We’re looking at all the countries currently participating in the Eurovision Song Contest and picking ten reasons why we love them — for all the right (and sometimes wrong) reasons. Today we’re heading north to Europe’s most distant country – Iceland.
Iceland debuted at Eurovision in 1986 but they still haven’t won the competition. This makes them one of the most veteran countries in the contest without a victory — although they came so close, with two second-place finishes. Here are 10 reasons why we love Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest.
1. They are very persistent
Iceland is one of the most persistent countries to compete at Eurovision. Since they joined Eurovision in 1986, they have missed only two editions of the competition — in 1998 and in 2002 — and those were only due to relegation. Iceland is also the only Nordic nation that hasn’t won the contest yet and after Cyprus, they are the country with the longest period of participation without a victory. Let’s hope they won’t have to wait much longer before they finally take the trophy to Reykjavik!
2. A member of the Icelandic parliament performed at Eurovision
In 2014, the kid-friendly punk band Pollapönk went to Copenhagen with the upbeat rock song “No Prejudice”. As well as the four band members, the group had two backing vocalists. One of these was Óttarr Proppé, who at the time was a member of parliament. He took a break from being a politician and became the purple Polli. He was especially noted for delivering an enthusiastic “Hey!”
3. Twice as nice
During their 32 years of participation, Iceland has sent seven duos — that’s almost 25% of their entries. Iceland was particularly fond of sending pairs in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when four duos went to Eurovision, including Stjórnin with “Eitt lag enn“ (1990) and Heart 2 Heart with “Nei eða já” (1992). Most recently, Greta Salóme and Jónsi performed “Never Forget” in 2012.
4. They have their own legendary divas
Despite being such a small nation, Iceland has more than its fair share of divas. In fact, their best results were achieved by female singers. Selma almost brought Iceland its first victory, with “All Out of Luck” back in 1999, and Yohanna also finished second with “Is It True?”. The following year, Hera Björk delivered “Je ne sais quoi” which continues to be a Euroclub favourite to this day. And Greta Salóme was a huge fan favourite in 2016 with “Hear them Calling”.
5. They turned a sudden departure into a moving tribute
Sjónni Brink was a well-respected musician in Iceland but tragically died from a heart attack after he had submitted his song to the 2011 national final. Despite his sudden death, his friends paid tribute to him by forming the group Sjónni’s Friends and they won the national final with his song “Coming Home”. A song which originally had been written to symbolise life and happiness became a commemoration for its writer. The story behind it added a touching aspect that made the song even more special.
6. Their emotional ballads
Iceland has delivered many ballads to Eurovision — and it’s also one of their great strengths. One of the most famous was “Is It True?”, but there are other epic songs such as “Heaven” (2004) “Valentine Lost” (2007) “Ég á líf” (2013) and most recently in Lisbon “Our Choice”. Unfortunately, some of these great songs weren’t appreciated by the voting audience.
7. The huge gaps between their semi-final and grand final results
It’s a curious thing — in many years, when Iceland does well in the semi-final, this result does not repeat itself in the grand final. In 2010, Hera Bjork finished third in her semi-final but struggled in the final, and only reached 19th place. The same gap was seen in the case of Sjonni’s Friends in 2011 – fourth place in the semi-final and a sharp fall straight to the 20th position in the final.
8. Silvia Night’s extravagance
In 2006, Iceland sent the obnoxious and outrageous Silvia Night as their candidate. The song was called “Congratulations” and it was about the dream of comedy character Silvia Night (played by Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir) to win Eurovision. After earlier trash-talking Greece, an arena full of booing greeted her, and she did little to win over viewers when she sang “The vote is in, I’ll fricking win, too bad for all the others”. Unsurprisingly the song failed to qualify, but it remains one of Eurovision’s most extravagant moments.
9. They can work Icelandic lyrics
Since the language rule was lifted in 1999, Iceland has mostly sent songs in English. The one big exception was in 2014, when Iceland sent Eythor Ingi with “Ég á líf“, a ballad which was sung entirely in Icelandic. It made it to the grand final and reminded viewers of how powerful Icelandic lyrics can be. Many international fans of Iceland — who often complain when their favourite national final songs end up performed with English lyrics — would love to hear more Icelandic lyrics at Eurovision.
It would be a sin to finish this list without mentioning Yohanna. She represented Iceland in 2009 with her beautiful and breathtaking song “Is It True?”. The song finished first in its semi-final and second in the grand final with the most points ever given to Iceland in the history of the competition. It was no match for the juggernaut that was Rybak’s “Fairytale”, but the song has since entered the pantheon of beloved Eurovision entries thanks to Yohanna’s stunning performance on stage.
Bonus! Years that end with nine
There’s something magic about the number nine. Both Selma and Yohanna gave Iceland their best results, each with second-place finishes, in 1999 and 2009. Does this mean another silver medal is written in the stars for Iceland at Eurovision 2019? Perhaps, but in 1989, Daníel Ágúst‘s song “Það sem enginn sér” gave Iceland its first (and to date only) nil points result. If history is going to repeat next year, let’s hope it’s in a good way!
What are your favourite moments from Iceland at Eurovision? Tell us in the comments section below!