Söngvakeppnin (Iceland) 2022 Reviews: Semi-Final 1

This is one of the first national finals I started following on a regular basis, probably due to its small number of songs. There’s an interesting rule at the contest which means that all entries have to sing their song in Icelandic in their semi-final, and if they qualify to the final, they can sing it in their preferred language (mostly English). This leads to interesting situations where artists have written their song in English, and then have to translate it back into Icelandic. Of the ten contestants this year, it appears only one wishes to sing in Icelandic should they be selected for Eurovision. I’ve added links to both versions where relevant. While I familarised myself with each version, my review will focus on the one they seem to want to take to Eurovision if they win, which is the English version for most of these entries. As of this writing I’m not sure of the running order for the night, so the artists are in alphabetical order.

Amarosis“Don’t You Know” (Icelandic version) / “Don’t You Know” (English version)
Strangely outdated pop song — I feel like I stepped several decades back in time by putting this on. Opening with a weird sound which I’m guessing was meant to mimic an “old recording” certainly set the tone. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with the technicals of this: the vocals are good (even if the lyrics are also outdated), and the string arrangement is nice. But I can’t get over that this is a sound I’d no longer expect to hear from a newly-released song.

Haffi Haff“Gía” / “Volcano”
What is this supposed to be? It’s like a mixture of hip-hop and minimalist EDM, with a musical scale I’d expect to hear from a Middle Eastern song (which might explain why there’s a recipe for hummus in the lyrics). I like the way Haff switches between Icelandic and English, and there are some genuinely funny moments (“here everything catches on fire!”). I’m hoping the staging is as quirky as the song, otherwise it’s going to look really weird. In the end, I suspect this will do really well, or else crash and uh, burn.

Sigga, Beta og Elín — “Með hækkandi sól”
This is the only entry which intends to stick to Icelandic all the way through the contest. One listen and you’ll understand why. The music mixes alt-country with echoes of new age (think Enya without synths). The vocals are gentle and enchanting — the decision to stick to Icelandic actually plays more to a foreign audience because the language sounds mysterious and other-worldly to us. The main downside that I can see is the song might be too dreamy for its own good — it’s easy to put it on and then let it drift away into the background.

Stefán Óli “Ljósið” / “All I Know”
There’s almost always going to be a power ballad in a national selection, and in this semi at least it’s Óli who has a go at the tried and tested formula. He does a fairly good job to be honest: the switch from his lower register to the higher notes (and back again) is smooth and satisfying. The instruments are the usual fare: piano, strings, gentle drums, and even though the song itself doesn’t do much for me, I appreciate that this is a well-produced package.

Stefanía Svavarsdóttir“Hjartað mitt” / “Heart of Mine”
Nevermind what I just said in my previous review, this is the real power ballad in this line-up. I thought we might be in for a piano ballad, but then the build started and I knew where it was headed. Having said that, the few lines in Icelandic during the drop to silence in the last minute was a surprise change of pace before Svavarsdóttir got to showcase her vocal skills in the final 30 seconds or so. There are bits and pieces of this song I like, but overall it eventually became too dramatic for me.