After watching a few seconds of his performance, Alexander Rybak might dredge up some memories for you – you’ve seen this energetic elf theatrically playing the fiddle somewhere before, right?
Yes, yes you have. It was at the 2009 Eurovision song contest, when Rybak entered with a magical dervish called Fairytale. And when I say magical, I am not referring to the transcendent quality of the song, but the way that it contains multiple things that are usually awful (aggressive wind chimes, a nameless female antagonist, ‘dadada’ background vocals). Its power is such that whenever I hear the song, I get a huge rush of endorphins and immediately start singing along. It’s an iconic Eurovision winner.
Rybak went on to a career as Eurovision royalty, spending national final season jetting from country to country playing his song, never once letting his boyish demeanor or ‘aw shucks!’ charm drop. And this continued for a good long time. For some reason, subsequent winners (mostly women) just didn’t hit the promo circuit the same way Rybak did. (That’s a subject for another post, by the way – if everyone loves Euphoria so much, how come Loreen’s not making a killing on this circuit?) And everybody knows Fairytale. I’ve been in multiple places where I don’t speak the language and Fairytale comes on over the speakers and all of a sudden, the place is LIT with an entire audience singing along.
But in 2015, a good-looking muscular Swede named Mans Zelmerlöw won the contest with the uplifting anthem Heroes. Its ‘Heroh-eh-ohs Oh-woahs’ chorus was embraced by audiences across the continent – and Zelmerlöw turned out to be funny, as well. His 2016 co-hosting gig was largely considered to be one of the best at Eurovision, and – best of all – he had follow up hits that captured all of the things that people loved about Heroes. (Exhibit A: The song Glorious from 2016)
Now, I believe that the Eurovision universe is big enough to carve up between the sexy and self-deprecating Zelmerlöw and the charming and unthreatening Rybak. I’ve seen a shirtless Zelmerlöw multiple times, while Rybak’s most recent video (a thank you to his fans) has him singing to a stuffed monkey. Zelmerlöw is the ironic Eurovision that simultaneously celebrates the schlager as it sends it up, while Rybak is the Eurovision of family dinners and childhood memories and shared experiences.
So Rybak must have been feeling the heat as the designated face of Eurovision, and decided, nearly ten years after he won the contest, to make a stab at winning it again. (Note – this is a fairly difficult thing to do, as the only person to win Eurovision twice is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who won it in 1980 and 1987, and then also wrote the song for the contest in 1992).
This year, Rybak entered the Norweigian Melodi Gran Prix competition with “That’s How You Write a Song”, a song which contains advice so laughably bad that one has to wonder if Rybak is trying to stifle future generations of Eurovision competitors. To quote:
Step 1: Believe in it, and sing it all day long.
Step 2: Just roll with it, and that’s how you write a song.
Despite a funky baseline, the song is an exercise in dialing it in. Half of it is Rybak scat singing. It’s almost as if the lyrics were “That’s How You Write A Song (In 3 Minutes or Less).” And yet, the Rybak charm almost sells it – the boyish grin, the show violin playing, even some Zelmerlöw-esque visual effects.
Did it matter to Norweigians? No. At the national finals, Rybak won handily against all other contenders, defeating Rebecca, a cherubic invoice receiving clerk, in the Super-super-final (a convention dreamed up to create drama where there was none.) I was in the arena as a spectator. There were loud chants of “REE-BAK! REE-BAK! REE-BAK!” And I, there to root on some of his competitors, died a little inside. (RIP to Scandilove, the best song of 2018).
But since Rybak ran away with Norway’s Melodi Gran Prix, he’s been absent from the competition. Aside from a lovefest of an interview with Sweden’s entry, Benjamin Ingrosso, he’s gone quiet. No preparties. No leaked footage. No discussion of who’s designing his outfit – all the news that fuels discussion of the favorites. It’s not like the Eurovision crowd wouldn’t welcome Rybak with raptuous cheers – we’ve been doing so since 2009. But it appears he’s made a decision to do nothing to promote this entry.
His absence is causing its own sort of buzz among the fandom, as to whether Rybak really wants to win, or whether he just needed the career boost from a national final entry. I don’t think he’s cocky enough to think that his record win is enough to bring him instant recognition from the casual Eurovision viewer. We’ll probably only figure out Rybak’s endgame once he shows up in Lisbon.
UPDATE: Writing this from Lisbon, Rybak’s endgame doesn’t seem to matter. I bow down to his charisma – even as he’s battling the flu, his performance is still cheery and adorable and absolutely precise. He is the consumate professional. And despite the lackluster nature of his song, he’s still riding high in the odds. Rybak has a real chance to win this thing. I just wish he’d do it with another song that’s worthy of his talent.
TWITTER JOKES YOU SHOULDN’T BOTHER MAKING BECAUSE THEY’VE ALREADY BEEN DONE BETTER BY THE EUROFANDOM: THAT’s how you write a song?
SHOULD YOU TAKE A PEE BREAK DURING HIS PERFORMANCE: Nope! Your pee break will come up in exactly three minutes when Romania steps up.