Alexander in street-magazine “= Oslo”, January 2010. By Kari Bu.

The street-magazine = Oslo ( erlik Oslo), is sold by – and benefits,  homeless and disadvantaged people in Oslo.

 The January issue had MUSIC as a theme and culture-editor, journalist and web-editor Kari Bu made an interview with Alexander Rybak.

On April 6th, the interview was available on the Internet, with English translation, and Kari Bu  posted the link on Rybak’s Facebook-page. A huge thanks to her and to = Oslo for this interview.

Link to the street-magazine = Oslo in translation: http://translate.google.dk/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=da&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Ferlikoslo.wordpress.com%2F&sl=no&tl=en

Alexander Rybak – “Girls need to be protected from me!”

Kari Bu April 6, 2010 =Oslo (Norway)  – With this year’s Eurovision Song Contest just around the corner, =Oslo catches up with last year’s winner Alexander Rybak. After playing his violin to victory last May with the catchy ‘Fairytales’, the star has shot to European fame. Today, Alexander is a million miles from his childhood in Belarus.

He has gone from being a victim of bullying and performing on the streets to making the semi-finals of Idol and dominating Europe’s annual song contest. But Alexander doesn’t want to let it all go to his head, saying “Even though the public have got a clear picture of me, I’m still searching … It’s about understanding that this is one of the greatest moments of your life, and to keep all the good memories.”  Here, he speaks to =Oslo about his love for music, Michael Jackson and the opposite sex.

(photo by Dimitri Koutomytis)

Alexander Rybak – “Girls need to be protected from me!”

=Oslo (Norway) – In Primary School he liked to believe he was Superman. Still, Alexander Rybak looks more like Mickey Mouse’s enemy, the Phantom Blot, as he approaches us on Torggata, a pedestrian street in Oslo. Partially covered by a black hood, we can almost make out a pair of glasses.  It is difficult to imagine any glamour in the creature with a violin case strapped to his back. His favourite restaurant is also not particularly fancy, The Taste of China, where Alexander immediately grabs for the menu. “One of those, one of those, one of those, one of those and a Diet Coke,” he orders.

We’d prefer eating Alexander, as Lise Skagefoss, one of the judges on the Norwegian version of Idol, stated in 2005, when Alexander made it to the show’s semi-finals. Instead, we stick to etiquette and go with his recommendation. “Have one of these, they’re very strong. Dip them – that’s right. Now you just mix it with plenty of soy sauce. A bit more soy sauce, otherwise you might find it too hot. Isn’t it tasty?”

17 days after the Chernobyl Accident of 1986, 290 km away, Alexander Rybak was born in Minsk. His home town still has radioactivity meters at the meat market. “Many were born with injuries. I believe that what didn’t kill me, made me strong.” Instead of getting cancer, as many did, Alexander instead got a fabulous ear for music. As one of ten thousand he can recognise tones and keys without uttering any point of reference. “Now I’m dreaming of a new CD which should be exactly as trivial as the first, or maybe even simpler”.

“The critics expect me to show them what I’m good for, but I can’t be bothered.” He has an image to take care of, and he knows that he is more than just his image. Therefore, he doesn’t picture himself as a star ten years from now. “Even though the public have got a clear picture of me, I’m still searching. People always ask me how I can top what I’ve achieved. That’s such a lame question. You don’t ask a bride on her wedding night, ‘How are you going to top this?’ It’s about understanding that this is one of the greatest moments of your life, and to keep all the good memories.” In the future he wants to teach and write music for others, like his role model, composer Rolf Løvland.

(photo by Dimitri Koutomytis)

“People think I get jealous when a new talent comes around, one that seems a bit like me. But I’m the eager to scout out new talent. The formula which works for me now can’t last in the long term. Especially not when I’m not having enough fun with it. If I write music for others, I can be more versatile.” Alexander is not at all sad that he had to practice more than most growing up. “This with the practicing was just a matter of my dad spotting my talent. I used to think – he’s the adult, so he ought to be in charge. In Norway children have a tremendously free upbringing. Very few have the time to be someone, simply because they’ve played their way through life.

After school, the others went to each others’ houses and played computer games, while I went home to practice.”  His mother thought of school as a playground, even though Alexander had a good learning curve in maths.  When he learnt to speak Norwegian fluently, he also got a couple of friends. It was worse in lower secondary school, when he stopped caring. “I cut lots of classes and said I wasn’t going to need what I learnt there. Nobody believed me, but I knew what I would become. Absolutely.” On TV he’s described himself as a victim of bullying, although you can’t find a trace of victim’s mentality in him. That’s why he prefers speaking about the present and how lucky he is.

He isn’t even mad at the press in Belarus, like Dagbladet [Norwegian daily newspaper] indicated. “Dagbladet blows things out of proportion. This is the great cultural and debating newspaper. They could’ve asked: ‘Did he really win the Eurovision?’ Please debate this, as it were. Still, the press should be allowed to exploit me. I mean, I exploit the story of this poor girl by singing it [in his song Fairytales] to all of Europe.”  Who will the poor girl take advantage of then? “She exploits me back. She sold pictures of herself to Se & Hør [Norwegian magazine] in return for a spa treatment at Jessheim.”

Where you really more in love with a fairytale than her? “The fairytale was our relationship. We were innocent, had an affair which just happened there and then. If we had gotten back together now, it wouldn’t have been the same.”  “That’s the way it should be,” he says when he hears about the Norwegian fairytale celebrity couple Siv and Knut, who have also gone their separate ways. He is very interested in the former addicts, turned TV stars. What’s more, he’s got something in common with Knut. “It’s not easy to find a woman to live with. Knut and I are the same. Even though I have had several offers, doesn’t mean that I’ll automatically find the right one.”

And now we’re on Alexander’s favourite theme.  He tells us about girls on the plane, at the gym, in Russia, in his mailbox, on Facebook and in a book he read when he was thirteen.  “I found an erotic novel and thought it was a hilarious read. I discovered the portrait of the writer on the back. She was about 80 years old. I couldn’t think of anything other than her appearance. I never read more of that book. I’m thinking about things I really shouldn’t be thinking about. I’m not saying I’m smart, I just think a lot.” Here we find out the real reason why he doesn’t want to be an artist forever. “I can’t travel on three-month long tours if I have a family. Then I’m guaranteed to cheat. I get tempted real easily. If there’s a bowl of chocolate in my hotel room, I just have to have one. That’s why I don’t buy chocolate.”

(photo by Dimitri Koutomytis)

But you have a tremendous self-discipline when it comes to practicing?

“Yes, but one can’t discipline life. One has to live.”

 The girls haven’t always chased Alexander. Personally he says he’s still the one chasing them. “Girls need to be protected from me. I hire guards to keep me away from the girls,” he says laughing. “Before [I was famous] I was a personal trainer. It would have been fun to return to that job, where I can flirt. I’m not at all a professional.” Shouldn’t you change your job to stay away from the girls? “I’m going to have to move far away to make that happen. But ask a guy at any age, there’s always one girl who’s a little more important than the others. I have one whom I share a lot of happiness with. This doesn’t mean we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.”

A lot of people are trying to divert the girls’ behaviour against Alexander. When we counted 307 fake Alexander Rybak- profiles on Facbook, we stopped counting. “For the first few months I thought fake profiles were okay. Then I found out that girls were tricked into a dark corner by them. I have a real profile, but when I add friends, they don’t believe it’s me.  In the beginning I added models. Then it became more important: The musicians and people I met on tour. The last person I added is an older folk music enthusiast.”

Alexander points out that it had to be someone from Belarus who could bring out the really traditionally Norwegian in the Eurovision Song Contest. Or, not really genuinely Norwegian, he corrects himself. “The fun thing about folk music is that all nations have their own. I combine the Norwegian optimism with the Russian melancholy. I got to know many artists with origins in both countries, and it’s often an either or situation.”

How was it to arrive from Minsk to Nesodden in 1991?

“It was very green. Belarus was a lot greyer and stricter. Now I get the VIP treatment there. Meaning I write out lots of autographs and sign pictures. And I’m invited into the captain’s cockpit all the time. Which again means that I have to talk to people. Usually there are good-looking women on the plane.” He describes the country as a moderate dictatorship. “If the President passes a reform, for example on more taxes and better healthcare, no newspapers are allowed to question that. In Russia the state provided me with guards. One time a crazy guy with a bat approached me. He was after me, but a guard pulled him up against the wall. There are newspapers which rent people to get stuff like that to write about.”

He is terribly impressed that fan mail reaches his address, even if it just says Alexander and Eurovision on the envelope. Day after day, new letters are piling up. “After the final, I have barely been to my flat, I don’t mean spending the night there. Now I’m answering letters from June. I write by hand, so it’s kind of like it’s Christmas all year around. The coolest is to get children’s drawings. Even better is girls who send me their pictures.”  On average he flies four times a week, but he’s getting more effective. He’s either writing letters or music on the plane, even though he doesn’t call it writing music. “One of the perks of having a good musical ear is that you don’t have to write. I have a good musical memory. If I forget a song, it means it wasn’t any good. I have written over 300 tunes and kept fifty. Before, I felt like I should write a diary. Then I got angry with myself for not writing in it for a month. Now the world’s my diary. I have YouTube.”

(photo by Dimitri Koutomytis)

Morten Harket of synth-pop group A-Ha compared life as a star with life as a victim of bullying. Alexander gets that. “You are like a monkey in a Zoo. You feel like you’re the centre of attention, while you also feel outcast. Many people think that I walk around on the streets, smiling and saying hello the whole time. But it’s actually very rare that I smile.”

Personally, he doesn’t understand why the background to his songs interest people. “The Lord of the Rings is the best movie I know. It is so good that you just forget about the rest of the world. Still, I can’t be bothered with how they did the make-up on the monsters.” He also doesn’t drink beer all that often. And when he gets invited to strip clubs at three in the morning, he declines, even though he doesn’t have anything against strip clubs. Actually, he thinks they save families. “Instead of men getting extra fond of another woman and cheating, they go to strip clubs.”

Have you yourself taken advantage of strip clubs? “No, but maybe I will have the need some day. Preferably I’d like to finish that kind of life, but then I have to marry pretty late.” Until now he hasn’t cancelled a single concert. “My management cancelled a concert in Sweden, just because I was invited to a bigger TV Show in Germany. They thought I thought it was okay, but I was pissed.”  Work ethic sends our thoughts to Michael Jackson, and Alexander gets almost as anxious as when he talks about girls.   “Michael was very smart. Even though he was very popular in his teenage years, he always looked at it as a product. He didn’t let anything stop his development. He’s done new things all the time. Smile, for instance, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They thought he was a pop star and wanted to record lots of takes after the orchestra had played by itself. But he said, ‘Can’t I just sing with you?’ And he did the whole record in one take. He was almost the only one you can really have as an idol if you want to reach far. Everybody else have faults, one way or the other.”

Alexander puts on his hood again, and we go to =Oslo’s office to take photos. He tells us that he was a street musician when he was small. He wishes there was an accordion police which took care of musicians who only pretend like they can play. We also find out that the Blue Cross has a good chance of ending up with his money, if he was to start with charity. Before the photo shoot he removes his glasses with -4.5 strength. He plays a little song on the violin with his fingers, and fears that he’ll be too happy-looking on the photo.  “I can’t be that merry. People are supposed to be serious on the front page of =Oslo.” “This isn’t serious,” we say, and show him the cover of number 4 in 2005. “No, but he’s a drug addict. The drug addicts are happy on the cover. You should kiss my cheek. That’s really important. Then it doesn’t matter if I’m happy.”

(photo by Dimitri Koutomytis)

By Kari Bu Reprinted from =Oslo © Street News Service: www.street-papers.org

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Some of the statements of Alexander in this interview, became the topic of discussions in other Norwegian newspapers. Kari Bu wrote this comment to the discussion in the February-issue of = Oslo:

Cultural comment: Janteloven 2.0 01.02.10

The new Jante Law reads: You may well think that you are something, as long as you are not yourself. Alexander Rybak has felt that.

One of the strangest things in the world, is that everyone wish to be liked, but often try everything but being themselves, to be liked.  At the same time, we like people who show off their own truth.  The most popular of 112 posts in my blog, is the interview with comedian Jon Schau from = Oslo last year.  He talks about his own death and his own God – that does not match the common perception.  A media-advisor would at best advise him to talk about the Christian certified-God and death, but preferably something more popular. . For example, his medium interest in football.

Another who speaks from his heart, is Alexander Rybak. I discovered that quickly,  when I interviewed him for our January issue.  He was not afraid to call his album banal or admit that he rarely goes around and smiles.  PR consultant Andreas Hard Haug Olsen did not like what he read.  “Has the media adviser to Rybak fallen asleep?” He wondered in Nettavisen .  He reacted especially to this quote:

“I can not travel on three-month long tour if I have a family.  Then, I would probably be unfaithful. ”

The PR counselor said,  Rybak damages his image as “a much beloved, a little naive ” Askeladden” ( norwegian fairytale-boy ).  But he is not Espen Askeladd.  He is Alexander Rybak, and is necessarily more skilled to be Alexander Rybak, than to be a fairy tale character from the 1800s.  Had he been Askeladden, he would fight the troll, not compete with androgynous artists in the Eurovision Song Contest.

I’ve always thought that people who are themselves on TV seems very similar.  The explanation, I got in the book “speaker’s credibility” by Anders Johansen. What the television viewers are made to regard as an honest and straightforward person, is in reality a role. Media Advisors teach politicians and other celebrities to “play themselves”.  It is not enough, to be yourself.

It becomes too odd, besides, it may offend someone.  Are you going to  please people, you have to play the well-established role, as “popular”.  So says at least advisors.  Rybak was punished for saying that he will change his lifestyle before he gets a family, so he can avoid to be unfaithful.

I call it taking responsibility, but the PR counselor does not like the word “unfaithful”.  Probably because newspapers can take it out of context and twist it , so people think Rybak is unfaithful.  To sweeten public relations advisers, one must therefore keep ones mouth shut about everything that can be interpreted wrong, when taken out of context. Preferably, one should avoid talking coherently, and only speak in popular headlines.

Kari Bu,  cultural editor

This post is also available in Русский.

15 thoughts on “Alexander in street-magazine “= Oslo”, January 2010. By Kari Bu.”

  1. When Kari Bu had posted the link to the article on Fans wall on Alexanders facebook-page, I commented and asked her, if she would tell a little about her impressions from the interview. She wrote:

    Kari Bu:
    Alex looked sweet and “nerdy” (in a good way) when he came in his glasses and anonymous outfit. He is a real musician who likes to practise, and I was surprised about how “normal” he was. I soon forgot that he was a star. What really struck me was how much he gives of himself to his fans. He is willing to work much harder than I would ever do, and answer a lot of mail. He really deserves his success. I apprecciated his honesty, he just says things without calculating what would be the “right” thing to say.

    Some of the press abuse that and make him seem a bit crazy. But he is just a person who dares to be himself. If everybody did that, we would be used to seeing the true human nature, and not just the polished version. I certainly prefer the truth. Alex looked great in his t-shirt, like someone you would want to cuddle.

    His manager (woman) tried to make him follow his schedule, while he wanted to spend more time with us (I think). He signed autographs for the photographer’s kids and was very willing to give me the hug I asked for. He certainly knows how to flirt. But it must be difficult to be the actual girlfriend of such a popular and busy person. He also says that he wants to settle down before he chooses one girl for real. Good choice.

    He wants to make all kinds of music, not just the type that fits his image right now. I’m glad he has more passions that just “being popular”. He really cares about music.

    1. @Marianne, thank you for this great article! And for the Kari’s comment as wel:)) You do so much work here, I love you:))) And please come to me country some day;)

  2. Thank you, it was a huge pleasure. I think, this is one of the best, kindest and funniest interviews, I have seen written with him. I like the views of this journalist and I suggest, you visit her blog or her facebookpage too.

  3. Thank you very much for this corking interview,Marianne! It’s really good and sincere. While I was reading,I understood once again how Alex is sincere. 🙂 Thank you for showing it to us,Marianne 🙂

  4. Enjoyed the interview, I chuckled quite a few times! He seems like a fun young guy…. I find him to be a perfectly normal 24 year old fit lad who loves & appreciate the opposite sex! Aint nothing wrong w/ that all.. And who wouldn’t want a hug from him he does look very tone (how was the hug you got??). He certainly knows how to flirt & he does it well especially with his eyes. You see it in every performances he does, his eyes talks to you..

    Through your blog I got to know him as an artist & a person. It was only recently that i came across his name from an American blogger & what i read & saw on youtube I was impressed. I live in Asia and we dont get Eurovision but I have heard of it. I am definitely looking forward to his name album “boundaries” and I hope he has a lot of success w/ it.

    Thanks Marianna

  5. Alexander,I love you.I hope that you will not marry with Lena.I entreat you,don’t marry with Lena. If you will marry,I will kill myself. Please,come Azerbaijan again.

  6. hi I am Iranian and live in iran I love music rybak . can you go iran ? iran very beautiful . this is my gmail go there .

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