Eurovision Preview: Songvakeppnin 2017

One of the first national finals that I watched when I became a serious Eurovision nerd was Songvakeppnin, largely thanks to the excellent streaming service offered by RÚV. The official Listen Outside hypothesis on Iceland is that either every single Icelander in a nation of 300,000 is in a pretty decent band, or there are are a hardcore of about 3000 of them who are in a dozen decent bands each and the rest are either novelists, football coaches or working on Lazy Town.

Anyway, we’ve got another set of hopefuls looking to bring the big glass microphone to Reykjavik. It seems beyond belief that Iceland haven’t managed to win yet – does the Class of 2017 have someone who can go one better than Yohanna and Selma?

Linda Hartmanns – Ástfangin/Obvious Love

I’m writing this preview the day after the UK selected Lucie Jones’ big sensitive ballad, and I’m sure you’re already aware how quickly I suffer from ballad fatigue. But this one is a rather beautiful and melancholy piece of balladry and thus earns a second listen, which is where the textures in the chorus production start to pop out. It would be a slightly boring but respectable selection. I would definitely keep it in magical, breathy Icelandic if it won the selection.

HILDUR – Bammbaramm/Bammbaramm

I’ve had one of HILDUR’s songs in the queue to go on Listen Outside for ages. Now she’s giving Songvakeppnin a shot, and following in the time honoured Eurovision tradition of using a cunningly international, untranslatable chorus. Well played Hildur! It might be a bit too gentle to force its way into voters’ memories, but I really like it – reminds me of Lykke Li’s first album in its delicate positivity. If this wins the selection, I would go for the English version. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how they’ll stage it? I’m assuming that there’ll be dancers, but I hope that they can avoid making it either too edgy or too cutesy.

Svala Björgvinsdottir – Eg veit pad/Paper

Don’t let this put you off, but this is basically a 21st century Pat Benatar power ballad. If you want a bracing Nordic electro blast then this is it. If you have worn out your 3rd copy of Robyn’s Body Talk then this is for you. If you want to see a grown woman covered in sick tattoos sing the heck out of an ambivalent cybernetic love song then this is your jam. If you like syncopated vocal lines and big mountains made of synths and breathy backing vocals then step this way. Huge potential goosebumps whether it is in Icelandic or English. Top five in Kyiv. (Disclaimer: I also said that about Hear Them Calling)  

Þhordis & Júlí – Heim til þín/Get Back Home

Modern country & western is becoming one of those genres that you can safely get away with at Eurovision. Of course, the best ever Eurovision country song is Texas Lightning’s No No Never, with Calm After The Storm a reasonably distant second. This is a song much more from the mould that gave us Monica & Vaidas from Lithuania singing This Time, and as such the success of this song will depend hugely on the on-stage chemistry between Þhordis & Júlí. If we ship it, they might find themselves on the way to Kyiv, and probably doing the English version too.

Dadi Freyr Petursson – Hvað með það?/Is This Love?

Another song aimed straight at my heart. This is an ADORABLE song about two introverts skirting the narrow line between failure and success when flirting. Dadi looks like a super sweet long haired nerd who knows his way around a Moog – check out this video from his other project Mixophrygian. Like I say, targeted straight at my heart. I’d hope to stage this with him doing a bit of stage interaction with the backing singer who is playing the part of the girl in the song, and have them both dressed as if they are wallflowers at indie discos. Cardigans, DMs, shy looks from under their respective fringes. If it wins, send it in English, But it won’t win Songvakeppnin. We can’t have nice things like this.

I have no idea if anyone else would like this, but part of the joy of National Final season is that there’s always something for everyone. Especially, there’s always something for me from Iceland.

Runar Eff – Mér við hlið/Make Your Way Back Home

Iceland are particularly good at powerful ballads where big men display their sensitive sides. This is one of those – it builds like 2016’s Sound of Silence and has just enough of both chiming guitars and stuttering synths to please both the Michał Szpak and Sanna Nielsen camps of balladry respectively. I am not as keen on it as I am on some of the other songs, and I would say that it doesn’t really matter if it is in English or Icelandic. It’s a nice listen.

Aron Hannes – Nótt/Tonight

The first of our two tropical post dancehall songs by young men called Aron. This is as poppy and current as you can imagine and doesn’t overegg the tropical pudding (should that be over-pineapple?). Aron’s official Songvakeppnin photo has him all done up in a turtleneck and jacket like Draco Malfoy going to the Christmas Ball, but I think that doesn’t seem to match with his song. Looking at his stuff on Youtube, I do not think that those are Aron’s normal clothes. Let him wear something he’s comfortable in, give him some cool looking dancers and this could be going to Kyiv. In English.

Erna Mist Pétúrsdottir – Skuggamynd/I’ll Be Gone

Another perennial of an Icelandic national selection is a delicate wee ballad sung by a delicate lass with a mighty vocal range. Here is your one of those for this year. Sadly the song doesn’t really go anywhere and I can’t find anything to recommend it over my favourites. In her interview for the Songvakeppnin website Erna admits to defrauding her local swimming baths by pretending to be under 18. I am not saying this is a reason not to vote for her, but I think it’s important that those who use municipal facilities play fair. No strong preference between Icelandic or English versions.

Rakel & Arnar – Til Min/Again

And if you were waiting for the slightly dark love duet, here we go. Iceland does not disappoint us on that front. There’s a violin break, during which I would be tempted to pop Greta on stage, maybe on a hoverboard. In the studio version, both Rakel and Arnar have really lovely voices with superb control over a wide range of dynamics – it’ll be interesting to see how that comes across in the selection shows. I think it won’t win, but if it does, it’ll be because Greta is doing the violin solo on a hoverboard and the lyrics will be in English.

Sólveig Ásgeirsdóttir – Treystu a mig/Trust In Me

There’s something really wholesome and analogue about this. The studio version sounds really warm and joyful. There’s a great deal of charisma about it in a way that I can’t explain. It’s a bit like the general vibe of Sjonni’s Friends – traditional but inclusive. The generally lovely atmosphere even comes across equally well in English as it does in Icelandic. Maybe not the strongest and most innovative song in the selection, but I think it’s got incredibly broad appeal. Might be a contender.

Aron Brink – Þú hefur dáleitt mig/Hypnotised

The second tropical song by a chap called Aron – I really hope that they are not in the same semi-final, because that would be a bit tough. The songs are so similar that whichever one of them has the best delivery and stage presence ought to win. Theoretically, that would be this Aron (the slightly prettier one tbh), but the thing is: there’s a touch of Margaret’s affected patois delivery in the English version of this song, something that the other Aron manages to safely avoid. I don’t think I’m totally ok with that.

If we can have this Aron singing the other Aron’s song I could get behind that? Anyway, another strong contender regardless of what I think.

Páll & Kristina – Þú og ég/You and I

Now when I said that modern country and western was now a viable Eurovision genre, I meant that with emphasis on the modern part. This is an extremely traditional Nashville boy/girl duet, complete with American accents. I cannot say that I am super keen on it.

Well, that’s your lot for Iceland 2017. I might reformat this when the semi-final allocations come out, but I think that my picks are obviously Paper and Is This Love? However, the people of Iceland have a history of surprising me and any of about 8 of the 12 songs has a reasonable chance of getting the win. Just not Þú og ég please.

See the rest of our Eurovision 2017 coverage here.

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