Grapevine: What’s the deal with Eurovision?
Páll Óskar: It’s a TV show like no other. Some of the songs are really tacky or even disastrous, but when it comes to the voting, it’s always the same story. The Scandinavian countries trade votes, the Southern European countries tap each other on the back. Turkey always gets 12 points from Germany. No matter what! [laughs] But then, there are always one or two songs out of 30 that fight for the top position regardless of what nation they come from because it is either a fantastic song, beautifully written, or a clever song with a good arrangement, or the performer has done something totally spectacular.
Grapevine: But why is it so popular in Iceland?
Páll Óskar: Ask anyone in England and the average Englishman would probably shrug his shoulders. But [during Eurovision] the streets are empty in Reykjavík. Germany doesn’t give a shit, neither does France, but all the Eastern European countries, they take Eurovision really seriously. And those people are sending in real performers and they put their blood sweat and tears into it, which tells us that Eastern European pop stars are in exactly the same position as the Scandinavian pop stars were in 1974 when Abba was struggling.
Grapevine: Do you think this concept would work in Asia or the Americas or anywhere other than Europe?
Páll Óskar: I think America is getting their first taste of Eurovision heat through the Idol contest. But we’ve been doing this for 50 years.
Grapevine: Who’s going to win this year?
Páll Óskar: Well, I’m really optimistic about Selma [Iceland’s entry] because Eurovision has a history of performers that have taken part in Eurovision only to show up five or six years later to win ... and because she has to take part in the pre-selection. There’s a pre-selection on the Thursday and last year out of the final top ten were eight countries that took part in the pre-selection. If you hear the song twice you are in a very good position.
Grapevine: Who is the biggest threat to her winning?
Páll Óskar: I just spoke with [Selma] the other day and she believes the Greek girl is going to win. I’ve heard the Greek song and I must confess it’s a really good, cool, strong, pop song. But [Selma] is so determined. She’s like a jarðýta [bulldozer]. But she’s really careful of not getting her expectations too high. And Selma gets a chance to perform twice [including the pre-selection], but the Greek girl only gets a chance to perform once.
Grapevine: When you’re there, what’s the atmosphere like among the different competitors?
Páll Óskar: In ‘97 when I did Eurovision, these are probably the best seven consecutive days I’ve had in my life. And I’m not the only one who says this. ... Being there is like a whirlpool of languages and cultural differences, colourful competition.
Grapevine: What would you say is the best way for foreigners to enjoy Eurovision in Iceland?
Páll Óskar: If you know someone personally here in Iceland, try your best to sneak into someone’s home and be present in the comfort of their family. The bars are empty because Eurovision is clearly a family gathering here in Iceland. And then, after the contest, the clubs open up, and then you have to be there early. I’m hosting this party at NASA. I get all of the Icelandic Eurovision performers to get onstage and perform their songs.
Grapevine: And if you still just don’t get it?
Páll Óskar: Quote me. I think nothing is as boring as a Eurovision fan without a sense of humour. There’s nothing as horrible as a Eurovision fan who is taking the contest seriously.
Grapevine: Is this 1950s ideal of music bringing people from different cultures together still relevant today?
Páll Óskar: Yeah. And ironically, I don’t think you can compete in music. You can compete in sports at the Olympics games ... but music is always a subliminal experience. And that’s also the funny part about it, that’s why we must keep Eurovision firmly tongue in cheek. Of course music is the international language, it is. And that’s the beauty of it. And all those horrible costumes [laughs] and those hair do’s from hell, that’s also an international language!
Grapevine: What are your top 3 all time favourite Eurovision songs?
Páll Óskar: Probably the best Eurovision song ever written is All Kinds of Everything by Dana from Ireland (1970). A personal choice for me, is a song called Era from Italy 1975 sung by a married couple, Weiss and Dhori Ghezzi. The song came 2nd place. But Era is an amazing song, it’s so way ahead of its time. My favourite Icelandic entry has to be Gleðibankinn by Icy.
Grapevine: Did you think that Iceland was going to win in 1986 [their first year]?
Páll Óskar: We were convinced. Taking part in the contest was just [gestures like it was nothing]. We were so disappointed when we came in 16th place. ... And nobody expected anything until Sigga and Grétar came in 4th in 1990 and then Eurovision heat hit it big and it’s been hot as a pistol ever since.
Grapevine: Any other upcoming Eurovision events?
Páll Óskar: In June I’ve been invited to perform in a huge Eurovision gala show, because Oslo is hosting EuroPride this year, which is the biggest pride [event] of Europe and they decided to put on a huge Eurovision fiesta and they’re gathering all the great Eurovision stars of the last 50 years and from Iceland they want me and Selma. ... They called me up and I just told them, honey, I would just love to see this show even if I wasn’t performing.
He must be right. The instant we left the cafe after this interview, Páll Óskar was swarmed by a small mob of teenagers eager for autographs. Oh, and one older woman who said she thought he looked cute and coyly mentioned that she knew his grandfather.
Páll Óskar, singer, performer, and DJ competed for Iceland in Eurovision 1997. He is a huge fan of the competition and knows everything there is to know about this event. For the third year in a row, he will be hosting “Paul Oskar’s Eurovision Party” at NASA on Eurovison night, 21 May. All are welcome, but get there early!