Over the summer, we are featuring a new series called Beyond Eurovision. Every week, we take a look at what happened to Eurovision stars in the years after (and sometimes before) their participation in the contest. This week we find out what Páll Óskar, who represented Iceland in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest with «Minn hinsti dans», has been up to.
Eurovision Song Contest
On the big night in Dublin, Páll Óskar was the final act on stage. A large part of the audience watching the show in homes across Europe probably choked on their coffee/wine/whatever they were drinking when his show started. His was the most daring performance seen on the Eurovision stage to date. Páll Óskar performed the song seated in a white leather sofa, wearing black latex pants, a white shirt and black jacket. He was surrounded by four young women, dressed in S&M-inspired latex outfits. The staging gave us the most overtly sexy and provocative performance seen at the contest yet.
Ahead of its time
Both the song and the performance are widely regarded as being way ahead of their time. Many believe that «Minn hinsti dans», and Páll Óskar’s performance, would have done a lot better than 20th place had it competed only a few years later. This kind of techno dance music had never been heard in Eurovision before, and it was still fairly new outside the contest as well. Also, it is believed that this entry would have benefitted greatly from televoting. Only two of the 18 points it received came from juries; the remaining 16 came from countries that took part in the televoting trials. Who knows what might have happened if «Minn hinsti dans» had competed in, say 2000, ’01 or ’02? Or even today?
Páll Óskar was already a household name in Iceland when he was internally selected by RÚV to represent the country at the contest in Dublin. He had released his debut album, Stuð (Party), in 1993, receiving quite a lot of attention. However, it was after releasing his second solo album, Palli (nickname for Páll in Iceland), he became a huge success. Palli was the bestselling album in Iceland in 1995, so, when RÚV decided to go inernal for the third consecutive year two years later, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that they selected Páll Óskar.
From his pre-Eurovision era I would like to shine the spotlight on three songs.
He released his next solo album, Deep Inside, in 1999. It was a huge surprise and quite a big disappointment when the album was not received too well by the fans. Some people ask whether it might have been because it was mainly in English? It’s impossible to tell, but it resulted in quite a long break from solo work for Páll Óskar.
Instead he worked with other artists, most notably harpist Monika Abendroth. Originally from Germany, she moved to Iceland in 1976, holding the position of harpist in the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra until her retirement in 2012. Páll Óskar and Monika have worked together for around 20 years, and they’ve released two albums, in 2001 and 2003. They play both summer and Christmas concerts together, which are a delight. If you ever have the chance to go to one of their concerts, do it.
During my three years living in Iceland I probably went to ten of their concerts, and it’s one of the things I really miss now that I no longer live on my rock. Of all the beautiful songs they have recorded together, I want to share two with you. One is possibly my favorite of all Páll Óskar’s songs, called “Ó, hvílíkt frelsi” (O, what freedom). In this song his beautiful baritone is really allowed to shine. I have gotten into a habit of always listening to this song on flights, more specifically during landing. At this point I have to admit it might have turned into a bit of superstition…
The other is a cover of Chris de Burgh’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling”. I couldn’t find a live recording of it, so this will have to do. Absolutely gorgeous, and even better live.
Allt fyrir ástina
In 2007 he was finally back with his next solo album, Alt fyrir ástina (All for love), which became his second record selling album. The title track is heavily rumoured to have been submitted to Söngvakeppnin 2007, without even making it through the initial selection stage. If this is true, I suppose RÚV might be more than a little sorry, as the song became a massive hit. Hardly a night goes by in clubs in Iceland without this being played at least a couple of times. What do you think; would this have qualified from the “semi from hell” in Helsinki?
There are so many great songs on Allt fyrir ástina, I don’t know which ones to leave out! So instead I’ll just include my favorite; “Þú komst við hjartað í mér (You Touched My Heart)”. Originally, Páll Óskar didn’t really have too much faith in this song, and selected another song as the second single from the album. Hjaltalín, another of my favorite Icelandic artists, saw great potential in the song, and their version of it became a monster hit in Iceland. They also released it in 2007, just like Páll Óskar. Both versions are brilliant, even though they are quite different!
The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and new music
In 2011 he released an album working with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. It contains 21 songs, all of them brilliant, including (of course) “Minn hinsti dans”, “Allt fyrir ástina” and “Ég er eins og ég er (more about that later)”. Below you can watch his performance of “Gordjöss (Gorgeous)” in Harpa earlier this year.
Páll Óskar hasn’t released a new album after Allt fyrir ástina, 13 years ago. However, this does not mean that he hasn’t made any new music since then. It just means he’s decided not to release physical albums any longer. All his new songs can be streamed and downloaded on all the regular platforms. Of his newer releases my favorite is “Liður aðeins betur”, a song about friendship and having someone in your life who will always make you feel better. One of the reasons why I like this song so much is because I am blessed enough to have a person just like that in my life.
I also have to mention “Littu upp í ljós (Look up into the light)”. No night out dancing in Iceland is complete without this song, and it’s a sure floor filler. At least I know that I for one can’t listen to it without wanting to dance. #idareyou
Rocky Horror Show
Páll Óskar shot to fame back in 1991, when he played the part of Frank-N-Furter in his school‘s production of Rocky Horror Show. In 2018 he repeated the role, this time in Borgarleikhúsið (the Reykjavík City Theater). This production turned out to be one of the most popular musical theater productions in Iceland.
This musical is far from the only occasion where Páll Óskar has performed in drag. He sees drag as an immensely important tool in the work for equality for the LGBTQIA+ community, Even back in the days, when most gay people were invisible in society, the drag queens wanted to be seen, they demanded attention. This showed gays that they weren’t alone and that they too deserved to be seen and have their place in society.
Iceland has always been known as a pretty open and liberal society, something that became very obvious in 1991. As a musical interval act during the Election Night Special on RÚV, Páll Óskar and his friends Maríus and Glóbó performed in drag. This was the first time the Icelandic TV audience was presented with a drag show. I’m convinced this performance, shown to the whole country in the middle of the election results, has played an important part in making Iceland the open-minded country we see today.
The Icelandic Museum of Rock’n’Roll
Anyone who’s interested in learning more about Icelandic artists like Björk, Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men and KALEO and their music can do so at the Icelandic Museum of Rock’n’Roll. However, when the museum opened its first exhibition in 2015, they decided to feature Páll Óskar instead of one of the country’s international superstars. This says a lot about his position on the Icelandic music scene, and in the hearts of the Icelandic people; he is a national treasure. The title of the exhibition was «The Private Collection of a Pop Star». The exhibition featured memorabilia from Páll Óskar’s life and career, spanning from diaries and childhood drawings to more than 40 tailor made stage costumes from 1991 to the present. Visitors were also given the opportunity to mix his songs on a mixing board or sing along to them in a karaoke booth.
Gay rights advocate
Páll Óskar came out as gay to his family when he was 17. In 1990, at just 20 years old and at the very beginning of his career, he came out to the public. He did this in his first big newspaper interview. At this time he had already started his work as a gay rights activist with the youth section of Samtökin 78, the Icelandic LGBTQIA+ organisation.
A gay role model
Later he has said that coming out before he started making music was a conscious decision. The reason for this was that many of the artists he looked up to, like Boy George, Elton John, George Michael and Freddy Mercury, stayed in their closets for a substantial part of their careers. And even though they probably had good reasons for their decision, he just couldn’t do the same. It was important to show this part of himself, both because he needed to be who he was, but also to give people who might need it a gay role model. This was something he himself didn’t have in his early teens, when he could have needed it.
In an interview with RÚV he said that, despite having made music that will probably and hopefully live on after he’s gone, what he’s the most proud of is his work for gay rights in Iceland, and the impact his contributions have made will always be most important to him.
Ég er eins og ég er
Ever since the early days of his career he has used his position in the public eye as a platform to fight for gay rights and acceptance in Iceland. Having a gay pop star, who is loved by all generations, has been of a huge advantage to Iceland, as it has been instrumental in creating the atmosphere of acceptance and equality that exists in the country. A fairly recent example of this, that actually (and well deservedly) went viral a few years ago, is this clip from the children’s TV show Stundin okkar (Our hour). Explaining being gay to kids isn’t complicated, unless grownups make it complicated.
The fight for his own (and everybody else’s) right to be who he is has always been at the core of everything he does. One of my very favorites of his songs is “Ég er eins og ég er”, his version of “I am who I am” from the musical “La Cage aux Folles”.
Páll Óskar has been a big part of Reykjavík Pride since…well, forever! He always participates in the parade with the most amazing floats. We have published articles about this before too, like this one, from 2015. And if you want to see pictures from when he sailed through the streets of Reykjavík in a pink viking ship; look no further!
Like most Icelanders Páll Óskar is a huge Eurovision fan. He throws his own massive Eurovision parties, which are actually more like a mix of a concert and Euroclub. He’s also done covers of various Eurovision songs, like this one, with Jóhanna Guðrún.
In 2010 he was part of the opening act of Söngvakeppnin alongside Selma, Regína Ósk and Fríðrik Ómar. They performed a medley of Eurovision classics.
However this isn’t the only time he’s been involved in Söngvakeppnin. He has taken part as opening act, interval act and host. And he’s been the spokesperson for Iceland, giving their votes at Eurovision. Another thing that some of you might not know is that he wrote the English lyrics to “This is My Life”, the Icelandic entry in Belgrade in 2008.
Traditionally, RÚV has produced a series of preview shows, where a panel of Eurovision experts review all the participating songs. Over the years Páll Óskar has filled the role of both host and expert in this program, called Alla leið (All the way). In the picture below you can see a setup I must admit I would love seeing for real; Reynir Eggertsson (proper Eurovision expert), Felix Bergsson (host and Iceland’s Head of Delegation), me (yay!) and Páll Óskar. The perfect Eurovision opinion panel methinks.
Vinnum þetta fyrirfram
2016 marked the 30th anniversary for Iceland’s participation at Eurovision. As a celebration Páll Óskar wrote and released a “birthday song”; “Vinnum þetta fyrirfram”. The lyrics are amazingly sweet and funny, making fun, though in a very loving way, of the Icelandic people’s conviction that Iceland will win Eurovision. This is something that happens every year in mid to late April.
I would probably end up writing a book if I included all the things I think belong in an article like this, so I guess I’d better stop. I can’t help including a few “little tidbits” at the end, though.
“Sir” Páll Óskar
Well, perhaps not exactly. However, in January 2019 the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson (who, btw, is a hero!), awarded Páll Óskar the Order of the Falcon. He was awarded the order because of his work in music (duh!) and for his never ending efforts for greater equality in Icelandic society (double duh!)
Back in 2007, when he released “Allt fyrir ástina”, Páll Óskar got some unexpected, international attention. Perez Hilton saw the video, and wrote about it. This resulted in loads of views from outside Iceland. The video has more than 600 000 views on Youtube, which is almost double the number of people in Iceland.
Earlier this year Páll Óskar turned 50, something he wanted to celebrate with three concert. Due to Covid-19 the concerts had to be postponed, which means you can still go to Iceland to celebrate with him! The birthday concerts are now scheduled for 10, 11 and 12 September 2020.
I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next! Hopefully loads more new music! And I (along with all the children of the Euroverse!) still hope for a return to the Eurovision stage!
Oh, and if you do ever go to Iceland; check if there’s a “Pallaball” on while you’re there. If there is; GO!!
I hope you’ll all have a listen to some of Páll Óskar’s music! Make sure to follow him on Instagram @palloskar, Facebook @palloskarhjalmtysson, Youtube @thisispauloscar and also check out his Spotify; Páll Óskar. And don’t forget to come back next Tuesday for a look at what another Eurovision star has been up to (other than Eurovision)!
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