From Iceland — 2020 In Culture: Joker, Please Perform "Ja Ja Ding Dong"

2020 In Culture: Joker, Please Perform “Ja Ja Ding Dong”

Published December 30, 2020

2020 In Culture: Joker, Please Perform “Ja Ja Ding Dong”
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Netflix 'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga'

2020 was pretty heavy on very serious political news. Not naming any names, of course, especially not one whose name bears an eerie resemblance to the author of the 8 AD narrative poem ‘Metamorphoses’. No sir.

That doesn’t mean though that there wasn’t a tonne happening on the cultural front this year. So let’s journey back through the pensieve together and relive some of the best moments of 2020. Ah—that feels nice, doesn’t it?

Hildur Oscar Joker Score

Hildur Guðnadóttir. Photo by Timothée Lambrecq.

Hildur Guðnadóttir had a pretty prolific 2019, which started with her snatching up an Emmy for her “Chernobyl” score. 2020 was just as blessed for the Grapevine Artist Of The Year award winner and former Grapevine cover star. In January, she was awarded a Grammy award for her “Chernobyl” score, a Golden Globe for her ‘Joker’ score and wait, did we mention a mf Oscar for her ‘Joker’ score too? Even Batman would be proud. We’re hoping 2021 is just as bright for our girl, as she recently secured another two Grammy nominations for her ‘Joker’ score. The ceremony will take place on January 31st and you can bet we will have our HÚH faces ready.

Daði Freyr. Photo by Art Bicnick.

Before the coronavirus took over headlines, the biggest news in Iceland was that we were absolutely 100% sure this was the year we would finally take the Eurovision crown with Daði Freyr’s fantastic “Think About Things.” Alas—it seems viruses hate matching outfits and choreography because, obviously, the 2020 song contest was cancelled. The song, which now has 63,000,000+ Spotify plays and 22,000,000+ YouTube hits was widely considered to be the frontrunner in the contest, even by normal non-overly-confident Icelanders, so we can only assume that COVID-19 was a coordinated hit by Denmark to destroy our chances in favour of their awful option. Anyway, the song still went massively viral, with TikTok people adopting the cute choreo, conspiracy theories popping up about Netflix creating Daði Freyr as a marketing tactic for their Eurovision comedy, ya girl Jennifer Garner outing herself as a Daði Freyr stan in her laundry room, and Time Magazine putting “Think About Things” on their Top 10 Best Songs of The Year. That said, never fear, for in October, it was confirmed that Daði Freyr would represent Iceland in the 2021 iteration of the song contest. Is it true? Yes, it’s true.

Photo from Netflix

Speaking of said conspiracy, you might have heard a bit about a little film entitled ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga’ created by a small production studio called Netflix and starring relatively unknown actor Will Ferrell. Yes Ma! They made a movie about us!The film, which tells the story of two small-town Eurovision fans, also featured the hit song “Ja Ja Ding Dong,” which everyone in Iceland pretends they hate but actually secretly loves. To better illustrate the average Icelanders thoughts on the film, here’s a small excerpt from our Art Director’s spectacular review on it:

Will Ferrell’s Lars Erickssong, the movie’s protagonist, is a cartoon character of an Icelandic artist. A type found in many underpopulated areas of the world, he’s the single-minded weirdo that eschews the rat race to follow his passion, with limited success. We meet him first as an adult chasing his life-long dream to be a Eurovision star, but he hasn’t made it further than gigging in his home village. His attempt at introducing his neighbours to his Eurovision-esque stylings are repeatedly met with violent reactions—all they want is the German-sounding 70’s Schlager banger “Ja Ja Ding Dong.” Such is the fate of the small-society artist. Adapt or not, you inevitably end up broke and underappreciated.

The plot is dumb. The characters are two dimensional, and the portrayal of the Eurovision contest is wildly unreal and simplistic. In its essence then, the movie is a faithful, loving rendition of the contest, completely capturing its spirit. This movie, as well as the contest, is both garbage and amazing. Any heights it does not reach, it does not aspire to.

Anyway, Húsavík, the northern Icelandic town featured in the film, has bravely capitalised on the film by opening a “Ja Ja Ding Dong” themed bar. While we at the Grapevine love the film, we would like to criticise Netflix for choosing the completely un-Icelandic names Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir. C’mon!

Ari Eldjárn Facebook Netflix Announcement

The aforementioned small production studio called Netflix also featured another Icelandic export this year in the form of Ari Eldjárn’s first comedy special ‘Pardon My Icelandic’. Note that he’s the first Icelandic comedian to get one. Anyway, the former Grapevine cover star diligently used his worldwide stage to talk about Scandinavian quirks, brilliantly nailing Iceland’s Scandi neighbours, like the robotic emotionlessness of the Finns and the unbearable tone shift at the end of every sentence in Norwegian. With these observations, Ari unveiled the characteristic funny-but-extremely-petty national soul of Icelanders, which is usually lost in most of the cutesy international media attention the country gets (like the aforementioned Eurovision film). Let’s say it together: Ari is our King.

Oh, you thought Hildur was the only Icelander to hold the Grammy Award’s attention? How silly you must feel now, dear reader, upon hearing that the Iceland Symphony Orchestra received a nomination for their album ‘Concurrence’, conducted by former Grapevine cover star Daníel Bjarnason. In said album, the orchestra performs new works by four Icelandic composers—Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir and Páll Ragnar Pálsson—featuring soloists Sæunn Þorsteinsdóttir and Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson. The album also received glowing reviews in highly esteemed publications like the New York Times, NPR and the Reykjavík Grapevine. You can pick up the album at the Grapevine Store here, btw.

Music, movies and comedies are great, sure, but what about getting that blood pumping? Never fear, for the Iceland Dance company did us proud this year by receiving the 2020 Subjektprisen, one of the most coveted cultural awards in Norway, for the performance DuEls, which was performed in the Gustav Vigeland Museum. IDC art director Erna Ómarsdóttir, who collaborated with choreographer Damien Jalet for the piece, said this of DuEls to the Grapevine: ““It was a blend of old and new, trying to create a dialogue with the sculptures, dealing with the struggle of life. Gustav’s work is very intense and a lot about struggle, both inner and outer. It was a very intense feeling to be in that old museum with the dancers. At first, it felt a bit like we were intruding. Slowly, we got to be friends with each and every sculpture. Somehow it felt like we got to be good friends with the ghosts of the museum. It took a while, but it is a very overwhelming feeling to be in this place.”

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