Published May 10, 2013
If there’s one thing that really unites Icelanders, it’s probably the annual Eurovision Song Contest. On May 18, the whole of Iceland will be glued to the TV, cheering Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson on as he performs the song “Ég á líf” before all of Europe. They will be partying all right, but the good time will be punctuated by some serious oohs and aaahs and oophs as it’s revealed how many points our pals in Europe give us.
While the proliferation of parties in the recent elections confirms that there are many conflicting voices in Iceland, there will be one unanimous voice when it comes to Eurovision, and that’s Eyﬂór Ingi Gunnlaugsson. It took a while to get there—people bickered about everything down to the way he wore a Band-Aid—but as soon as he steps onto the stage in Malmö, they will all be standing behind him.
If Eurovision seems like a strange competition to take seriously—come on, it’s a pretty kitschy affair—consider that it’s one of few international competitions that Iceland can compete in on equal footing. And, as it turns out—again and again—Icelanders love to win, to bask in the spotlight, to be the best in the world.
In a pool of 321,857—give or take a few—there will naturally be fewer star athletes winning gold medals at the Olympics, for instance, than there are in other countries. The exception is handball. Icelanders are relatively good at that for one reason—maybe it’s because Americans think it’s a game for elementary school kids—or the other.
When the Icelandic handball team competed in the 2008 Olympic finals, statistics from the local utility company suggest that people didn’t even get up to use the toilet. When the team returned, they were greeted by much pomp and circumstance and the president awarded each player a Knight’s Cross in the Order of the Falcon—arguably the most honourable of awards given out in Iceland.
With handball, Iceland only gets a chance to shine once every four years, but with Eurovision, it’s once every year. And every year it’s the same “we will definitely win this time” story—never mind last time and the time before that. Icelanders become possessed with an “in it to win it” mentality. It’s really a bit scary, as Eyþór Ingi told us. It’s like Eurovision turns Icelanders into monsters.
If you really have no idea what Eurovision is because you live in, say the United States, check out our comprehensive guide with everything you need to take part in this wildly nationalistic party.