This weekend, Iceland is gears up to choose its entry to the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. They’ve got six songs to choose from on March 3rd. It’s a decidedly sorry lot however, and one of Iceland’s worst national finals ever. Certainly the worst since we’ve been following the whole thing. And so whatever they choose tonight, won’t really feel like much of a victory – as there is nothing in the line-up that even whispers ‘qualifier’, never mind screams ‘winner’. For what it’s worth though, we’re rooting for Fókus Hópurinn’s ‘Battleline’. A bottom-of-its-semi dead cert if ever we’ve heard one, but it won’t be the first time we’ve gotten behind one!
Anyway. The whole thing has gotten us thinking back to happier times. 30 years of them to be precise. 30 years of Icelandic Eurovsion entries.
The Nordic nation first entered the contest in 1986, and have only sat out the contest twice since then – in 1998 and 2002 (both times owing to low finishes the previous years). They’ve never won Eurovision, but have finished in second place twice (1999 and 2009 – both times finishing second to another Nordic nation winning). And since having to compete in the semi finals in the mid noughties, their fortunes have been book ended by two blocks of three years of bad luck. From 2005 to 2007 they failed to qualify, and then qualified for the final every year up to and including 2014. And they haven’t qualified since.
In amongst those mixed fortunes, there have been various levels of quality too. Though it’s fair to say that Iceland are one of the more reliable nations when it comes to bringing the tunes to Eurovision. Of their 30 entries, we’d class around half of them as hugely enjoyable or above, with another half a dozen or so of them as being worth a listen or two, if you’ve yet to. There’s only really five of them that we could quite happily never heard again. And that’s not bad going, all in all.
What better time then, with its tally still at a neat 30 songs, and before it goes and chooses another dud, to go through all of their contest contributions to date and give them a definite ranking. In order.
Let’s do it.
(there’s really not a lot to say about these ones, so we won’t)
30: Bo Halldórsson – Núna (1995)
29: Daníel Ágúst – Það Sem Enginn Sér (1989)
28: Stefán & Eyfi – Draumur Um Nínu (1991)
27: Two Tricky – Angel (2001)
26: Sjonni’s Friends – Coming Home (2011)
25: Jónsi – Heaven (2004)
24: Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson – Ég á Líf (2013)
23: Halla Margrét – Hægt og hljótt (1987)
22: ICY – Gleðibankinn (1986)
21: Beathoven – Þú og þeir (1988)
20: Pollapönk – No Prejudice (2014)
Middle aged men in brightly coloured suits, giving life lessons in morality and acceptance. Oddly charming. At the time this ended up as Iceland’s best result (15th) in five years, and they’ve never improved on it (or made the final) since.
19: Sigga – Nætur (1994)
Despite having only been competing less than a decade, this was the third time Iceland rolled Sigga out as their entrant. Though it was her first as a soloist. In 1994’s infamous sea of ballads, Sigga’s r&b slow-jam admirably kept its head afloat. Though only just – finishing in 12th.
18: Inga – Þá veistu svarið (1993)
Iceland sent an earthy, new age ballad in 1993. Total campfire stuff. But when you’re surrounded by geysers, you accept that you’ll never be cool.
17: Greta Salóme & Jónsi – Never Forget (2012)
DRAMA! Another ballad from Iceland, though this time with everything ramped up on a cinematic scale. Never has a violin been deployed so well on a Eurovision stage. Oh – aside from that time Norway beat Iceland into second place in 2009, but more on that later.
16: María Ólafsdóttir – Unbroken (2015)
As the world went crazy for Disney’s Frozen, Iceland decided to cash in on the film’s association to their country. To accompany María’s Disney-esque ballad, an icy staging was put together. And María even dropped the ‘dóttir’ part of her surname so that it would emulate the name of the film’s most loved character. Shameless. And pure speculation on our part. But we see you, RUV.
15: Anna Mjöll – Sjúbidú (1996)
To straight men, Pamela Anderson was the blonde bombshell of the 90s. But to us gays, it was Anna Mjöll. Performing a jazz-pop number that referenced the big names of Hollywood glamour, and incorporated a key change. The fact that it was all performed on Norway’s iconic 1996 stage and with its questionable displays of ‘tech’, just added to the camp factor at the time.
14: Heart 2 Heart – Nei Eda Já – (1992)
For all intents and purposes, this was a poor man’s version of the song that Iceland sent two years previous, in 1990. But Europe didn’t mind. And as the blueprint on which it was based was so awesome, this carbon copy (even including one of the same band members) finished in 7th place, giving Iceland only its second Top 10 finish in its seven years of competing.
13: August & Telma – Tell Me (2000)
At the turn of the millennium, the whole world was bopping away to Nordic produced pop music anyway, in some form or another. Iceland send this pair of hopefuls with a pure Scandipop schlager anthem. They could only manage a 12th place finish, but those outfits were winners.
12: Svala – Paper (2017)
We were convinced that Iceland would pull off an overdue qualifier last year with this moody slice of well produced synthpop, especially since it was coupled with a visually stunning performance from Svala. They didn’t.
11: Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling (2016)
Greta returned to the Eurovision stage four years after her 20th place finish with ‘Never Forget’. She brought it all – a much better song, a performance that incorporated elements of both of the Swedish winners in 2012 and 2015, and a big fan following. But the whole thing finished in an undeserved 14th place in the semi. Not even close.
(now here’s where it gets REALLY good!)
10: Stjornin – Eitt Lag Enn (1990)
Iceland got off to a bad start at Eurovision, with their first four entries finishing outside of the Top 15, and with their fourth entry finishing in last with 0 points. In year 5, it was time to have a rethink. Who are we? What do we do well? What can we give that the rest of Europe wants? The answer was simple. And it came to them. SCHLAGER!!! They promptly sent an up-tempo banger, the likes of which only the Nordic nations can do so very well. They ended up with a massive 142 points, and a fourth place finish. Iceland’s Eurovision legacy had truly begun.
09: Silvia Night – Congratulations (2006)
When you see Rolandz compete in the Melodifestivalen final in a couple of weeks, don’t judge them too harshly. They are, after all, no different to Silvia Night. A comedy character performing a pastiche of a deathly uncool pop song. But whereas Sweden wouldn’t dream of sending such a thing to Eurovision, a fatigued Iceland did just that in 2006. Silvia Night came very close to making the Eurovision final (especially considering back then it was just the one semi of many more songs, rather than two evenly split semis), but in the end managed to grab more column inches in Athens than she did points. The awful reaction she got in the arena before her performance (which you can hear in the clip below) was quite shocking at the time, and hasn’t been repeated since. Iconic.
08: Birgitta – Open Your Heart (2003)
In the very pop heavy year of 2003, Iceland managed a respectable 8th place finish, by sending what they do best – more pop for the viewers. A soaring, sweeping, string laden number that was to be their last Top 10 result for another five years.
07: Selma – If I Had Your Love (2005)
In 2005, Iceland sent in the big guns – the lady who had given them their best result to date. Selma had finished 2nd in 1999 (more on that below!), and so the nation (and Eurovision fan community) was overjoyed to see her return in 2005. ‘If I Had Your Love’ was and remains an absolute jam for the ages, but its odd pacing and bizarre mix of influences from both the Middle East and the typical James Bond film score, evidently didn’t translate very well in a three minute pop song contest. It got lost in the shuffle of a busy semi and resulted in Iceland missing out on only their third Eurovision final since they’d started competing in 1986. They were to get used to it though….
06: Eiríkur Hauksson – Valentine Lost (2007)
Rock ballads performed by old men aren’t generally our thing, believe it or not. Shocking. So it speaks volumes of just how great this song is that we’ve placed it so high in an overall ranking. An absolute epic of a song. Dramatic strings, a well crafted melody, and a seamless switch between deceptively soft and strikingly bombastic.
05: Yohanna – Is It True (2009)
A decade after Iceland’s best ever ESC result, Yohanna went and matched it – finishing in 2nd place in 2009 with this classic, timeless, and oh-so-simple ballad. She did however, record what is by far Iceland’s biggest ever points tally – 218. A number so impressive that one wonders if she might have won in any other year. The song Iceland finished second behind – ‘Fairytale’ from Norway – remains the highest scoring winner tally of all time.
04: Hera Björk – Je Ne Sais Quoi (2010)
By 2010, Iceland were riding a wave of Eurovision success. Perhaps more so in terms of delivering the big fan favourites every year, rather than actual results. But their entries were at this stage always something to look forward to. Things peaked in 2010 when a year after Iceland had finished second, they sent a schlager diva who had delivered fans THE ultimate schlager also-ran when she competed in the Danish national final with the incredible ‘Someday’, also the year before. That song only finished second. So when RUV brought Hera Björk back the following year to compete on home territory, AND with another schlager banger, AND it went and won – basements were flooded all across the continent. She made the final and subsequently finished in a disappointing 19th. But it didn’t matter. We had our banger that year.
03: Euroband – This Is My Life (2008)
After three years of sitting out in the semis, Iceland were at an all time Eurovision low, and after trying everything – bringing back the artist who gave them their best ever result, sending a comedy character, and contributing Viking rock. Few nations would respond in the way Iceland did – when they sent an actual literal Eurovision song tribute act to the very contest itself. But that’s what they did. Euroband arrived to Belgrade armed with a Eurodance number that Cascada would have been proud of (make of that analogy what you will) and a hell of a lot of goodwill towards them from fans (not that this has ever counted towards anything, but still). A confident, smiling performance, and a fun staging saw them surprisingly progress from their semi (surprising because they had such an early draw and it was in amongst Sweden and Ukraine – two of the other up-tempo faves from that year). They gave another stellar performance and might not have given Iceland one of their best ever results, but it was certainly one of their more memorable contributions. And one of their best.
02: Paul Oscar – Minn Hinsti Dans (1997)
A bit of a game changer, this one. Not just in the sense that it offered up a sexually confusing but ubiquitous visual accompanying a Europop techno track, but also because it provided some insight into how the voting in ESC would change forever from this point onwards. In 1997, the EBU trialled televoting for the first time, allowing five of the 25 countries competing, to test the method. Iceland, receiving only two points from the 20 countries providing jury votes, managed to pick up eight times as many points – 16 – from the mere five countries who were voting via the public rather than juries. The first indication we got that not only was a public vote going to be looking for something very different from its songs and performances than a jury would be, but that this something was absolute ramped up and ridiculous sauce! Before the contest was to change forever in the next couple of years, Iceland presented it with a massive shake-up in the form of one of the most iconic stage shows of its 20th century period, if not of all time. Eurovision would never be the same again after song 25 wrapped up the evening’s entertainment in May 1997!
01: Selma – All Out Of Luck (1999)
After 12 years of poor results (only two Top 10 finishes in that time) and a year of sitting the whole thing out in 1998, Iceland had to come back to the contest in 1999 with something very special. Which they did. At the time, we were actually rooting for this to win over Charlotte Nilsson’s ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’ for Sweden. But looking back, they’re both ten-out-of-ten, absolutely essential Eurovision classics. ‘All Out Of Luck’ is a little bit schlager, a little bit Europop, and an awful lot bonkers – the last of which probably resonated quite well with the Brits at least, who at that time only had the likes of Björk and Alda to reference when it came to Icelandic popstars. Selma skipped onto the stage decked out looking half like a late 90s industrial raver, and the other half actual fairy. The fact that she was flanked by two over-zealous dancers in raincoats, merely added to the visual ‘appeal’ of the whole thing. And her supremely catchy, infectiously euphoric pop song, quickly became – and has remained since – our absolute favourite Icelandic Eurovision entry of all time. This is how you do it;