Oh, you thought a pandemic would stop us? No way! It’s January, and that means the Grapevine Music Awards 2021 is here! As is tradition, we at the Grapevine once again (virtually) convened a panel of valued experts (see who they were at the foot of this article) to comb through the brightest talents, breakthrough moments, and ear-catching tunes of the year; from a theremin whiz to a xenobot duo to two strong young vulnerable songstresses, this year’s group of winners is unusually diverse, and we couldn’t be more happy about that. So without further ado, here they are: the lovely winners of the Grapevine Music Awards 2021!
Artist Of The Year: Bríet
At the 2021 Grapevine Music Awards, the three biggest categories—Artist, Song and Album Of The Year—were decided the quickest. In fact, they were more or less unanimous the moment each was brought up, with little debate among the panel.
2020 was unequivocally the year of Bríet. From her explosive debut release ‘Kveðja, Bríet,’ to a slew of unforgettable livestream performances, to her opus—and our Song of the Year—“Rólegur Kúreki”, Bríet came onto the scene this year, made her own rules and consistently wowed. With such a legacy, it was no-contest that she’d win Artist Of The Year too and while we’ve never given two of the biggest awards to one single artist, this year, to deny her one would be disingenuous. “Bríet deserves this and she’ll remind us of why she won these awards in years to come,” one panel member concluded.
Honourable Mentions: Skóffin, Víkingur Ólafsson
Album Of The Year: JFDR – New Dreams
On the album front, it was JFDR’s stunning ‘New Dreams’ that caught the panel’s eye. This was another moment where the moment the release was brought up, it was quickly decided on as a winner. “‘New Dreams’ sticks with you. It’s vulnerable in a way that’s so relatable that you can’t forget it. It’s an album that stops you in your tracks,” raved another judge. “JFDR has done it again.”
‘New Dreams’ is a viscerally personal release. Each track lay JFDR’s stories bare—dissecting love, heartache, pain and regret with a fine-tooth comb.
“I feel like I manage to veil things enough for it to make sense to me because I’m not going into super specific details, though I appreciate when people do that, like Joni Mitchell,” says Jófríður. “But I also think that what I do tends to be a bit cathartic at times and I imagine you [Bríet] feel the same way. There’s a catharsis in putting out your raw feelings, but there’s also—and this is maybe cheesy—the sense of a higher purpose as well. You’re placing something inside a little context, which is the song, and you’re releasing it so that other people can resonate.”
Honourable Mentions: Ultraflex – Dreams of Ultraflex, Skoffín – Skoffín hentar íslenskum aðstæðum
Song Of The Year: Bríet – Rólegur Kúreki
The smooth, acoustic country-pop track details a relationship with a partner that always puts you down and makes you feel bad. And in it, Bríet cuts to the core of the insecurity and doubt that kind of relationship creates.
“I knew a few people were meeting on Zoom to go through my album and analyse how my relationship was, and that’s so weird,” Bríet says, looking down. “That’s the hard part of having this responsibility of making art about feelings and people. That’s a lot of responsibility,” Bríet concludes.
“‘Rólegur Kúreki’ could just as easily fit at Þjóðhátið as it could at Prikið,” one panel member said. “A lot of people are jumping into the cowboy boots but not doing the line dance. And they’re not changing the line dance moves into their own, like Bríet is doing,” another added.
Honourable Mentions: Bríet – Esjan, GDRN – Vorið, Skoffín – Sætar stelpur
Music Video Of The Year: Jónsi – Sumarið sem aldrei kom
“Jónsi wanted to show the other side of Iceland, not the delusional version we’ve seen in the ‘Inspired by Iceland’ campaigns. The flip-side of the coin—arguably the more real version of our country,” director Frosti Jón Runólfsson (Frosti Gringo) explains. The panel agreed with the vision, calling the result a living, moving tribute to Iceland in all its forms.
The video, a nitty-gritty and undramatised documentation of this county featuring everyone from swimmers to gymnasts to more downtrodden members of the city, is joyful and melancholic in equal measure. “It is Iceland and it isn’t. It’s not landscapes and frozen tundras, it’s likely and unlikely characters that everyone has seen before at one time in their life,” one panel member praised. In the end, it was close to a unanimous win for Frosti and Jónsi.
“It was really touching to see the reactions. Both for me personally and for the people I had asked to expose their vulnerabilities and their personal moments in this video,” Frosti concludes. “Sadly one of the characters from the video passed away while I was editing. He had been living hard for too many years. After the video came out, the mother of his children actually contacted me and thanked me for the video, which is the most beautiful review yet.”
Honourable Mentions: GusGus – Higher ft. VÖK, Sillus – Dapply, IDK IDA – Tomorrow’s Heartache
Artist To Watch: Holdgervlar
“The Holdgervlar themselves are xenobots, ready-made organisms, with human roots. They look back with nostalgia at human cultures, but with different levels of attachment to their roots. They see themselves as the same as their makers, but are only as clear a reflection as their makers allowed them to be. Looking at their ancestry through rose-coloured glasses, they believe that they can fill in what they’re missing by mimicking their human counterparts.They’re beings of speculative sexuality, beauty and everyday function that experience emotion without it’s essence.”
And so Holdgervlar, the winner of our “Artist To Watch” award, makes it clear that they are the ones watching us.
The panel praised the interplay of Holdgervlar’s visuals and music, calling their project an all-encompassing world. They are, quite literally, a group you just want to watch, one panel member emphasised, and they’ve built a world and a story into the foundation of their music, which must be applauded. They’re on their own level, or more accurately, their own planet (granted, they are cyborgs) and you can’t help but want to see what they’d do with a massive stage and large budget.
“The masks we wear on stage were first used as a tool against stage fright but quickly took over the whole concept and transformed it into what it wanted to be, these beings,” they explain, exposing their human roots for but a minute. “They pick their own scenes and depictions, ask and answer questions about human nature with humans as their mirrors.”
Honourable Mentions: gugusar, Ingibjörg Turchi, Laufey Lín
You Should Have Heard This: Hekla
The Grapevine Music Awards panel is composed of experts from many disciplines—we have techno fanatics, rap connoisseurs and many things in-between. None, unfortunately, are theremin devotees, but all were still completely enamoured with the eerie theremin stylings of Hekla Magnúsdóttir and her ‘Sprungur’ EP.
“I like to create terrifying sounds and big sounds in contrast with thin high pitched sounds,” Hekla explains. “I guess it explores negative space or kind of a big black void of sound. On ‘Sprungur’ I was exploring imagery of mythical beasts and the dark cold winters.”
The panel concluded that Hekla really found her own on this release, proving that she not only knows her sound, but that she’s confident in it. “I think the theremin is not an instrument you typically think could be emotional, but Hekla’s has found deep and intense emotion in its tones. Out of all the winners, I can’t wait to see what she does next,” one panel member said. “Can someone please give her a film score?”
You Should Have Heard This: RYBA
RYBA’s 2020 debut album ‘Phantom Plaza’ meanders seamlessly between beat-driven and jangly rock ‘n’ roll, 90s trip-hop, shoegaze and everything else. “It’s a kind of supergroup, with seasoned members of other projects, including Grísalappalísa, Kælan Mikla and Andi,” one panel member raved. “Fine-tuned vibes echoing the past so elegantly into the present.”
The fact that RYBA didn’t get more attention this year was a sobering fact for many judges, and so the group was a shoe-in for the “You Should Have Heard This Award.” They’re currently working on their second effort, which you should also listen to.
“I see the album usually as a psychological voyage which was supposed to happen a few decades ago but it’s happening now like a ghost, it has some unresolved business,” RYBA told the Grapevine. “This album is not trying to meet anyone or help society to become better, more like using it and reflecting what we see in it little bit like a ghost.”
Honourable Mentions: hist og, dirb, Inspector Spacetime
Shout Out: Rough Cult
Production company Rough Cult, the panel concluded, has a knack for elevating whatever song they’re entrusted to visualise. Composed of four key members—Baldvin Vernharðsson, Bryngeir Vattnes, Berglaug Petra Garðarsdóttir and Gabríel Benedikt Bachmann—the Cult has had their Kool Aid in a number of surreal, unforgettable and inimitable music videos this year including “Píla” by Joey Christ, “Higher” by GusGus ft. VÖK, and “MASKHARA” by Bashar Murad.
“The name Rough Cult says a lot about us as we like to go our own way and step outside the box and try new—or old—things. We love analog,” the Cult said. “No idea is a bad idea.”
“They’ve been making excellent things consistently,” one panel member determined. “If you hear an artist is working with Rough Cult, you know it’s going to be something. They are upping the standard.”
Shout Out: Auður
Auður did drop an EP in 2020, but this Shout Out is to recognise his work in, as we called it, keeping culture alive over the pandemic.
Over the last 12 months, Auður lent his hand to many different collaborations with artists of vastly different disciplines, both famous and unknown. Our favourites included his fantastic song with up-and-comer gugusar, beautiful animated video by Águst Eli, RÚV performances with mezzoforte and Bríet and, of course, one cannot forget his capacity for livestream. Lastly, he founded a new studio space for local musicians alongside Krassasig. Nothing stopped Auður’s drive this year and that kind of optimism needs to be applauded.
To be honest, the panel was even hesitant to give him this Shout Out because he’s rumoured to be releasing an album in 2021 and knowing Auður, that’ll be sweeping all the awards this time next year.
Honourable mentions: HAM x Shoplifter, Hljómskálinn, Víkingur Ólafsson
Best Livestream (Special 2020 Award): Live From Reykjavík & Post-Sessions
“They went big. I appreciated the spectacle,” one panel member said of the Live From Reykjavík by Iceland Airwaves livestream, which featured high-production big numbers by artists like Hatari, Of Monsters And Men, JóiPé & Króli and more over a two day celebration.
The panel enjoyed the ambition and execution of the project—with no Airwaves, it felt like a fitting tribute to the loss of the festival this year. “This might sound weird, but I kind of wish I had been able to pay for it!”
Best Livestream (Special 2020 Award): Post-Sessions
“The Post-Sessions that Post-Dreifing did are fantastic. They are also a great contrast to the Airwaves livestreams in that they are totally DIY,” the panel determined. The sessions, filmed in cosy venues across the city, showcased the best of Icelandic music in a totally lovable manner.
There are currently 13 out, featuring live performances interspersed with interviews where they ask the real questions, like “What’s your favourite pizza topping?”
Honourable mentions: Prikið livestreams
The panel was comprised of:
Hannah Jane Cohen (Chairman Of The Panel, The Reykjavík Grapevine)
The awards panel was chaired by Hannah Jane Cohen, the Listings Director/Culture Editor of the Reykjavík Grapevine. Hannah Jane is known for her extensive and oftentimes exhaustive coverage of Icelandic metal, hip-hop, and other hip things. Outside of that, she is the current Drag King of Iceland, Hans, as well as an award-winning poet. She enjoys living, laughing and loving.
Alexander Jean Edvard Le Sage De Fontenay (Journalist, DJ, More)
Alexander Jean has written about electronic music for The Reykjavík Grapevine for years as part of his column “Electric Dreams.” He also used to curate the Grapevine Grassroots concert series (RIP). Not only does he have the longest name on the panel, but Alexander is also a popular DJ and event planner. If that still doesn’t impress you, he’s also a designer who makes lovely pieces of art and zines.
Geoffrey Huntington-Williams (Prikið, Sticky Plötuútgáfa)
Geoff—as he is known—is the co-owner of Prikið and founder of record label Sticky Plötuútgáfa. If you’ve somehow gone your entire existence without knowing about Prikið, it’s the premiere spot for Icelandic hip-hop and Geoff was no doubt instrumental in that. He’s a tastemaker and known for harnessing and repping emerging talents in the scene. Basically, he was listening to Aron Can before you were even born.
Sigtryggur Baldursson (Iceland Music)
Sigtryggur Baldursson, or Bogomil Font, or just the-man-with-the-hat, is an icon and legend in Icelandic music history. While in the past years, Sigtryggur has played less music, he now seeks to support new artists through ÚTON/Iceland Music, an organisation that helps musicians go abroad and introduce their talents to the world. Wait, did we forget to mention that he was a founding member of The Sugarcubes? That too.
Maria-Carmela Raso (Curator, Musician)
Maria-Carmela Raso, a Canadian-born Reykjavík-transplant, is known for her monthly concert series “Can’t think just feel” at Loft, which showcases the best of up-and-coming and established local music. To sum that up: If something is good in this small country, she’ll know about it. Outside of that, you might know her as the ethereal musician MSEA. We certainly do.
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