Country profile: Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest since 2008


Oh, little Iceland. Along with Cyprus and Malta, the north Atlantic island remains a Eurovision stalwart where passions run high — as does the frustration. Despite coming second twice, the land of Selma and Yohanna still hasn’t managed to win. Iceland has been participating since 1986 and the friendly, progressive nation has a plethora of talented singers that belies its small size. In fact, some of them have been utilised on more than one occasion because they’re just that good.

RUV’s Eurovision head of press has today confirmed to wiwibloggs that Iceland will return to Eurovision in 2018. So we’re hanging up our red, white and blue flags and celebrating Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest

Iceland isn’t afraid of variety or going there. And by there we mean out there. Fans of the country’s entries will remember fondly its eighties shoulder-pad pop stars, a certain foul-mouthed diva, a group of colourful pre-school teachers fighting prejudice, a barefoot fairy princess with golden toes, and an ice queen sporting a cape (and some very impressive cleavage). Want the predictable? You’ll need to look somewhere else.

Between 2008 and 2014, Iceland always reached the finals — though success in the final was never a sure thing. Over the past three years the country has faced a bleaker series of results with three straight eliminations in the semis. But Icelanders — who have braved fire and ice for centuries — always keep their heads high and their faith in tact. This is the year! This time we will conquer! Well, maybe one day. But until then, here is a quick review of Iceland’s most recent participations.

Recent History

2017 – Svala with “Paper”, 15th place in the semi finals with 60 points

2016 – Greta Salóme with “Hear Them Calling”, 14th place in the semi finals with 51 points

2015 – María Ólafs with “Unbroken”, 15th place in the semi finals with 14 points

2014 -Pollapönk with ‘No Predjudice’, 15th place with 58 points

2013 – Eyþór Ingi with ‘Ég á líf’, 17th place with 47 points

2012 – Gréta Salóme and Jónsi with ‘Never Forget’, 20th place with 46 points

2011 – Sjonni’s Friends with ‘Coming Home’, 20th place with 61 points

2010 – Hera Björk with ‘Je ne sais quoi’, 19th place with 41 points

2009 – Yohanna with ‘Is It True?’, 2nd place with 218 points

2008 – Euroband with ‘This Is My Life’, 14th place with 64 points

Fun facts

How often has Iceland been the very last country announced as a finalist in the semis? 4 times — 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014.

How many times did Yohanna and her back up singers ask, “Is it true?” 9 times.

Number of times Gréta Salóme raised her arm during the semi-final performance: 21 times (as seen on camera).

The most unexpected result: Sjonni’s Friends reaching the 2011 final over hot favorite Stella Mwangi from Norway.

Iceland’s best scoring entry

Yohanna with ‘Is It True?’, 2nd place with 218 points.

Nobody expected much in 2009 when Yohanna (real name Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir) was sent to represent Iceland in Russia. The financial crisis had just hit Iceland, leading to some rather bitter quarrels between the Icelandic government and other governments in Europe (whose citizens had invested money in Icelandic bank schemes that had collapsed). The nation was gloomy and depressed. So Icelanders were fairly certain that Yohanna would be metaphorically shot down in Moscow, so Icelanders could go back to their “Everybody hates us” Facebook support group.

But surprisingly Iceland climbed the scoreboard slowly but steadily, and soon the nation was glued to their TV screens, shouting and rooting for their girl. Yohanna was never a threat to Norwegian heartthrob Alexander Rybak, as this was a battle for second place. A deathmatch between Iceland and Azerbaijan. A battle that wasn’t won until the very last country, Norway, gave their points and placed Yohanna safely in second with 218 points — the highest score Iceland has ever received. The nation found strength again and Yohanna was welcomed home as a queen.

Most memorable lyric: Is it true? Is it over? Did I throw it away? No Yohanna, it’s not over! It’s not over until we say it’s over!

Worst scoring entry in the final

Gréta Salóme and Jónsi with ‘Never Forget’, 20th place with 46 points.

“Never Forget” was not a bad song — a little predictable, maybe, but not bad. For three years, Iceland wasn’t a favorite among the audience when it came to the scoreboard. They had reached the finals every year, but once there, never managed to climb above 20th place. “Never Forget” should’ve been sung in Icelandic. The atmosphere of the song was lost the moment they opened their mouths and began crooning in English. The original lyrics told a tragic lovestory — a famous tale in Icelandic history about the forbidden love between a bishop’s daughter and her tutor, which led to her giving birth to an illegitimate child. The tutor was sent away and the girl died from a broken heart. True story and sad. The English lyrics were well written, but nothing more. The powerful and tragic ballad we voted for in Iceland became a middle-of-the-road song in Baku. Like I said: not bad, rather good in fact. But unfortunately people forgot it.

Most memorable lyric:

“Where’s the one she used to know, it seems so long ago”. I wonder myself…where are the original lyrics?


Worst scoring entry in the semi finals

María Ólafs with “Unbroken” 15th place with 14 points.

Oh, such high hopes Iceland had for the powerhouse diva María Ólafs. Time and time again she wowed the audience back home with stellar vocals and flawless performances. Her song was catchy, dramatic and strong. So there was a sense in Vienna that reaching the finals was just a formality. No one expected her to win, but the nation expected at least a top 15 finish. But the tables turned brutally during María’s performance in rehearsals and on the big night itself. She was shaky, off-key and nothing seemed to work, except for her backing vocals. “Unbroken” fell completely flat and Iceland faced their worst result since Two-Tricky killed “Angel” in Copenhagen back in 2001. And since then, the nation has been stuck in some kind of rut regarding Eurovision. Maybe 2018 will be the year? *crosses fingers*

Most memorable lyrics:

“One step at a time, get out of the darkness and into the light forever”. Yeah, you sing it girl! This is the raw truth. One step at a time, and we WILL be in the finals once again!

What some of our other bloggers think

Patrick: Iceland does what it wants — and that’s one reason I love it at Eurovision. Who can forget 1997 when Paul Oscar appeared with his mystical song or 2010 when the beautiful Hera Björk pulled out a club banger…only to be tragically underrated. Iceland’s best song came from Yohanna — her beautiful voice and that amazing blue dress really deserved second place (and to some much more). Numbers like that help me forget Iceland’s darker years —  like 1996 and Anna Mjöll. But let’s not go there. Please.

Robin: Iceland are one of my favourite countries, whether they’re sending dramatic Nordic ballads, sweet love songs or entertaining punk for kids. The volcanic island nation may have one of the smallest populations in the competition, but it punches well above its weight, always qualifying for the final. Its specialty has become good songs with simple but effective staging, but yet despite Yohanna’s silver in 2009, Iceland tends to score around the middle of the rankings. While Pollapönk’s joyful 15th place was their best score in five years, it still feels like Iceland are stuck in a rut, in need of an extra push to break into the top 10 again.

Francesca: I have to give snaps to Silvia Night in 2006. Joke entries need to be done well and over-the-top, and Silvia accomplished this. Without the Sugar Plum Fairy theme, and perhaps with something different, the performance would be seen as less kitschy and more people could appreciate the genius of the song. This said, I have issues with 2008’s entry. The EDM influences are haphazard, the lyrics at times are nonsensical, and the staging was about as bleak as Latvia’s chances of qualifying in 2014. It’s a miracle that it qualified despite the plurality of much better songs in their semi-final.
William: One of my favourite moments in Eurovision history is when Yohanna sent an LED dolphin flying across the screen. The moving porpoise combined with the singer’s seriously out-of-style prom dress should have screamed tacky. Yet the power of her song transformed the overall package into one of the classiest acts ever. That’s magic, y’all.
That’s what we think. What do YOU think? Let us know in the comments box below!

Read more Iceland Eurovision news