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May 5, 2023

Eurovision and Iceland - It's kind of a big deal

Eurovision week is around the corner and for tiny Eurovision-nation Iceland, this is a week of celebratory fun. If you’re not familiar with Eurovision, we can only assume you’re not from Europe or do not watch television or speak to people in general. Don’t worry, we’ll get you caught up.

What is Eurovision?

The Eurovision Song Contest is, as the name suggests, a European-wide contest for the best song. The competition is held by the European Broadcasting Union and has taken place since 1956. Over the years it has become an important part of European culture. It has launched the careers of many famous artists, including ABBA and Celine Dion, and it has given us some truly iconic moments, such as the "Riverdance" performance in 1994. It's a massive event that brings together countries from all over the continent to compete in a friendly and entertaining musical showdown.

The rules are simple: each country sends a singer or group to perform an original song, and then everyone votes for their favorites. The country with the most votes wins, and gets to host the event the following year.

But that’s only half the story. Eurovision is much more than just a song-writing competition. It's a celebration of cultural diversity and unity, where people from different backgrounds and nations come together to enjoy music and have a good time. You'll see performances that range from the heartfelt to the wacky, from ballads to rock songs, and everything in between.

In recent years, Eurovision has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with millions of viewers tuning in from around the world to watch the extravaganza. It's also known for its over-the-top production values, elaborate stage designs, and outrageous costumes, making it a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.

How does Eurovision work?

The basics

Eurovision is an annual song contest that brings together countries from all over Europe (and beyond, but we’ll get to that later) to compete in a musical showdown. Each country sends a singer or group to perform an original song, and then everyone votes for their favorites. The country with the most votes wins, and gets to host the event the following year.

The competition is split into two semi-finals and a grand final. The semi-finals are held earlier in the Eurovision week (typically a Tuesday and a Thursday), and the top performers from each semi-final go on to compete in the grand final, held on the Saturday. The participants all compete in one of the two semi-finals, except for the host country and Eurovision's biggest financial contributors: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

In the final, each country performs their song once again, and then viewers from all over Europe (and beyond) vote for their favorites.


The scoring

The scoring system is what makes Eurovision so unique. Each country has a panel of judges that awards points to their favorite songs. The points range from 1 to 12, and the top ten songs receive points. The country with the most points at the end of the contest wins.

But that's not all. Viewers at home also get to vote for their favorite songs. Anyone can vote, for as often as they like, and the votes are combined with the jury votes to determine the final score. The viewer votes are added up and awarded to each country based on the percentage of votes received.


The performance

The performance is a big part of Eurovision, and each country tries to outdo the others with elaborate stage designs, choreography, and costumes. Some performances are simple and heartfelt, while others are over-the-top and flamboyant. It's all part of the fun!

When is Eurovision?

In 2023, the Eurovision Song Contest will be held in the week of May 8 – 14. The two preliminary events (semi-finals) take place on Tuesday May 9 and Thursday May 11 with the final and main event taking place on Saturday May 13.

Where is Eurovision being held (and why)?

In 2023, the Eurovision host nation is England and the competition is held in Liverpool. Normally, the previous year’s winner hosts the competition. But this year is an exception. In 2022, Ukraine won Eurovision and with the situation in Ukraine, it was decided that the UK would host in their stead. PLAY flies eager Eurovision fans directly from Iceland to Liverpool.

Which countries participate in Eurovision?

Great question because it's not as obvious as you might think. The original lineup in 1956 was a total of 7 countries. In 2023, 37 countries will compete. The official number of countries in Europe is 45 or 50 if you include Turkey, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Cyprus and Kazakhstan. But the ultimate criteria to compete is that the country is a member of the European Broadcasting Union. Which explains entries from countries that can hardly be considered European. These include Israel, Morocco and Australia. Other countries are missing from this year's lineup for financial reasons and some for political reasons but the complete list of competing countries in Eurovision 2023 is:

Albania - Australia - Armenia - Austria - Azerbaijan - Belgium - Croatia - Cyprus - Czech Republic -Denmark - Estonia - Finland - France - Georgia - Germany - Greece - Iceland - Ireland - Israel - Italy - Latvia - Lithuania - Malta - Moldova - Netherlands - Norway - Poland - Portugal - Romania - San Marino - Serbia - Slovenia - Spain - Sweden - Switzerland - Ukraine - United Kingdom

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How to best enjoy Eurovision

To join in the fun, figure out where you can catch the live broadcast, and host a Eurovision party with your friends, complete with snacks, drinks, and scorecards. Make sure friends are prepared, having listened to the songs and picked their favorite beforehand. It will make for a much more sporty event when voting ensues and playful banter takes over. Most involve a drinking game, others a bet of some sort but either way, you're guaranteed to have a good time and discover some new favorite artists along the way.

What does Will Ferrell have to do with Eurovision?

Actor and comedian Will Ferrell starred in and co-wrote the Netflix movie "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga." The film is a comedy that follows the journey of two Icelandic musicians who dream of representing their country in the Eurovision Song Contest. Will Ferrell played the lead role of Lars Erickssong, while Rachel McAdams played the role of Sigrit Ericksdottir. The movie was released in 2020 and has since become a fan favorite among Eurovision fans and Will Ferrell fans alike. While the movie is a work of fiction, it does capture the spirit of Eurovision and is a fun and lighthearted introduction to the contest for those who are unfamiliar with it. Their contribution to the contest is an excellent example of a great Eurovision song, the scenes from Iceland are typically gorgeous but the depiction of Icelanders is perhaps a little exaggerated. We’ll let it slide because it’s a great movie.


How do Icelanders feel about Eurovision?

Here´s a little-known fact: Icelandic wrestling or grappling (“Glíma” in Icelandic) is the official national sport of Iceland. But in modern-day Iceland, it’s probably actually Eurovision. This annual song contest is an immensely popular event. TV ratings in Iceland go through the roof when the Eurovision Song Contest is aired and very few people can be seen out and about when Iceland is competing. Even the few souls that aren’t into this spectacle at all can’t help but tune in and get in the mood for the big event. It is a not-to-be-missed moment and it might have something to do with the fact that you don’t want to have been the only one to miss it, when Iceland finally wins Eurovision.

Has Iceland won Eurovision?

Iceland has participated in Eurovision since 1986 and every single year since, Icelanders are convinced they’ll win this time. Or as they would say in terms of the World Cub in football in the UK: It’s been “37 years of hurt.” Iceland has never won Eurovision. But it’s not just wishful thinking or delusions of grandeur that keep us thinking this year will be the year.

Iceland’s has achieved second place twice, once in 1999 when singer Selma performed “All out of Luck” and in 2009 when Yohanna performed “Is it true?”. But perhaps the closest Iceland ever came to actually winning the Eurovision Song Contest was in 2021 when Daði & Gagnamagnið were a fan favorite to win with their catchy TikTok hit “10 years”. Why didn’t they win? Oh, just because of this global pandemic that ruined all fun for 2 years and caused the Eurovision Song Contest to be cancelled that year. Daði reentered with a new song in 2022 which was equally catchy but the band came down with COVID-19, causing them not to be able to perform on stage during the final event and although not disqualified, Iceland ended up in 4th place. We’ll get over it. Eventually.

In 2023, Iceland’s submission is a little song called Power, performed by a wonderful singer called DiljáLink opens in a new tab. We are of course convinced she’ll win the coveted title this year.


Iceland’s statistics and history in Eurovision

Iceland has participated in the Eurovision Song contest 34 times since its debut in 1986, missing only two contests since then, in 1998 and 2022. All in all, Iceland has been in the top ten a total of 7 times:

1990 – Stjórnin performing “Eitt lag Enn” – 4th place

1992 – Heart 2 Heart performing “Nei eða Já” - 7th place

1999 – Selma performing “All out of Luck” – 2nd place

2003 – Birgitta performing “Open your heart” – 8th place

2009 - Yohanna performing “Is it true?”

2019 – Hatari performing “Hatrið mun sigra” -10th place

2021 - Daði & Gagnamagnið performing “10 years” – 4th place


Since the introduction of the semi-final round in 2004, Iceland has failed to qualify for the final seven times, including four years consecutively (2015–18). As of 2022, Iceland is the only Nordic country that has never won Eurovision.

To be fair, those that hold the keys to Iceland’s treasury might be quite happy with the results so far because the nation that wins each year gets to host the competition the following year, which would put a huge dent in Iceland’s finances. Despite possibly having a slight case of national megalomania, sometimes we do need to be reminded that we are in fact a total of only 380,000 people. Would we like to indebt ourselves indefinitely anyway for this amazing title? Well yeah!


Regardless of your taste in music, fashion or political opinions, Eurovision is a unique and highly entertaining event that's worth checking out. It's a celebration of diversity, unity, and creativity, and a chance to experience a bit of European culture from the comfort of your own home. So, grab some snacks, tune in, pick your favorite performance and let the music begin!

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