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Iceland: Svala – Paper

Fresh from another bruising non-qualification, Iceland will be hoping Svala can lead them back into the final after a two year absence. Svala will perform Paper in the second half of semi-final 2. Iceland have been showing some ambition over the last 2 years, upping the presentation scale of their annual Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, or in English, the imaginatively named "Television Song Contest", only slightly easier to say than Eyjafjallajökull. To me, this signals hunger for a win. Greta Salomè's ambitious performance last year was a surprise non-qualifer to some. I personally was very back and forth on it. Overall though,…
Song Appeal
Vocal Strength
Staging Potential
Likely Televote Appeal
Likely Jury Appeal
Cohesiveness of Package

Cutting

The song's got the hooks, relevance and familiarity to find itself on the left hand side if they can tighten up the presentation.

User Rating: 3.67 ( 45 votes)

Fresh from another bruising non-qualification, Iceland will be hoping Svala can lead them back into the final after a two year absence.

Svala will perform Paper in the second half of semi-final 2.

Iceland have been showing some ambition over the last 2 years, upping the presentation scale of their annual Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins, or in English, the imaginatively named “Television Song Contest”, only slightly easier to say than Eyjafjallajökull. To me, this signals hunger for a win.

Greta Salomè’s ambitious performance last year was a surprise non-qualifer to some. I personally was very back and forth on it. Overall though, Greta’s effort was perhaps just too complex and arty-farty and not accessible enough. Their selection for 2017, Svala, addresses this issue with a simpler, cool, Bjork-esque modern pop package that Iceland can easily be identified by.

When I first heard it, it reminded me a bit of Jessie Ware’s song Wildest Moments, as I imagined it might end up on that production level, but then I had to consider why on Earth the Icelandic broadcaster decided to push their contest back to the bitter end of the NF season. Normally they’ve decided before the Melodifestivalen circus is done swanning around the country, (and you can pick whichever of these definitions suits Melfest the most in your mind,) giving the Icelandic entrant time to produce a decent revamp of their track. The Icelandic broadcaster RUV have some explaining to do here, as Svala has no such luxury this year, so what we hear now probably is the final version, and that’s the first let-down.

My initial critique of Paper, assuming there was some hope of a revamp down the line, is that it was kind of cold, clunky and stuck in 3rd gear. The intro sounds a bit like it was based on someone just grabbing a wooden spoon and hitting whatever they can find in their kitchen. It didn’t feel like much thought had gone into it. However, there’s still a good traditional structure and a beautiful melody in the song with a decent hooky chorus, imaginative lyrics, and a bit of rap in the second verse that will only cause it to suffer on the scoreboard if every juror is a 70 year old wine swirling, monocle-wearing toff in a tweed jacket. It’s no more aggressive or out of place than anything by Jessie J. It’s just a shame that there’s no time to develop this song a bit more, because it’s crying out for better production.

Moving on to the weakest link of this entry, the overall package. Let’s get one thing straight. Svala is 40, but she looks 32 tops. There’s something in the water up in Iceland. I first thought this song might be staged similarly to Sanna Nielsen’s “Undo” but I think there are both positives and negatives in what we’ve actually seen. The body popping with angled spotlights at the start of her performance is something I’d like to see stay for the Kyiv performance. It’s an attention-grabber. The use of lasers suit the song too. The choice of clothes could be better, because she looks a bit like Wham-era George Michael, rest his soul, or Ellen DeGeneres, dad dancing around seemingly random, messy arrangements of lights, lasers and LED backdrops. The overall sense of movement and owning the stage is good, but a lot more thought needs to go into this.

Still, there’s a non-threatening coolness about Svala that I don’t think is something to worry about. She’s a bit like P!nk meets Jessie J. We’ve had a handful of examples where the presented personality isn’t all sweet and innocent, of either gender, and they’ve gotten away with it on the scoreboard. Georgia’s Nina Sublatti and Belarus’s Teo come to mind, so it’s important to recognise that it’s relative to the song and other features of the package. Svala has a solid live vocal and great stage presence – she’s not a coach on The Voice of Iceland for no reason, and being a fashion conscious working woman with a background in rock music while having spent a lot of time out in LA, one can imagine she knows the general standard of quality that the bigger economies of the world expect of their entertainment, so I expect a high standard of final product.

Despite how demo-y and rough around the edges the song is, I think Iceland will find themselves back in the final this year. The song’s got the hooks, relevance and familiarity to find itself on the left hand side if they can tighten up the presentation, and if by some miracle there is even a minor revamp of the song that can polish it up and swell the chorus more, top 10 is within reach. As it is though, the lower-mid positions of the final are calling. Let’s just hope Svala hears them in time to act.

Will Svala’s icy charm warm Europe’s hearts?

About Ben Gray

I'm a YouTube Travel Blogger. I also write, produce and present the comedy video series Eurovision Wipe. (click the House icon!) A Eurovision fan since 2005, I figured I'd try and make my knowledge of the contest, and the time it takes out of my year pay me, by getting involved in the betting side of things. I'm a lifelong Sonic the Hedgehog fan, an ardent music lover, and I consider Japan kind of a second home, having visited six times. I'm also in love with Iceland.

20 comments

  1. This is a dated dance track, I think Iceland will be sitting out of the final again sadly.

  2. Catriona colville

    The most important thing is to work on the staging, but I’m not too worried about that at this stage. It’s a fantastic song and her vocals we know will be rock solid. I’m going to be careful waxing too lyrical about Iceland after Greta last year, but I expect this to at least qualify.

  3. I had been backing Iceland from the min I heard svala’s song .vocally superb with a modern song. I was very disappointed when I saw the staging concept and layed off some of it. For me it’s a contender IF they get the staging right, because right now it’s a mess and has no hope.

    • Staging problems aside, Dec, my suspicion has always been that Paper will be a song that is more admired than loved.

  4. I have gave this four chances. A minute or so as I do with every song in national finals and it lost me. Then another when others told me it was a standout and a further two since at various points when I’ve heard others be very positive about this. I still don’t see anything in this, there’s a few nice moments but that’s it.
    I see this missing out on the final from semi 1. 12-15th, NQ my thoughts.

  5. Bloody hell, they don’t half know how to spin these National Finals out. After what seemed many hours, Iceland have at last announced a winner.

    On hearing the audio version of Paper I thought this was a strong, credible number and live Svala sings competently. The problems are around the staging – some of the flashing lighting effects apart.

    On watching the preamble video tonight I was surprised to discover that Svala is a reasonably young and rather attractive woman. She spends so much of the track in darkness that I thought they were trying to hide the fact she was an octogenarian. We didn’t get any sight of her face at all until one minute in. Keeping yourself in darkness is a big Eurovision no-no (unless you’re Loreen – and maybe even she can’t get away with it anymore!)

    Then there was the severe Essex facelift, the tattooed arms and the ridiculous wedged boots. Svala teetered about the stage so much that she resembled a slightly tipsy auntie on a hen night who was hogging the karaoke machine.

    The staging of this year’s Icelandic national final had all the finesse of an end of term high school show for doting parents. Now that the best song has qualified, hopefully Paper can be given the attention it deserves.

  6. Songfestivalwerk!

    This has a nice Cyndi Lauper vibe to it ;-).

  7. Jeez, aren’t we a bunch of Negative Nancys here.

    I like the 80s Tron concept they’re going with it, and given how ballad-heavy it’s semi, not staging it like a ballad will probably help it. I know RÚV’s production is dirt cheap, which is why I’m sure that with a higher production quality in Kyiv the staging will improve a great deal, and Iceland have a history of revamping their stagings.

  8. Reviewed. Aren’t I generous? 😀

  9. Good review Ben. The production of the song is still an issue. I wouldn’t call it a major one, considering Iceland still have the foundations of a solid entry with a capable, experienced singer. But I agree that if they had a bit of time to go back into the studio and tidy things up, than it could have been headed for a strong top ten finish, rather than a mid-table placing which seems more likely now. Having said that, the performance definitely improved from the semi to the final, and they stuck to a more simpler concept with the lighting effects. Bjorkman, knowing this is probably the strongest entry in the 2nd half of semi one will want to help Svala and her team to bring out the best in this.

  10. Catriona colville

    I wondered why Gavin was so complimentary about a presentation he was scathing about before. Then I saw Ben reviewing it. Great review sir, much more balanced.

    • My opinion still stands from a binary betting point of view; she ain’t going nowhere at Eurovision with staging like that.

    • Thanks Catriona, but I wouldn’t say I’m complimentary of the staging either. I tried to show what I liked and didn’t like about the staging and the song. My choice of language just tends to be less brutal than Gav’s. 😛 I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but I maintain that there’s potential to be tapped into. Svala’s little shoulder dance with the angled spotlights is my favourite bit of the performance because it makes the song feel more uptempo than it actually is. I hope Iceland build on that going forward.

      I had to retract a little part about the song being written and entered last minute. An Icelandic friend soon showed me evidence that this song is over a year old already, (not in public of course,) which makes the unfinished feel to the arrangement all the more disappointing. It needs to swell or have some smooth layers or extra reverb underneath the chorus to give it more punch and progression.

      But this is musical nitpicking, and a music blog this ain’t, nor is Eurovision a radio contest. Even severely underdeveloped tracks like Kaliopi’s Crno i Belo come across just fine on the night, although they have Kaliopi herself to thank for that.

  11. Some good news – Svala revealed during a Facebook livestream this evening that the staging was the result of limitations in RUV’s resources. There were things she wanted to do and couldn’t, and she’s planning to elevate the show for Kyiv. She also said she’s going to LA to “design her costume”.

  12. I like the song and thing it could come across well on stage, but agree with the ‘admired rather than loved’ idea – its not a song that provides an emotional connection to make wide demographics scramble to pick up the phone(or whatever kids do these days.)

    The staging also needs to be far softer – a tattooed woman with scraped back hair shrouded in darkness emphasising the word ‘cut’ every few seconds doesn’t scream vote winner to me, and makes the whole look and feel quite menacing.

    • I get what you mean about her styling looking more menacing. Compare this to “I Feel You My Love”, which also had some pretty harsh lyrical imagery, but Margaret herself had a very cool yet “conventionally pretty” look that was very easy on the eye. I hope this is making sense to anyone.

      • Watching again just now and she spends 3 minutes jabbing a pointy hand straight down the camera, the dark staging showing the fairly sharp outline of her nails. It fits the song narrative, but there’s no need to actually mimic inflicting the paper cuts on the watching audience, poor things!

        Anyway, there are ways to frame this more as a tragic love song so awaiting the updated staging with interest.

        • At the moment, the staging, her hair, her costume and her dance moves are all wrong. This song won’t get out the semi unless the above get a radical overhaul.

          I hope they can improve the staging. (At least bring her out of the dark, so we can see her face, for God’s sake.) But I fear Svala may be too wedded to her own style choices to address the various appearance issues.

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