ESC 2010 Reviews: Iceland
Let’s face it: Iceland’s had a rough time the past few years. It’s isolated, it’s cold, and the United Kingdom keeps trying to steal their cod. Their traditional fare (rotten shark, blood pudding, and something called Súrsaðir Hrútspungar….don’t ask…) makes even the hardiest eater long for the relative comfort and safety of haggis. Their economy has tanked in recent years, and now a volcano that most non-Icelandic speakers can’t pronounce (Eyjafjallajökull…say it with me now…”ey-ya-fyat-la-yoke-it-til”) has been grounding flights all over Europe, covering huge swaths of land with volcanic ash.
That being said, Iceland is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful places, with glaciers, fjords, geysers, host springs, and a rich history dating back to the Norse. This is the land of the saga, the Blue Lagoon, and Björk. I think the lesson that we must learn from all of this is not to screw with Iceland. They might be far away from everything else on the planet, but they can probably use their volcanic, hakarl-eating Viking powers to mess your life up. Case in point:
(Yeah, I’ve seen that sketch about a thousand times, and it still never gets old.)
Anyway, Iceland first entered the ESC back in 1986, one of the last of the Western European nations to do so. They occasionally broke into the Top 10, but some of their best entries (in my opinion, anyway) were some of their most underrated.
In 1997, Paul Oscar (full name Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson) presented “Minn Hinsti Dans (My Last Dance)“, a surprisingly low-key electronic piece that was pretty ahead of its time, in terms of its presentation. I don’t believe that the ESC had fully embraced this genre of music at that point, and voting in 1997 was still jury-based, as opposed to a public televote, so Paul was sadly relegated to a 20th-place finish. (In his defense, though, 1997 was a very competitive year, with amazing entries from the UK, Turkey, Italy, Russia, and Poland, among others.)
In 2006, after only so-so results (with the exception of a 2nd-place finish in 1999), Iceland decided to go the comedy route. The alter ego of actress Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, “Silvia Night” is a mix of Paris Hilton and Ali G. A self-centered, social-ladder-climbing starlet with her own talk show in Iceland, Ágústa really played true to her character while at Eurovision, insulting journalists, bad-mouthing the other contestants, and throwing hissy fits in public. However, many people watching her Eurovision Entry, “Congratulations“, had no idea that she was entirely fictional, and not only did she not make it through to the final, but she was actually booed at the start of her performance!
Last year, Iceland sent 18-year-old Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir (Yohanna) with a traditional ballad, “Is It True?” Despite possibly the worst dress in the 2009 competition (I had never seen a blue wedding cake before…), “Is It True?” came in a very respectable 2nd place after the juggernaut that was Norway. Yohanna came across as very sweet and innocently earnest, perfect for a song about a first heartbreak. Her voice was flawless, almost crystalline, and considering how expensive winning the ESC can end up being, a silver medal was a massive victory for Iceland last year.
This year, Iceland has sent a familiar face. Hera Björk Þórhallsdóttir (just call her Hera Björk) sang backup for the 2008 and 2009 entries, and has competed various times to be the Icelandic representative. Her entry, “Je Ne Sais Quoi”, is an upbeat Europop number, the kind that is made for the ESC.
Not only is Hera’s voice something to be reckoned with, and not only is Iceland a part of the powerful Scandinavian voting bloc, but “Je Ne Sais Quoi” is also the last song to be performed during the first semifinal. If this doesn’t make it through to the finals (and possibly into the Top 10 at the final, I might just have to sacrifice myself to Eyjafjallajökull. (But don’t hold me to that…maybe we should sacrifice Silvia Night, instead!)