Alexander Rybak, the hero of Moscow Eurovision made it to Lisbon not without good reason
Published in the paper issue №27673 “Moskovsky Komsomolets” on the 27th April 2018.
Translated by Mónika Menyhért, revised by Karina Solberg and Anni Jowett
Any day now, the first rehearsals of the Eurovision Song Contest-2018 will start in Lisbon. The current theme of the musical “Olympics” “All Aboard” symbolises not only the completion of the nightmare for the organisers because of last year’s squabbles around the “Crimean greetings in a wheelchair” from Russia, which led to a boycott by the very same Russia of the contest in Kiev, but it has other, more pleasant meanings: for example, a record number of countries – 43 –, including the same Russia with the same Julia Samoylova, who will finally realise her pink dream of participating in the contest, as well as the presence of extremely iconic characters of the Eurovision circus. One of these cherries on the cake was the appearance of the famous Norwegian-Belarusian Alexander Rybak among the contestants.
Without Rybak, the whole picture would look, of course, if not poorer, at least different. He is not just a winner of the Moscow Eurovision 2009, but a former record holder who collected 387 points that were so far unprecedented at that time, 169 points more than the next closest contestant (singer Johanna from Iceland). Last year, for example, the gap between the winner Salvador Sobral and Christian Kostov – Bulgaria’s representative from Bilan’s team in the Russian “The Voice” – was 143 points, besides, according to the new point system, the Portuguese also had a record of 758 points, which resulted from the mathematical addition of the viewer and professional jury’s votes. Due to the previous “unified” voting system, Alexander Rybak would still be an “unbeaten” record-holder.
His positive hit “Fairytale” and the moving image of the boy with the fiddle became a hit for many months after the competition, the artist enjoyed the laurels of the European hero throughout Europe, became in fact a pop icon in his home country Norway and, of course, a universal favourite in Belarus and Russia, reasonably considering him their highly talented artist, who was at the age of five so insidiously and forever taken by his parents from Minsk to the country of the colourful fjords and fabulous trolls.
Meanwhile, exactly the day after the grand final at the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Sasha will celebrate his 32nd birthday on May 13th. No longer a boy, but a man – although still with the same fiddle. With a light nostalgic and ironic enough feeling for this proverbial violin his song “That’s How You Write a Song” begins, but with the next ambitious entry supposed to win, Alexander will conquer Eurovision with a completely different role and style, while remaining himself.
– What should you do, – Sasha smiles, – the violin is very natural for me, this is my talent, and this year’s song for me is about not forgetting and believing in your talent. Even in the year of the 20th anniversary of working as an artist, I am not tired of seeking and making interesting experiments (at competitions), showing something new, inventing unique things.
– That’s why it’s very tempting to ask: Sasha, why? Did you miss something? Well, okay, Bilan, he became a winner. But you are already a winner! Or is this what people sometimes talk about – the atmosphere of Eurovision makes you addicted?
– I always liked this international atmosphere and will like it. In Norway, I was invited several times to participate in the contest again. More precisely, they not offered, but asked kind of do I want to? But I did not have any song, and somehow I did not even think about it. In recent years, I’ve been showing more creative work on YouTube, trying to find the most bright and effective way to reach the audience with my creative work. And the song “That’s How You Write a Song” has become kind of response to all the huge amount of letters I am receiving from children, where they ask me for advice. They write: “Sasha, I have a talent, but I’m afraid to take the first step, I do not know where to start…” This song is meant as an answer to all these children. Although sometimes they are 95 years old…
– And I mean it! Sometimes grandfathers and grandmothers write me, who are very worried about their grandchildren and ask me to give advice what’s the best they can do for their talented – as they believe they are –, kids. Also adults write me who are afraid of stereotypes and of taking the first step.
First, I wanted to make a serious tutorial video, but then I realised that this message deserves the attention of a wider audience, and decided to write a song and to send it for the Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix, our national selection for Eurovision.
By the way, I was initially not so sure I would win it.
– And for some reason, I did not doubt that Norway would just hang on their national property and that you won’t be let off easily from this national selection…
– I would not say that about all Norway. Here, just like in Russia, and in other countries a part of the audience may get tired of “long-playing”, there are different points of view, disputes around them. Many people say that one always should find someone new, support young talents. And when our new “general” for Eurovision (as we call this position) Stig Karlsen asked me if I would like to participate again in the contest, I initially refused, explained that I do not want to enter this water a second time and to glorify myself with this competition. I made it very clear for myself that there are artists who want and are able to promote their music and ideas through themselves. I count myself to this category. Therefore, it became interesting for me to popularise music and to give people confidence in their ideas, thanks to such big events as Eurovision, if they are also in demand at the moment. I had not thought about this before, and then I realized, that sometimes the message is more important than the artist himself.
– But this is not only a celebration, but a gruelling business…
– Yes, this is not an easy question. When this song appeared, I decided that yes, it’s exactly that I want to participate in Eurovision with. But then I began to think about how I could manage along all the way not to forget about people…
– Do not forget about who?
I remembered the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. It was everything so tense and stormy that sometimes I lost sight of people, the audience.
– An unexpected turn of thought again, Sasha!
– No, I was, of course, a polite guy, but young, inexperienced, everything was new for me, and often happened that I kind of pushed people away from myself who wanted to talk to me, to get autographs, to take pictures.
“And it is very important for the artist to behave correctly with people. This time I’m very happy that I managed to do it well in the Norwegian selection, when I managed to find a couple of minutes for everyone who wanted it. Not like before. In general, I learned to control myself and the situation better. I kind of learned my lesson, achieved the goal I had set myself..”
– I expected to hear from you anything else, but not such sentiments…
– It was an internal challenge. Of course, I’m not participating in the Eurovision Song Contest for only this, so I can shake everyone’s hand, but now I do not forget about this either. It is very important for me. I really hope that in Lisbon you will see me a little differently from the Rybak, whom you knew before.
– But you never looked like a star, a kind of an arrogant lucky bastard and everything…
– Yes, I always smiled at everyone. But the more you do it, the more chance was there of lashing out on someone. That happened, you just did not see it. I am working a lot and therefore I simply do not have neither time nor desire for being cocky.
– Of course, you are not the first one who takes part not for the first time in this competition. Even winners fail, and not only once, like the Swedish Carola, and also the Israeli Dana International… This question arises related to your own kind of “Eurovision-achievement”. Are you aware of that you have got a special attention as someone who already won?
– Absolutely. But it’s all about the song. If it was just a song, in which I would like to showcase Alexander Rybak with the violin once again, if it was the second “Fairytale”, then yes, it would be difficult. Then I would have just failed at the national selection, I’m sure of that. This year, I have a song especially for the stage, you should watch the performance in the show, in which I tell the whole story in three minutes, I’ll show how you can get a better result while connecting the details. And this time, I have a completely new style, new genre, and, of course, I’m going for winning. As do all the contestants.
– Well, not all …
– It seems to me that everyone dreams to win at heart… I really like that I’m not in a situation where I try to find five or six references to say: I’m currently engaged in this. Everyone says that I have a little bit of everything in this song: Michael Jackson, folklore, jazz, etc. I myself simply answer: last time, at the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow, I had folklore, and today jazz.
– Today you play jazz, as they say in Russia, and tomorrow… I saw your battle with the Swedish participant Benjamin Ingrosso, with whom you are, as they say, neck and neck, due to the predictions of the bookmakers, and you seem to have sprinkled on each other icy waterfalls of good-natured sarcasm. Although, of course, I did not understand anything in Swedish…
– Well, there was a funny moment when he was asked how old he was when I won Eurovision in 2009. And I told him: just don’t say that you have not been born yet… His mother is a well-known actress, and he even boasted that he had all these posters in his childhood, like Batman, Superman. And I said that I had a poster of his mother on the door of my room…
– It’s elegant…
– Actually, I was the initiator of this battle, because I found out that we have songs in the same key. In general, I always appreciate the maximum cooperation, I try to play together with other artists. For example, I’m about releasing a video soon, where I will perform covers with my violin to the songs of other contestants. I already did this with the songs of the participants of the Norwegian Grand Prix.
– Yes, that was a wonderful video…
– And it had a great impact. It is always important to show your talent in new ways. And the violin is my talent.
– With your song, you appear as kind of a teacher who teaches others how to compose, right?
– Rather, I show how easy it is to write songs, how many ways there are to do it. You can also do it, and you, and you, and maybe you will even succeed in it… It’s also about irony, and the point is inspiration. First of all my fans. And, of course, I hope that now I will find new fans in Europe as well.
– The irony is great! What do you think about the bookmakers’ odds?
– Sometimes I look at them. The most important what place bookmakers will put after the performance in the semifinals. Then I’ll have an important advantage in the sense that many artists release only a music video first, and after the live performance at the contest bookmakers may be very disappointed. My song is already known, and, as they say, I’m not a pig in a poke. And right after I performed my song at the national selection, Norway immediately rose from 22nd to 8th place in the bookmakers’ rankings. And it hasn’t gone down since then, but up –and this is the most important thing.
– Of course. However, Norway has stuck in this eighth place… And at the Eurovision in Moscow, as far as I remember, “Fairytale” instantly broke into the favourites.
– I think bookmakers take also statistics into account. They know that it was only the Irishman Johnny Logan in the entire history of Eurovision, who won twice. By the way, you did not mention him, when you listed the winners who participated in the contest again…
– I did it deliberately, in order not to embarrass you…
– But first of all, he has his birthday the same day, on May 13, like me, right after the final. So in any case, I will celebrate something. And the statistics? I will not, of course, compare myself to Real Madrid, but after they won the Champions League two years ago, everyone wrote that no one wins twice in a row. And all the predictions put them in the last place, because historically it was impossible to repeat the victory. But they still won.
– Like Johnny Logan in 1980 and 1987… Praiseworthy confidence, despite the statistics. A quality fighter.
– Of course, I’m not sure who and how they will vote. But you need to be confident and to believe in your song.
And it’s important not to be conceited, and not to look into the camera while counting scores, but to inspire people. This is a very difficult balance, but I think that I will manage.
– Which of the contestants did you pay attention to?
– This year’s Eurovision is much more diverse than in 2009. Although the contest in Moscow was very strong. Everyone was afraid that after the victory of Salvador, now there will be only ballads, without featuring tools, without effects…
– Yes, such repeats of the previous winner’s tricks, including your violin, became part of the past…
– Absolutely right. But no, it is different this time… Salvador showed all musicians that there is no proverbial “euro-format”. There are no rules. If you have a good idea, then just show it. And there are many strong rivals this year. As a musician, I like Waylon from the Netherlands most. They say that he certainly will not win, because it’s country music, old-fashioned. But a year ago won, I would say, not the most modern song.
– I wish, you manage to repeat the celebration in Lisbon, which you brought to the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow at that time!
– Let’s see what the result will be. I have a mission – to inspire people and make them feel positive. Whatever this result will be, I hope to say a lot of positive things to my fans, who, I hope, will keep following my creative work I the future…
This post is also available in Русский.