Why Iceland Is The Cutest Eurovision Nation Ever

Why Iceland Is The Cutest Eurovision Nation Ever

I’ve been in plenty of odd Eurovision related events in my time, but on Saturday morning I trekked across the igneous rock covered pavements of Reykjavík into an out-of-town shopping district. I was meeting the President of the Icelandic branch of OGAE, FÁSES, for a round of Zumba to warm up for the evening’s final.

Now I was expecting a small corner office room for such a particular combination of two niche interests, but the music was blaring well into the shopping centre for all to hear. Inside the sports hall was rammed from end to end with a mass of sweaty bodies busting their moves to ‘Kizunguzungu’.

A room full of sweaty men and women in mid-Zumba action (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)

The President of FÁSES, Flosi Jón Ófeigsson, wasn’t just getting involved; he was leading the entire group. With being a hotel manager as his day job, Flosi has also been running the Eurovision Zumba sessions at EuroClub the last two years, but here in Iceland there was a whole magnitude more people than in Kyiv or Stockholm. That post-workout euphoria filled the room with collective glee as everybody demolished the fridge full of help-yourself skyr.

Only in Iceland could they love Eurovision so much.

This Is My Life

It is a well known fact in the Eurovision community that Iceland is officially the country that loves Eurovision the most. Statistically speaking no country comes anywhere close to Iceland’s TV audience share with 95.3 % of people watching television tuning into the Grand Final. That number is from 2016, a year when Iceland didn’t even qualify to the Saturday night show. The bonkers ratio can be partly explained by the lack of competition from other channels in the country of 350,000, and part to the dark Scandinavian winters, but these don’t account for the full nature of Iceland’s loyal viewers.

One unique factor of geography also works in Iceland’s favour is lying on the west of the European continent. That means Iceland is in a time zone one hour earlier than London in May, and two hours ahead of Paris or Berlin. Starting Eurovision at 19:00, with the sun only just setting as the credits roll, very much shifts Iceland to a prime time viewing audience. A family audience at that.

I spotted that later that afternoon in the basement of a different Reykjavík office block at the fan club pre party. Almost everybody in attendance was either a child or with a child. Fizzy pop was flowing, the cute party dresses getting plenty of twirls and some were putting finishing touches on their very handmade signs for the evening’s show. Most Eurovision fan club events across Europe are impossible for children to attend with all the late night dancing and alcohol consumption – but here I had stumbled into the most unique of family celebrations.

Interval acts Robin Bengtsson and Emmelie de Forest meet young fans at the pre party (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)

This leads to a second quirk about Eurovision fans in Iceland. According to Flosi FÁSES is the only OGAE member club to have a majority female membership. Part of this may be attributed to the family viewership attracting mothers and daugthers to actively sign up, but also this reinforces what we know about Iceland’s love of Eurovision.

The Eurovision Song Contest is no fringe interest here in these northern reaches. Eurovision dominates the gossip columns, news clips and radio stations many days before and after. Everybody has an opinion.

And also, in a country this small, everybody seems to know somebody involved in some way with the show. That personal connection just amplifies everything above to crazy heights.

Hear Them Calling

Flosi is keen to showcase how much the fan club in Iceland is different for having such a good working relationship with so many influential people. Artists flock to them for interviews and promotion, rather than the other way around. Newspapers are bombarding their members for interviews and on the day of the Söngvakeppnin final a one page spread in the Icelandic paper Visir covers just what FÁSES are doing to celebrate.

However the real relationship Flosi was most proud to talk about was with Icelandic broadcaster RÚV.

“RÚV are realising that we are a great asset. We have now a much bigger arena and they realise we are the people who support all the acts and wave our flags. We love the balloons and spectacle of Melodifestivalen and they listen to our comments.”

In conversation with Flosi before the final of Söngvakeppnin (Photo: Alison Wren, ESC Insight)

“They approached us after the semi final and told us how great an idea bringing the Icelandic flags were.  Hopefully in the future we will be in a position where we (OGAE Iceland) can be a part of the decision making process of who to send to Eurovision as is already happening in Denmark and Slovenia.”

There are a few things to point out here. The much bigger arena gives Iceland the highest ratio of live audience members to population anywhere in Europe, with over 1 % of the country able to squeeze in Laugardalshöll, an arena most commonly used for handball. Secondly that Melodifestivalen comment is not just a throwaway response from a Eurovision fan, it is a direct part of Icelandic culture too. RÚV have a history of actually broadcasting the Swedish extravaganza, and the year both finals were on the same night Melodifestivalen was recorded to broadcast straight afterwards.

That explains the room full of Zumba dancers knowing the moves to ‘Håll Om Mig Hårt’.

Finally is it the exact nature of that co-operation that is helping give Iceland a Eurovision boost. FÁSES get not just reduced price tickets to the show but also ones in a prime location for all that jubilant flag waving to be centre stage. In recent years Iceland has dotted National Finals around various locations, with budget a decisive factor to move out of the sparkling new Harpa Concert Hall in downtown Reykjavík. This year though ticket sales for even the Semi Finals were sold out weeks in advance and Söngvakeppnin is back as Iceland’s premier TV event once more.

The same sadly can’t be said for Iceland’s Eurovision results.

All Out Of Luck

From 2008 to 2014 Iceland made every single Eurovision final, a stat punctuated by Johanna’s stunning performance of ‘Is It True?’ giving Iceland 2nd place in 2009.

Since then though Iceland have stuttered badly, missing the Grand Final by a distance the last three years. Greta Salóme was closest in 2016 with a disappointing 14th place.

The man in charge of trying to steer Iceland back is Felix Bergsson, Icelandic Head of Delegation. He’s been with RÚV since those good old days of 2011 as a press officer, commentator and assistant Head of Delegation before taking the full reigns in 2016.

Despite the viewing figures, Felix feels ‘a lot of pressure’ on his goal to qualify to the Grand Final.

“I thought we deserved to be in the final the past two years and sadly the tide turned. The party will be better and we want to do it for the artist.

Our challenge is in getting noticed, we don’t have many friends and Scandinavia doesn’t vote for us automatically.”

Felix has been on numerous international juries this year, as the Melodifestivalen trend of being bringing in fellow Eurovision voices from overseas because increasingly popular. Countries like France and Germany alongside Sweden show the extra level of difficulty in trying to compete side-by-side. Not only do they have closer borders than the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the nearest neighbouring country, but also the record labels and professional contacts that stream into their respective competitions. In Iceland foreign collaborations are often limited to those perennial songwriters who turn up in National Finals wherever they may be.

Felix reading out the Icelandic points in the French National Final this year

One possible attributing factor is the complicated language rule in Söngvakeppnin. For the Semi Finals all songs must be performed in Icelandic, with artists having a free choice of what language to sing in the Final. However that language choice in the final will be the language the song goes to Eurovision with.

“The reason is that we are making new Icelandic pop music,” Felix justifies. “We want Icelandic songwriters and RUV is the Icelandic broadcaster.”

“For children too, everything being in Icelandic makes it easy to understand.”

The extra barrier in preparing a song for both languages might be offputting for some songwriters or performers to take part. Furthermore this could arguably make the contest decidedly uncool to those who are looking for an international platform with an awkward backward step in the middle. Certainly a critical eye amongst the six competing songs in the Söngvakeppnin Final would struggle to classify any of the six as hip and trendy.

On the flip side though, the majority of acts who reached the final this year were young fresh talent which Iceland is constantly a good breeding ground for. For 16 to 20 year olds at college a competition called Söngvakeppnin Framhaldsskólanna – pitching schools against schools – has cultivated much Icelandic talent. It is no surprise the alumni roll call is basically a who’s who of anybody you’ll recognise from Icelandic Eurovision history. ‘Í Stormi’, eventually toppled in the Super Final after winning both jury and televote in round one, was created from a collaboration of two former winners of said competition.

Iceland Needs That Je Ne Sais Quoi

There is an awkward paradox in Icelandic Eurovision. On one side it is promoting new Icelandic talent and growing the brand locally to never seen before heights anywhere in Europe. However the flip side has led to performances internationally faultering. Ari Ólafsson is the 19 year old artist heading to Lisbon this year after charming the camera lens with tear-jerking emotion from the Green Room, coming from behind to win a tight superfinal. His song, ‘Our Choice’, is a ballad belonging to a Eurovision era before his birth and is currently seen as a very unlikely qualifier where the chance to charm viewers back home will be limited.

However, as family friendly entertainment it is little surprise that those puppy dog eyes stole the crown in the last few minutes of voting on Saturday night. This is a country of family parties and barbeques on sunny May evenings. A country where the fan club pub quiz isn’t held in a pub at all but the conference room of the capital’s LGBT organisation just behind the main square – welcoming all. A country that last qualified with a bunch of multi-coloured pre-school teachers singing about how bad bullying was.

There is a word that defines what the Eurovision Song Contest is to Iceland. That word is cute. It is the kind of entertainment that everybody gets a warm glow inside from. Sadly cute alone might find it hard to qualify in a modern Eurovision of professional juries, PR machines and pop music increasingly defined by expensive production values.

However if they do qualify the celebrations in Iceland will be so joyous only their football team this summer in Russia could beat it.

And for that passion alone, I for one simply wish every country could be a little more Iceland.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #2

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #2

Tucked away in a tiny corner of Oslo is this week’s edition of Juke Box Jury. The sun has set, the candles are lit, and as the rest of the ESC Insight team take over EscXtra’s livestream, the next batch of hits, misses, and maybes are being decided.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #2
with Ellie Chalkley (Listen Outside) and Wiv Kristiansen (EscXtra).

Greece: Oneiro, by Yianna Terzi.
Germany: You Let Me Walk Alone, by Michael Schulte.
United Kingdom: Storm, by SuRie.
San Marino: Who We Are, by Jessika, ft Jenifer Brening.
Spain: Tu Canción, by Alfred & Amaia.

Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.


Categories: ESC Insight


Newsletter: Early Favourites Emerge As Final Songs For Lisbon Go Public

Newsletter: Early Favourites Emerge As Final Songs For Lisbon Go Public

Eurovision betting markets can be a tricky beast – often a great indicator of which entries have momentum heading into The Contest, but never immune to an upset. Remember when Amaury Vassili had it all sewn in 2011, Aram MP3 was the one to beat in 2014 and last year’s contest in Kyiv was going to be little more than an extended coronation for Francesco Gabbani?

In this week’s newsletter, we bring you an update on some of Portugal’s plans for the trio of shows in May, Alexander Rybak’s ambitions to become the new Johnny Logan and details of the final official ticket release for those who are still hoping to see the Contest live this year.

In the meantime, here are some of the favourites to follow in Salvador Sobral’s footsteps according to the bookies…

Israel: Netta – Toy

A frenetic dance-pop workout that takes full advantage of Next Star for Israel winner Netta Barzilai’s tongue-twisting vocal abilities, this thoroughly modern confection is as narrow as 2/1 for victory with some bookies.

Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza

Elina swept to a commanding victory at Eesti Laul this year, leading to a drastic shortening of her odds to bring Estonia their long awaited second Contest win. Opera entries have had mixed fortunes at Eurovision in the past, but Il Volo won the televote by a considerable margin in 2015. If this catches the same audience – and also wins over the juries – we could be back in Tallinn next year.

Czech Republic: Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me

A victory for Czech Republic would represent a huge turnaround for a country that has only previously made one appearance in the Grand Finals out of six attempts. But Mikolas Josef’s self-penned groove has proven a huge YouTube hit and currently sits at third with the bookies. Will we be in Prague next year – and will the reaction in Czech Republic be one of elation or bemusement?

Australia: Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love

After a vocally shaky interval performance in 2014, Australian superstar Jessica Mauboy has plenty to prove with her return to Eurovision as a bona fide competitor. This uplifting dance-pop song should be a huge hit in the Euroclub, but will it translate into the points required for a win? The bookmakers certainly fancy her chances, with Australia currently in 4th position with odds as narrow as 11/1.

Bulgaria: Equinox – Bones

They made a spectacular comeback in Stockholm and gave Salvador a strong fight for the crown in Kyiv – can Bulgaria ride their upward momentum to their first victory this year? You’d be hard pressed to find a country that wants it more, and while odds have drifted a little since Bulgarian-American collective Equinox presented their song, they’re still top five with most bookmakers.

Stay tuned next week for more updates over the coming weeks, including more details of the Lisbon shows, the inevitable wave of revamps and remixes and reports from the annual pre-concerts in London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and more…

The full online version of the ESC Insight newsletter is available here. You can also subscribe here to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox.

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Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: We’ll Always Have Ida

Eurovision Insight Podcast: We’ll Always Have Ida

The National Final season draws to a close. From 10,507 submissions to 696 televised songs, we have our final forty-three songs to take to Lisbon. Let’s round up the last seven days of news, enjoy a momentary pause, and then power through to Portugal!

Eurovision Insight Podcast: We’ll Always Have Ida

The fairytale returns, a rush of edited songs, and we’re off to the Portuguese Ministry of Defence. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight introduce another week of Eurovision Song Contest news as the National Final season ends.

As the 2018 National Finals Season ends and thoughts turn to Lisbon, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


What Were Your Magical Moments Of The 2018 National Finals?

What Were Your Magical Moments Of The 2018 National Finals?

Ewan Spence

La Notte, by Pierfrancesco Favino

For all the songs that entered the National Final season; for all the introductions, sketches, and interval acts; one performance has absolutely stuck in my mind. It stopped me dead on the night, and it continues to do so.

Lurking inside the marathon that was Sanremo was a moment of perfection, as Pierfrancesco Favino narrated ‘La Notte‘ with a hint of the orchestra and an epilogue from Fiorella Mannoia and Claudio Baglioni.

For me this was the performance of the National Final season. It captures the elements of why I love the Song Contest, how it can transcend borders, and how we can communicate with each other without barriers.

Favino had spent the previous nights playing the role of court jester to Michelle Hunziker’s confident grace and the avuncular guidance of  artistic director Claudio Baglioni. And then he steps up with noting more than a spotlight and his not inconsiderable acting skills. There is no choice, you have to watch him, you have to feel the emotion with him, you have to channel his anger. And you don’t even need to speak Italian.

As I later discovered, this was a soliloquy adapted from Kotles ‘The Night Before in the Forest‘ but there’s no need to look for the reference material.

You know what this performance is.


Lisa-Jayne Lewis

Live Goosebumps

Last year was the first time I had ever been to a National Final anywhere. After all, I only started watching the selection shows thee years ago so attending one never even occurred to me. Then quite out of the blue in 2017 Ellie suggested I should join her in going to Eesti Laul and I thought ‘why not?’.

This year Ellie and Ewan had already booked to go to Oslo for Melodi Grand Priz, so I figured I’d tag along again…

What a show! I had never seen Melodi Grand Prix before, it wasn’t one that had come across my radar, but what a show it turned out to be. Every time I go to any Eurovision related event I get goosebumps and very often have to stop myself from shedding a little tear (I’m very emotional about things now I’m a bit older) yet here I was in yet another venue in Europe and as the sound of ‘Te deum’ introduced the rehearsals for MGP, there I was sat right by the stage ready to ‘Grab the Moment’, really nothing beats those ‘magical moments’ because I still can’t quite believe that I actually get to do this!

John Egan

The French Connection

I was not expecting anything less than a car crash when France2 announced the return of a National Final… this is the country whose public selected ‘Moustache‘.

Yet the panel they recruited gave me a bit of hope: a current pop star, the man who brought France back to the top 10, and one of Canada’s best singers; all of whom understood the Eurovision, the music industry and music as a creative act. But with a televote in the final, with the current ‘La Voix‘ title holder participating with a decent song, it seemed like a fait accompli. That Lisandro Cruxi  was born in Portugal only added to the narrative: a current reality TV star with roots in Portugal representing France in Lisbon.

The jury rankings in the final round were unsurprising: it seemed like Cruxi had received a perfect set-up with his clear lead over Emmy Liyanna and Madame Monsieur. Except Cruxi’s ‘Eva’ finished second in the Melfest format televote: Madame Monsieur massively won the televote, sending ‘Mercy’ to Lisbon. No one saw that coming – not even Madame Merci themselves. That week’s official singles chart in France told the story: Mercy entered at #3 and the rest of the Destination Eurovision were way down the list.

I suspect I was not the only person screaming in shocked delight at the exciting conclusion to Destination Eurovision back in January. Having survived the three-minute chop without being denuded, combined with an excellent official preview video, I have great hopes for ‘Mercy’ in Lisbon.

Monty Moncrieff (OnEurope)

Like A Scandinavian…

I decided to go on holiday smack in the middle of the National Final season this year (and I’m still playing catch up) but some things have stood out.

My highlight has, like Ewan, been my sole live National Final – Norway – which I attended with the ESC Insight team. It was a treat to see the rehearsal of a show with big ambition. As nine of the ten acts will never make it to Eurovision, the Norwegians have decided that departing from the strict rules regarding the number of performers on stage is worth the deviation for a bigger, bolder show at home.

Step up Ida Maria.

I’ve confessed my love for this song (my favourite of the season) whilst exploring some of the factors behind why I suspected it wouldn’t win for ESC Insight last week. Ida backed her presentation with a troupe of sixteen (!) cheerleaders, displaying their acrobatic ability as they formed human pyramids, and flipped one another high into the air. This led into some formation dancing as potty-mouthed Ida delivered her x-rated lines about the temperature of the Scandinavian sea. Having started singing standing amongst the audience before being hoisted onto the stage, Ida once again sought their participation to bounce a couple of dozen candy-striped beach balls above their heads. The whole thing was a hot mess, but so much fun, the scale of which you can never repeat at Eurovision. An absolute treat for the senses; except maybe the ears…

Ellie Chalkley

Back To The Future

With Beovizija, Serbia gave us a perfect evocation of Eurovision in the late noughties and an unbeatable interval act. What better way to spend a Tuesday night in February than enjoying a wildly uneven, creatively spectacular and diverse selection of modern Serbian pop? The songs, staging and general look and feel of the show took me back to when I fell in love with the Eurovision Song Contest, the era before the hyper-polished, hyper-professional Swedish-style festival, when we had something a little bit wonky.

Beovizija had everything. It had a returning artist in Rambo Amadeus, who turned up to do some jazz talking over a lady called Beti who didn’t seem happy about it. It had a pink haired female solo artist (this year’s National Final must have) in Saska Janx, it had traditional vocal troupes with contemporary dancers wafting about, it had a guy singing with someone who might have been his dad, Maja Nikolic as an alien queen, a lead singer who remained hidden under a bed for most of the song, and a bunch of opera goths.

But what got everyone talking was the interval act. While the votes were gathered and counted, RTS gave us a seemingly never ending parade of Eurovision acts from around the former Yugoslavian region, covering everything from ‘Adio’ to ‘Ove je Balkan’, from Bistra Voda to Bojana. They even got Moje 3 to reform especially. The only thing that was missing for me was Igranka. Fabulous.

Now do it again!

John Lucas

Against The Odds

Sweden’s 2018 edition of Melodifestivalen was a decidedly mixed bag. While the quality of songs was generally strong, the focus on introducing fresh blood to SVT’s Contest led to many of the better songs being paired to performers who just didn’t have the presence or experience to fully deliver them.

This was certainly the case in Heat Three, where odds-on favourite Dotter delivered a vocally shaky and poorly staged performance of her ballad ‘Cry’ – which was incidentally also far too derivative of the recent Julia Michaels hit ‘Issues’ – and found herself unexpectedly crashing out in the first round of voting.

Enter Jessica Andersson, one of the last of the class of 2003-2009 so-called ‘Schlager Divas’ who has demonstrated an ability to continue to connect with viewers long after many of her contemporaries have fallen out of favour. Andersson went for an arguably valedictory full-throttle fan service entry, a joyous slice of disco-pop that could just as easily have served as a comeback vehicle for Alcazar (If Alcazar hadn;t already released what they had hoped their comeback vehicle at MF2018 would have been had they got the nod from the selection panel).

The expectation was that Andersson would probably get knocked out in fifth place, or perhaps limp through to AC where she could easily be paired against a more app-friendly entry (presumably pitching her against Felix Sandman would have been a very easy way to end her journey before the Friends Arena). But the joy of Melfest – arguably the joy of the Song Contest and the National Finals – remains that no matter how stage managed certain aspects become, on the night there’s no substitute for performance.

Years of treading the boards onstage and on TV gave Andersson the tools to turn out a show-stopping performance when it counts, and alongside Swedish Idol winner Martin Almgren, she delivered the most polished and engaging performance of the night. Sweden voted accordingly, and the much-ballyhooed death of Schlager was delayed for another year.

Kylie Wilson (ESC Pulse)

Happy Birthday

This National Final season was a big change for me now I’m living in New Zealand, which meant having to get up a couple hours earlier than my normal wake up time to watch whatever Final I was free to watch. I remember after one bout of insomnia I thought it would be a good idea to switch on the final of Ukraine’s Vidbir at 5am… only to be inundated by angry men shouting at each other and singers getting humiliated by certain judges. That is not recommended.

But my highlight was probably the final of Eesti Laul. There was a debate over whether it was going to turn out to be a coronation or a competition. Would the big favourite Elina walk away with the crown or would we get one of the biggest shock results of this national final season? As it turned out, it was very much a coronation as she wiped the floor with her crystal-clear soprano vocals and her light-up dress, all wrapped up in a striking yet elegant package.

Not that her competitors weren’t worth checking out either. We had the weird and wonderful in the form of Evestus; Frankie Animal offering us the kind of effortlessly cool indie pop that should be on the playlists of BBC 6Music as soon as possible, former National Final veterans Iiris and Stig Rästa making well-received comebacks, and ‘Taevas‘ being a welcome reminder of Estonia’s late-90s golden age.

This also happened to be the tenth edition of the competition, may the Laul live on for another wonderfully eclectic ten years!

Over To You

This weekend is the quiet pause of the season, as we gather strength for the run up to Lisbon. What National Final moments from the last few months stick in your mind? Let us know in the comments.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Dr Scandilove

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Dr Scandilove

ESC Insight bring you the highlights of a flipping freezing weekend in Oslo to enjoy Melodi Grand Prix 2018, featuring a happy Kyiv reunion, pre-results analysis and joy in the post-results press scrum. Ellie Chalkley, Lisa-Jayne Lewis and Ewan Spence give us their views, and see their resistance to the insistent poppiness of That’s How You Write A Song weaken with every passing moment.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Dr Scandilove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love That’s How You Write A Song

The ESC Insight team travel to Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix with quite a lot of Rybak-related emotional baggage in tow. We speak to Ida Maria about rock stagecraft, JOWST and Aleksander Walmann about where they’re going on holiday and Alexander Rybak about aiming for that second win.

As the 2018 National Finals Season ends and thoughts turn to Lisbon, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

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