The first of two semifinal Eurovision competitions was held last night. In it countries compete live for a place in the final event which takes place on Saturday. Thankfully Iceland passed the grade, following a heart stopping envelope opening in which we were the last country to be named. The exact same thing happened last year when our contribution was also contained within the very last envelope. Life expectancy here will probably be lower in the coming future as our pulses are still racing following the suspenseful wait and many of us will suffer from high blood pressure for years to come due to all the excitement. Eurovision is a very, very big thing here. So big that even though this time around we have municipal elections on the day of the finals, the main political commentator for the government TV station will be reporting on the contest from Oslo where the competition takes place, instead of bothering with election TV programming. This is in complete agreement with the rest of the nation – the results of Eurovision and what place we land is more important than any petty local politics. This being said the current municipality elections are unusually exciting this year because of the Best party which is now just one man short of a majority landslide according to the polls. My post from three weeks ago will help those confused to understand why.
Now, for those of you that are not familiar with the concept, Eurovision is an annual song contest between the countries of Europe. These send in one song each, plus a band/singer to perform it. Winners of the competition that have gone on to make it big are few and far between, the only ones that come to mind are Abba and Celine Dion. Other winners fade into oblivion relatively quickly, quintessential one hit wonders. But I am sure the fifteen minutes of fame provided are fun while they last, there is more confetti thrown around at the end than the amount of ash spewed from Eyjafjallajökull. The competition is televised all over Europe and although it has declined in popularity in many countries it ranks among the longest showing television events, having been on continuously since 1956. It is definitely the biggest television event here in Iceland as when it is being shown the streets are devoid of cars since one and all are glued to the screen.
And why is this? Because Eurovision is excellent, completely over the top and sometimes hilarious. The semifinals last night for example had three female backup singers in dresses that turned into butterfly costumes, a woman eating an apple after holding it fondly and singing to it in for most of the song, an androgynous singer with a hairdo from outer space, a white clad troupe prancing back and forth in pursuit of an accordion player, not to mention the singer with the Blade runner meets Brats doll look. There were too many violins to count as last year’s winner played that same instrument and the winner before that had a Stradivarius on stage.
The Stradivarius act from 2008 also contained an Olympic champion male figure skater showing off his extreme talent to make sure that we got it – our country has stuff vote for us. Despite the display of power and wealth the act was a strange spectacle as the Stradivarius playing was mimed (no string sounds in the tune) and the figure skater had a hard time doing anything more than pirouettes as the portable skating rink he showed up with was the size of a frozen over bathtub. But glimmer and shine is what it is all about and that particular case it worked, the weakly looking guy wailing between the two over the top backup acts won. He did show enthusiasm though as at one point he was lying on the stage trying to rip off his shirt to show that despite appearances he had a muscular chest - only he didn't. Pity points bagged the win was the Icelandic consensus.
Although Icelanders love Eurovision it did not occur to us that we could participate until 1986. We were probably so in awe of the confetti shower that we did not think we stood a chance. But this changed and following a televised regional competition we ended up with a trio called ever so cornily “Icy” which sang a song titled “Gleðibankinn”. Seeing that this translates to: “Happy Bank” it is clear that we had no idea what the future held. Neither did we have reasonable expectations for how the song would do as the general consensus was that we would of course win. Champagne sold out in the whole country as everyone wanted to break open a bottle when our win would be announced. The song was played from every single public loudspeaker in the days leading up to the event and it echoed in one’s head while falling asleep and was still on one’s minds playlist when waking up the morning that followed. You can imagine the disappointment when we ended up somewhere close to the bottom, the sadness was so severe that in my case I have blocked out the memory and can just recall the three singers wearing marching band jackets with huge shoulder pads doing a dance that involved a high kick from a tall guy with long red hair. But eventually we recuperated and it became clear that we only lost out because we were not allowed to sing in English as the rule then was that each country sing in their own language – which did not do us any favors although it might have given the French songs some charm.
After this we had a succession of more disappointments even though we even tried sending in a song with lyrics containing a list of famous people’s names in the hope of sounding English: Socrates, Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky etc. One year we managed to get zero points, meaning that no country believed our song worth even a single point although each has 58 points to hand out. Twice we have however reached the second place, our prominence within the competition rising considerable after everyone was allowed to choose the language they sung in. The first of these great feats occurred when we sent a singer named Selma who should actually have won, not placed second. The choreography ruined everything as she was accompanied by two male dancers mistakenly dressed in trench coats whose flapping tails were disturbing. This same singer was brought back some years later when we had not made it through the semifinals in the year before, but to our shock and awe she repeated the disgrace. Again the choreography was to blame, in the middle of the song Selma and her dancers threw themselves on the floor and began convulsing, something that was later on explained was supposed to have looked like a withering heart formation when seen from above. Too bad no one gave the TV crew a heads up so that they could have positioned a camera on the ceiling.
Selma’s dress was also believed in bad form during this second appearance, it looked like a badly made pantsuit sari but missing all the good sparkly bits and the skirt usually associated with such attire. Clothing have been our demise on numerous occasions, in 2000 we sent a duo where the girl was respectable enough but the boy was dressed up like a transvestite baker’s apprentice, in 1997 we were represented by a guy wearing leather chaps and hopefully underwear (none of us dared look) and in 1991 by a duo of two men with ninja bands wrapped around their heads. Icelanders later began to suspect that one of the two ninjas fooled the other soon to be ninja into thinking this was a good look, not letting him in on the real reason he wanted to wrap his head up, i.e. to hide that he had begun to go bald. Last year we became all upset because our wonderful singer Jóhanna Guðrún was made wear a hobo looking dress which to be fair was completely appropriate considering our financial debacle. The BBC commentator declared the tattered look of the dress to be a result of her having to walk to Moscow where the competition was held since Iceland could not afford a plane ticket. Thankfully her voice reigned supreme over the rags and we came in second – thrilled because we absolutely could not have won since we don’t have a large enough venue to host the competition and although we can rally up money for a plane ticket we cannot afford to build a huge concert hall, nor would the IMF allow us to.
Surprisingly enough Eurovision has a connection to Icelandic crime writing. In 2007, the year when Iceland went bananas in every manner possible to man, Eurovision proving no exception. That year we sent a highly popular but super exaggerated figure from a TV program which was based on her insulting everything and everyone in an incredibly outrageous manner. This she continued to do while in Greece competing in the song contest, not leaving the TV show part behind but instead flooring the vehicle of this persona, never stepping out of character. Most people there did not realize it was a rolling performance and were quite taken aback. As an example of her behavior she said at the press junket that she had seen the Swedish contestant giving the festival’s manager a blow job in a car in the stadium parking lot in order to advance Sweden’s chances of winning,. It did not help that this particular Swedish singer was a devout born again Christian. She pronounced the other acts to be fucking amateurs and also mentioned fucking Greeks at one point, something she said was misunderstood – she meant to say fucking retards. Silvía Nótt was the first ever act to be booed when stepping onto the Eurovision stage and did not make it out of the semi-finals although she became quite the hit on youtube. To giver her credit, her dress was OK though. But unfortunately this did not help the Icelandic foreign ministry which had its hands full in the weeks following the competition, trying to un-insult various countries she managed to upset. The connection to crime writing? The actress playing the role of Silvía Nótt is the same one which plays the daughter of Erlendur in the movie adaption of Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason (wonderful book, wonderful movie).
So yet again, another month of May and another Eurovision is almost upon us. Although we are the second most successful country never to win the Eurovision contest (a real statistic) we are probably just about to lose that title since we are going home with first place this year for sure. The costumes are yet again horrid and the singers are way too fat but the song is catching and no one has been insulted. This does raise the problem of the venue, we still cannot afford nor would we be allowed to build it. I guess our prime minister will just have to pick up the phone: “Hi is this the IMF? Iceland speaking. We were wondering if you had a large boardroom we could borrow?” She probably won’t mention the humongous vacuum cleaner they need to have in place to get rid of all the confetti the day after. Let them find out the hard way.
Yrsa - Wednesday