Stockholm 2016

Xtra Review: Iceland’s first semi-final

Another country kicking off its national selection this weekend is Iceland, whose Söngvakeppnin starts on Saturday. The pressure is on after María Ólafs became the first Icelandic act in 8 years to crash out in the semi-finals.
There are 12 artists ready to accept the challenge of getting Iceland back to Saturday night and hopefully more, and they will compete in two semi-finals featuring six songs each. All the songs are in Icelandic at this stage, but as has been the case in recent years, in the final the songs should be performed in the language in which they would be sung at Eurovision. You can listen to all of the competing songs here, and here is Peter to give his thoughts on the first six songs on offer…
EVA – Ég sé þig
Now for something completely different. This is a very chilled acoustic folky number sung by two female voices which, when singing solo are very contrasting but complement each other beautifully when harmonising together. It’s very simple, and I’m unsure about how it can sustain interest in a live televised setting, but it is a very pleasant song to listen to.
Ingólfur Þórarinsson – Fátækur námsmaður
We start off with a proper rock number. No attempt here to be the slightest bit modern or credible, it’s just straightforward uptempo rock you can jump and dance around to. No problems there though – I doubt it will be something I’ll listen to much, but at least it’s fun, and if previous Icelandic selections are anything to go by, I’d wager that is a quality that will be somewhat lacking in the rest of the field. I like the harmonies in the chorus, I approve of the key-change, and the subject matter (being a broke student) is something relatable for many at least!
Erna Hrönn Ólafsdóttir & Hjörtur Traustason – Hugur minn er
Well this is just lovely. I am a sucker for a male/female duet so this was always going to start off on a good footing with me, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s an emotional ballad that sounds like something from a movie or television soundtrack and it gradually builds as it should, but never goes overboard. It always keeps the delicate tone that it started off with. I hope that this will progress as I’ve already heard the English version and the lyrics are very sweet.

Sigga Eyrún – Kreisí
Right I’ve heard people going crazy about this one already, so I was interested to hear what all the fuss was about. It’s very different, and the production is very brave, centred around a track made from what sounds like a 90s Game Boy. It’s very cool, I can see it getting the hipster vote just based on that. The song itself is haunting in a way, but with a very well put together pop melody. This really stands out, and it could do so in Eurovision too, but it would need an imaginative performance to make the most of it.
Karlotta Sigurðardóttir – Óstöðvandi
This one starts out like what I would describe as “Adele-pop” which really has become a bit of a genre of its own nowadays. Very percussive verses and assured, almost bluesy vocals, but the chorus is much more pop and Eurovision. It’s not the most outstanding song in the world but it’s very accessible with broad appeal, so it should get a lot of votes just based on that. I like the final chorus kicking it up a gear.
Greta Salóme – Raddirnar
Finally we have one that people will be watching closely due to Greta’s fairly recent brush with Eurovision itself. This is country folk again, but much bigger and more lively than EVA’s song. Musically it puts me in mind of a Nordic Mumford and Sons (so Of Monsters and Men then), and the trumpet hook after the chorus is very infectious. It’s certainly bit, and catchy, but for some reason it’s still missing something for me. It doesn’t have much of an “atmosphere” to it perhaps. It’s just a radio song.

Who are the qualifiers?
If I could choose three songs to go straight to the final I think I would go for Hugur minn er, Kreisí and Raddirnar, in that order of preference. However I do have a feeling that Óstöðvandi will make it as well so one of the three will have to make way.
I think Greta should be safe, even though I’m much less sure about her chances of going all the way, and Kreisí should get through as well even though it could be one of those quirky fan favourites that doesn’t translate well to the general voter.
Whatever happens, this first half dozen songs is very promising and they all have some qualities going for them. Iceland already have a couple of viable options for Eurovision and there’s a whole other semi-final which we’ll review next week.

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