Iceland has taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest since 1986. Editor-in-chief of So So Gay Magazine Lee Williscroft-Ferris takes us through the ups and downs of the country’s Eurovision journey.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, the time when hundreds of millions of TV viewers all over Europe and beyond tune in to watch the camp-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest. This year’s edition will take place in Malmö, Sweden, thanks to Loreen’s victory in Azerbaijan last year with the pan-European hit, “Euphoria.” We thought it would be good to take a look back at Iceland’s history in the contest before Eyﬂór Ingi Gunnlaugsson takes to the stage with “Ég á Líf” in May.
When did Iceland first take part in the contest?
Iceland was a relative latecomer to the Eurovision party, entering the contest for the first time in 1986. The purported reason for the nation’s tardiness was technical issues caused by the island’s geographical distance from the rest of Europe.
Has Iceland ever won the Eurovision Song Contest?
No, although it shares this dubious ‘honour’ with a whole raft of other countries, including Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and Hungary. Up until 2006, it was partnered with poor Finland as one of two Nordic countries never to reach the top. Then, the Finns went and won the thing with a group of masked ‘monsters.’ Rude.
Surely Iceland, with its veritable roll-call of musical talent such as Björk, Retro Stefson and GusGus, have never earned the infamous ‘nul points’.
Oh dear, funny you should say that. Iceland has only scored zero on one occasion—in 1989. The song in question was “”ﬁa› Sem Enginn Sér” (“What Nobody Sees”), performed by none other than Daníel Ágúst, now lead singer of… GusGus. How times change.
Who has done their country proud in the contest?
Iceland had its first sweet taste of Euro success in 1990, when the band Stjórnin came fourth in Zagreb with the classic track “Eitt Lag Enn” (“One More Song”). Band member Sigrí›ur Beinteinsdóttir, aka Sigga Beinteins, aka Sigga, aka Eurovision legend, went on to represent Iceland twice again, once as part of the group Heart 2 Heart who came seventh with “Nei E›a Já’ in 1992. Then, Sigga finally took the solo spotlight in 1994 with “Nætur” (“Nights”), finishing in twelfth place in Dublin (Where else? It was the mid-1990s after all).
However, two other female singers have brought Iceland to within a cat’s whisker of bringing the contest to Reykjavík. Selma came very close to winning in 1999 with “All Out Of Luck” (this was the first year that countries were allowed to sing in a language other than their own). Unfortunately, she was pipped at the post by a rather heavily made-up Swedish woman with a song that sounded suspiciously like an ABBA b-side. Then, in 2009, Jóhanna came second in Moscow with “Is It True?”, although it was left comprehensively trailing in the dust, along with everyone else, by Norway’s Alexander Rybak and “Fairytale.”
Has Iceland avoided causing controversy?
Not entirely, no. Jóhanna might have had the dress and demeanour of an innocent little Disney ice princess in 2009 and let’s face it, you’re about as likely to extract anything scandalous from Bo Halldórsson (1995) as you are to find Iceland developing nuclear missiles. Yet, Iceland hasn’t always played it ‘safe.’ Páll Óskar caused a storm in 1997 when he appeared on stage in, quelle surprise, Dublin to perform “Minn Hinsti Dans” (“My Final Dance”), accompanied by what can only be described as four dominatrixes, clad in fishnet stockings and leather boots. Páll himself proceeded to stroke his thighs before thrusting his hands southwards at a ‘strategic’ point. The UK and Sweden loved it, the rest of Europe not so much.
Zip forward nine years to 2006 and an all-time low in Greco-Icelandic relations brought about by one Silvía Nótt. Essentially a comedy faux diva, the alter ego of singer and actress Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Silvía caused uproar in Athens by swearing at technical staff during rehearsals and behaving in a generally offensive manner during press conferences. So convincing was her act that by the time she took to the stage in the semi-final to perform “Congratulations,” Silvía was booed and jeered in a vociferous manner not seen before at the contest. She didn’t qualify. In the press conference that followed, Silvía ‘explained’ her failure thus: “Ungrateful bastards! You vote for ugly people from Finland who don’t even have a real make-up artist, and you don’t vote for me because I’m not a slut from Holland and I’m not an ugly, f*****g old bitch from Sweden!” Classy.
So, Iceland is a ‘neutral’ country. That must mean it doesn’t indulge in the ‘neighbourly’ voting the contest has become famous for.
Wrong. Iceland’s voting record is clearly skewed towards its Nordic brothers, Denmark and Norway in particular. Fear not, the favour is almost always returned! But when it’s not, Icelanders are deeply offended.
What are Iceland’s chances this year?
According to one bookmaker, 100–1, i.e. not great. Iceland has qualified from each semi-final since 2008 and has made the rather radical decision to keep the song in Icelandic this year, for the first time since 1997. This linguistic gamble does not appear to be at the heart of the matter for most. It’s the fact that the song is, well, a little bit twee.
Nevertheless, good luck Iceland! Is Harpa big enough?
The Eurovision Song Contest 2013 takes place on 14, 16 and 18 May. For more information about the Eurovision Song Contest, visit the official website at www.eurovision.tv