Spring has sprung and the days are long. Grass is growing and flowers are blooming. But this is my favorite time of year for another reason: yes, dear readers, it’s Eurovision Song Contest season.
My first ever interview for a publication in Iceland was about Eurovision, in my opinion one of the best televised evenings of entertainment in Europe. I met with a former Iceland contestant and huge Eurovision fan, the enthusiastic Páll Óskar, who gleefully described the singing pageant as “like gay Christmas in springtime”.
While the continent-wide (plus Israel) musical extravaganza does have a loyal following amongst gay communities in most European nations, it has a broad appeal for all ages, especially in the tiny countries like Iceland whose national pride, for one nail-biting week, rests with one singer or band chosen to represent the country on one of the biggest television nights of the year.
Here in Reykjavík, excitement is already building for Eiríkur Hauksson and his entry “Valentine Lost.” Reporters have been dispatched to Helsinki, location of this year’s competition, to follow shaggy-haired aging rocker Eiríkur and his entourage as they go through sound checks and rehearsals leading up to the big evening.
Eiríkur, unsurprisingly, has kept a lower profile at the competition than Iceland’s entrant last year, the garish Silvia Night. Consequently, the media (well, the Icelandic media) are predicting that, yes, this might just be the year that this nation takes home the crown – or at least that the country might advance from the first round on Thursday to the grand final on Saturday, an achievement that has not happened in several years.
I’m not holding my breath.
We all know that the Eurovision Song Contest has very little to do with songs. Sure, contestants do have music and lyrics, usually forgettable, and every year someone sets a trend in the performance with drag queens, hard rock beasts, buxom women and fire, or dancing babushkas (or perhaps that was only Moldova a few years ago).
But it’s really all about voting for neighbors. The Balkans will have an extra advantage this year because Serbia and Montenegro are competing as separate nations for the first time. The traditional Nordic voting bloc will therefore weaken proportionally.
Still, the Finns pulled off their first victory last year – they had never even received a full 12-point score before – so there may be a chance for tiny Iceland. And Eiríkur is the nation’s sentimental choice; he was at Eurovision in 1986, Iceland’s first time, with the band Icy. The song? “Gledibankinn” (“Bank of Fun.” Seriously). Contrary to wildly quixotic predictions in advance of the competition, Icy finished 16th.
So after work today it’s off to Hagkaup to partake in their Eurovision “grill” specials (another Icelandic tradition); hot dogs, big slabs of marinated lamb, and Coke will be selling at reduced prices. All that’s left is to find out Saturday night which nation will host 2008’s festivities, and which one will finish with the dreaded national shame of “nul points”.
PS: I must mention the added drama that this year’s contest brings in Iceland. Eurovision 2007 is being held on the same night as the Parliamentary elections. The big dilemma is with national broadcaster RÚV and what they will choose to broadcast if, as often happens, voting in Helsinki takes longer than expected, and therefore cuts into constituency results from Hafnarfjördur, announced promptly as soon as polls close as 10 pm. The drama never stops.