole’ move nicked from A1. But in these days of The Wanted just standing there doing absolutely nothing, I’ll take what I can get. The song is terrible. All Afro-beats that try to invoke the infectiousness of Stella Mwangi’s Haba Haba but come nowhere near. And then there’s the rap. Sadly enough, this was the only song that actually engaged anyone. If it goes to Baku, I want them to keep the Icelandic rap. And the hands-on-heart move at the end. But let’s face it, this performance wouldn’t even get them past the pre-audition stage on The X Factor.
The last song of the evening was Heiða Ólafsdóttir’s Við hjartarót mína (‘In my heart’). She wore a red corset and so much lipstick that her mouth was in 3D. Actually a nice enough ballad, Heiða was joined on stage by two backing singers in black frocks who were auditioning for parts in Les Misérables. And then two dancers came on, dressed in folk costume. So we had a soft ballad sung by a woman dressed as a sex-vamp, with two urgent, emoting women and a couple of blokes in national dress.
The boyband and the rock-opera went to the final.
In between the songs and the results, there an interview with Sjonni Brink‘s widow, Þórunn Erna Clausen, who talked about taking her late husband’s song to Düsseldorf. Best of all were the clips from previous shows over the years, including someone singing while everyone else ignores her, and some blokes in animal onesies (fashion-forward Iceland, as always). But can anyone help me identify this amazing performer and song below?
(Many thanks to Schlagerpinglan for solving the mystery. Like it was ever a mystery anyway, given that the woman above is Kaja Halldórsdóttir singing Lygin ein. In 2009. The same year that Jóhanna won with Is It True?Schlagerfiasko is an idiot.)
The first five songs for this year’s Icelandic Eurovision preselection, Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, have been published online. I’ve listened to them, and I seriously cannot find the willpower to write about them. Listen yourself.
Schlagerfiasko or not? That seems to sum up the reactions to Iceland’s Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, where Sjónni’s friends (vinir Sjónna) won the competition. The main surprise seems to stem from the fact that Jóhanna – whom many, particularly outside Iceland, had tipped to win – didn’t even come second.
It was always going to be an emotional evening, with Sjónni Brink’s absence having a huge impact on proceedings. Despite the sterling efforts of Guðmundur Gunnarsson, joined by the inimitable Páll Óskar (Ragnhildur was apparently on her holidays!), the tone was muted and respectful, rather than fun. That’s not to say there wasn’t humour along the way, and Pálli’s interjections were great. And he definitely knows his Eurovision…
Crowd-pleasers were Jóhanna and Erna Hrönn, both of whom delivered great performances that definitely had potential for the Düsseldorf stage. Erna Hrönn, in particular, had great confidence and was an absolute treat. But given the circumstances, I’m not sure Eurovision was the point any longer.
Sjónni’s friends received a rapturous response, with the song seemingly taking on a new dimension as a celebration of Sjónni. I’d have been surprised if it didn’t win. Was that because of his passing? Quite possibly. But even if it was, it doesn’t matter. The Icelandic music community are mourning one of their own, and the contest became a tribute to his life. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine.
There’s been much internet comment about Jóhanna being Iceland’s only chance of victory. But who’s to say that she would have had a better chance at Eurovision than Sjónni’s friends, or Erna Hrönn, or Magni (who came second)? It doesn’t matter if Iceland wins the whole contest or doesn’t make it past the semi-final, it will (if the Friends are allowed to perform in place of Sjónni) have sent a song that truly represents the country at this moment in time.
Just a further note about the minor scandal surrounding Jóhanna’s perceived reaction to the announcement of the top two entries. She has had to issue a statement to say she supports the outcome, and congratulated the performers on the night. That’s fine, but why shouldn’t she be disappointed? She worked as hard as everyone else in the contest and wanted to represent her country. Any of us in the same position would be disappointed not to do as well as we hoped. Trying to create a drama from nothing is not going to achieve anything except a cheap headline, especially given the exceptional circumstances of this particular situation.
Goodness me, what a serious review. I’m going off to watch Babsan from Saturday evening.