Published August 12, 2017
Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson, or Paul Oscar as he is known outside of Iceland, is one of the island nation’s most beloved pop stars, with a highly successful career spanning almost 30 years. Throughout his years in the industry he has released six studio albums and a number of hit singles. His music is glamorous, upbeat, catchy, synthesised pop, best described in one word–fun. Now, ten years since his last studio album he has released the exuberant ‘Kristalsplatan’.
Rocky Horror rise
In 1991 he took on the role of Dr. Frank-n-Furter in a stage performance of the Rocky Horror Show, which rocked him into the public consciousness, and from there on his star hasn’t stopped rising. Two years later he released his debut album ‘Stuð’ (literally meaning fun), which included his first major single “Ljúfa líf”.
He quickly gained fame for his powerful yet soft voice, which lends itself perfectly to his energetic music. Despite his remarkable vocal talent Paul Oscar never learned how to sing, but instead is the very definition of an autodidact–having taught himself everything he knows.
In 1997, he gained international attention with his raunchy performance in the Eurovision Song Contest. Latex clad, surrounded by half naked women he sensually sang his hit single “Minn hinsti dans”. It might not have won the competition, but it cemented his place in the Icelandic pop pantheon.
The activist and teacher
Paul Oscar is openly gay and throughout his career he has remained outspoken about the rights of sexual minorities and issues relating to the queer community. His visibility, words and flamboyant personality has probably pushed gay rights a thousand kilometres forwards. In the late nineties he also hosted the weekly radio program Dr Love where he talked about love and sex–arguably teaching the nation’s youth more than a million sexual education lessons ever could.
His latest album ‘Kristalsplatan’ is very much a Paul Oscar stable, with the 13 songs placing liveliness and buoyancy in the foreground. The opening track entitled “Aldrei einn” (Never alone) is a thumping dance track impossible not to nod along to. On “Ég elska þig til baka” Paul Oscar slows the mood down, which is a nice relaxing breather before the hilarious “Vinnum fyrirfram”. The song’s title translates as “We’ll win in advance” and was written before the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, it didn’t prove prophetic, but it is certainly more memorable than the song we sent to compete. The highpoint of the album is undoubtedly “Gegnum dimman dal”, a terrific track that flirts with anguish as it makes you pump your fist into the air.
All the songs are in Icelandic, and despite it sucking for foreign listeners not to be able to understand his loving lyrics (except for in the album’s closing number ‘Walk Away’), in truth, Paul Oscar is about letting loose and going crazy on the dance floor, and that is a universal language.
The different styles
Despite specialising in light-hearted pop, he has lent his talent to both the swing band Milljónamæringarnir and released two sweet and mild albums with the German harpist Monika Abendroth. The latter project proved that Paul Oscar is not just a vital performer of boundless energy, but also a thoughtful and deep vocalist.
His solo studio albums are ‘Stuð’ (1993) ‘Palli’ (1995) ‘Seif’ (1996) ‘Deep Inside’ (1999) and ‘Allt fyrir ástina’ (2007), and the recently released ‘Kristalsplatan’(2017).