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Eurovision 2010: Iceland

May 6, 2010

Iceland may well have unleashed a secret weapon for the Eurovision crown this year.

Hera Bjork sings Je Ne Sais Quoi, a number she co-penned with composer Örlygur Smári.

Smari has got form at Eurovision – albeit not spectacular form – having composed 2008’s club track for Iceland This is My Life and the Beatlesque sounds-like-I-Wanna-Hold-Your-Hand Tell Me in 2000. Both ended up mid-table.

Aside from a couple of turkeys (Syvia Night really was in hindsight a bit of an Brittany Spears-esque aberration and their rock-power ballad from 2007 just plain nauseating), Iceland does on the whole have a reputation for sending decent compositions to Eurovision.

The high-standard was established in 2003 when Brigitta opened the contest with the undeniably refreshing Open Your Heart. A year later Icelander Jonsi – hampered by an unfortunate technical setup affecting the overall balance of his voice against the backing track – sang Heaven in 2004 – another song big on melody.

The following year Iceland sought votes for a competent if slightly disappointing stage act of one of their great up-tempo numbers If I Had Your Love. But it was last year’s mid-tempo ballad Is It True sung by Johanna which resulted in Iceland’s best placing in the results table to date – second to runaway winner Norwegian Alexander Rybak.

So there’s high expectations for Hera Bjork and Örlygur Smári. It’s got melody – you’ll be able to whistle the chorus after you’ve heard it once and you won’t feel dirty when you do so. It’s got melancholy. It’s got a modulation. And it’s got a top note at the end. Not only that, it’s by far the best up-tempo number they’ve submitted.

But in a contest with so many other good songs, it may well turn out to be remembered for being the song which should have won but didn’t. Disappointing, perhaps but not a disaster. It’s shelf-life will be far longer than the competition, something both Bjork and Örlygur Smári will benefit from financially.

Iceland’s biggest risk however will be the stage act in Oslo.

For most viewers, the live performance will be the first they’ve seen it and they’ll vote on that basis alone. Bjork’s studio performance during the national selection programme shows there’s not much which can be done which in turn places the pressure on Bjork to occupy the stage in a convincing manner.

Avoiding anything cringeworthy will be paramount. It might even be the case that a largely static performance will be key, along with meticulous attention to a suitably flattering outfit – the national performance looked good enough. Dancers will no doubt run the risk of upstaging Bjork. And she’ll definitely need to find something to do with that middle eight section.

If the stage act isn’t right, then viewers will dismiss the song as nothing but a tired sounding club act in the first three or four seconds. And that could be damaging come the final vote.

Over and above all of that, there’s one thing I’ll be looking out for. If the backing singers can sing a live vocal in close harmony as brilliantly as they do in the national programme, I’ll happily vote for Iceland no question.

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