‘Let It Swing Until You Lose All Control’: Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix

After a dramatic and tense voting sequence in the Scandinavium where first place swung back and forth between Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, it was Norway that emerged victorious at the end of the evening in Gothenburg in 1985. Hanne Krogh and Elisabeth Andreassen ran excitedly on stage and greeted an elated Lill Lindfors who exclaimed, “I’m honestly very happy that this happened because Norway has been last on so many times that you really deserve it”.

The Swedish audience couldn’t help but be happy for their ‘Nordic brothers’. The ladies had done it, they had won Norway its first Eurovision Song Contest as Bobbysocks! with the hit “La det swinge” (Let It Swing). The Norwegian delegation later drove back to Norway where they were greeted at the border and along the highway by people waiving Norwegian flags and proudly celebrating the victory. It was a moment 25 years in the making.

 

 

Melodi Grand Prix has been organised by Norwegian public broadcaster Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK) since 1960, Norway’s debut year at Eurovision. MGP has determined the country’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest almost every year (except 1970, 1991, and 2002). I must begin by congratulating MGP for the effort to put almost every televised edition of MGP on their website. There are hundreds of hours of footage to watch, including the semi finals, and specials!

Way back in 1960, NRK broadcast MGP exclusively on the radio. There was a semi final on 2nd February where all 11 songs were performed by either Inger Jacobsen or Jens Book-Jenssen. Three songs tied for fourth place in the voting with 28 points each, increasing the number of songs qualified for the final from the planned five, to six. For the final on 20th February, new singers were brought in to interpret the six songs. In the end, it was Nora Brockstedt with “Voi Voi” who won the inaugural MGP, and was off to Eurovision in London where she came 4th in the voting there.

To put that in some perspective, excluding the countries who participated in the very first Eurovision, only five countries have achieved better debuts than Norway in Eurovision’s 65-year history (Serbia 2007, Poland 1994, Serbia & Montenegro 2004, Denmark 1957, and Latvia 2000). This was an excellent start for a country that has had many ups and downs in the Contest in the years since, so, la det swinge!

For MGP 1961, the semi final was scrapped, and only five songs competed in the final on 18th February. Each of the five songs was sung twice: once with a small band and once with a large orchestra. The winning song was again sung by Nora Brockstedt. “Sommer i Palma” (Summer in Palma) was chosen by a ten-member jury. Already in its second year, changes had been made to the voting procedures, something that would happen many times in the years to come, as NRK tinkered with MGP.

The same format was used in 1962 and 1963. Nora Brockstedt won for a third time in 1963, however she eventually refused to commit to Eurovision due to the required tour schedule. There are speculations that Nora did not like her winning song “Solhverv” (Solstice), and feared a low score at Eurovision in London, so she decided to remove herself from in the competition. Anita Tallaug, who had participated in MGP the previous year, stepped in to replace Brockstedt and sang “Solhverv” at Eurovision instead.

And perhaps Nora Brockstedt’s fears were justified, as Anita scored 0 points in the voting that year. It was the first of four eventual nul points for Norway unfortunately. However, when one thinks of Norway and Eurovision 1963, it isn’t for their song, but how they presented their votes.

When called upon, Roald Øyen could not announce the votes of the Norwegian jury properly as they had not been tallied correctly. He initially announced that Norway was awarding 3 points to Switzerland and 2 points to Denmark, but the votes were removed in the confusion. It was decided to continue with the votes from the other countries, and return to the Norwegians at the end.

Norway now had to give their votes last and when Roald Øyen came back, Switzerland was leading with 42 points, while Denmark was in second with 40 points. This time, Norway awarded Switzerland only one point, and gave Denmark 4 votes, essentially giving Denmark the win.

This incident sparked a scandal, as many were convinced that the Norwegians did it on purpose to help their neighbors win, but later investigation showed that was not the case. Whatever you believe happened, in the years after, hosts always mentioned that the juries in each country could not see or hear the ongoing voting before giving their own votes. Coincidence?

MGP kept experimenting and gave the power to choose a winner to the public in 1965, an interesting change for their first television broadcast!

An actual hand-written address was shown on screen and viewers were urged to send a postcard with their favourite song to NRK! Viewers overwhelmingly chose Kirsti Sparboe and her song “Karusell” (Carousel) to represent Norway in Naples. The juries at Eurovision were not in agreement with the Norwegian audience however, and “Karusell” ended the night with just 1 point (from Austria).

So MGP went back to regional juries in 1966. Five songs were sung twice by different performers, once with a small combo, and once with the full orchestra. Future MGP 1980 and Eurovision 1986 host Åse Kleveland was victorious with “Intet er nytt under solen” (Nothing New Under the Sun).

At Eurovision in Vienna, Åse finished in 3rd place (Norway’s best result to date, and the best they would do until 1985!) and she set a few firsts – she was the first female singer in Eurovision play guitar on stage, and also the first female performer to appear in pants (and not a dress or skirt)!

In 1969 for a fifth year in a row, Kirsti Sparboe was back trying to win MGP and head to Madrid for Eurovision. She achieved a 13th place in Naples in 1965, then a 14th place in Vienna in 1967. Despite winning MGP with twice as many points as the runner-up Odd Børre (who won MGP the year before), “Oj, oj, oj, så glad jeg skal bli” (Wow, Wow, Wow, How Happy I’ll Be) was one of many up-tempo songs in Eurovision that year, and was forgotten by the juries. Kristi was unable to improve on her previous attempts and finished at the bottom of the scoreboard, Norway’s second last place in 10 years.

Of course, the other story that dominated Eurovision in Madrid was the four-way tie for first place. In protest, Norway was one of five countries that boycotted the 1970 Contest in The Netherlands. Sweden and Finland were other countries who opted out that year, as there was also the sentiment that the Nordic nations were not able to do well under the voting system that existed at that time. As a result, there was no edition of MGP in 1970.

The 1970s as a whole were not a kind decade to Norway at Eurovision. In 1971, MGP expanded to 12 songs in the final, the most since its debut in 1960. In an attempt to mirror changes happening to the voting at Eurovision itself, MGP went with a public jury, where jurors gave 1 to 5 points to each song. This did not translate to success in Dublin however, as a young Hanne Krogh and her flowery parasol finished in 17th (second to last) place with her bubbly ballad “Lykken er” (Happiness Is).

I would dare say the song has aged well, and does stand out at the Contest that year. But things were about to get much worse for Norway.

Already in 1972, MGP finals were back to just five songs, which must say a lot about the state of the Norwegian music scene at the time. MGP 1975 was a leap forward as it was the first edition broadcast in colour. In an attempt to right the ship, regional juries were reintroduced, last used in 1969. Despite this, nothing seemed to work. Norway’s entries at Eurovision kept landing at the foot of the scoreboard.

 

One name stands out in the early to mid-1970s — Anne-Karine Strøm. She took part in MGP every year from 1971 to 1976, and made it to Eurovision three times, in 1973 as part of the Bendik Singers, and twice as a soloist in 1974 and 1976. While the songs aren’t particularly bad, they did fail to make an impact on the jurors. In 1974 when she won MGP with “Hvor er du”, it went to Eurovision in English as “The First Day of Love”. It’s an up-tempo ballad, but alas it’s probably best suited to a supermarket’s background music than the Eurovision stage.

Upon her return in 1976, she performed “Mata Hari” – a jazzy disco number that earned Anne-Karine her second last place in a row. Nothing seemed to be working for Norway at this point. Even the voting system was messy as regional juries gave out hundreds of points to just five songs. And to make matters worse, the United Kingdom sent a song called “Rock Bottom” to Eurovision in 1977 that not only thew shade at Norway, it accurately predicted what was to come the next year.

MGP 1978 was memorable for many reasons. For me, the voting stands out. While the regional juries remained, they were asked to rank the songs from best to worst, so getting a 1 was better than an 8, thus the lowest score won. This was also the year that Europe would be introduced to the legend that was Jahn Teigen. Norway was about to set some more Eurovision records, sadly, not ones to be proud of.

What strikes me the most is how different his MGP performance of “Mil etter mil” (Mile After Mile) was from what showed up on the Eurovision stage in Paris. At MGP, he appears on stage in a nice (enough) suit and sings so softly at times, that the orchestra drowns him out. Whatever you think of the quality of the song, it is catchy!

In Paris of course, Jahn ditched the suit jacket, found a red tie and suspenders, popped his collar, and delivered one of the most memorable performances in the history of the Contest, one that is often comically alluded to in flashbacks in recent editions.

Sweden was the last to vote on the night and at the time, votes were read in performance order, not from 1 to 12. So when Sven Lindahl announced Sweden’s 10 points were for France, it was all over. “Mil etter mil” finished in 20th place with 0 points.

The “new” 1-8, 10, and 12 point system was supposed to prevent countries from getting no points (but please don’t ask a Brit about how separating jury votes from televotes since 2016 was supposed to do the same!), but Norway became the first country to do so. This last place finish was also Norway’s fourth (a new record), and there was another nul points coming in 1981!

Jahn never stopped trying though, he participated in MGP 14 times, the last in 2005, and made it back to Eurovision in 1982 and 1983 as artist and songwriter, achieving 12th and 9th places respectively. Unfortunately for Jahn, it’s “Mil etter mil” that we all remember.

Yoiking made an appearance at MGP in 1980, eight years before ‎Fred Buljo of KEiiNO was even born! Mattis Hætta yoiked in the song “Sámiid ædnan” (Sami Land) with Sverre Kjelsberg. In fact, because of Mattis’ yoik the song is sometimes mistaken for being entirely in the Sami language. They won MGP that year in the closest vote ever, beating “Bjørnen sover” (The Bear Is Sleeping) by Åge Aleksandersen and Sambandet 5-4 on countback after the initial jurors’ votes were tied.

“Sámiid ædnan” was a very political song, and somewhat controversial for MGP at the time. The Alta Controversy was still ongoing in Norway. This was a series of massive protests about the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Alta River in Northern Norway, potentially disrupting the lives of many Sami people.

This song was very personal for Mattis, and that is reflected in the song. The line “in front of the parliament where they sat, the yoik was heard day and night” is based on his personal efforts protesting the power plant. It was at that protest, where Mattis performed the yoik for the first time that features in “Sámiid ædnan”.

Translated to English, the song concludes, “a yoik is more powerful than weapons… because it has neither a beginning nor an end.” When all was said and done, the government ruled in favor of the power plant, whose construction was completed in 1987.

Music – even Eurovision – is only so powerful, after all. The song still has some love though, here it is being performed in 2012 at Riddu Riđđu, an international Indigenous music festival held in Kåfjord, Norway.

It was 1985 of course, when Norway’s streak of bad luck finally ended. Most Eurofans are very familiar with Bobbysocks!’s victory, but few may recall how it almost never even happened. The voting at MGP was very close, in a year that featured an odd voting system where the top points were 9 and 11 (not 10 and 12!). It was so close that Hanne Krogh and Elisabeth Andreassen were visibly stressed during the voting!

There was strong competition that year from “Karma” by Anita Skorgan. It’s a ballad that slowly picks up steam as the song progresses. Standing in a sparkly dress, Anita is holding a mallet and standing in front of a giant gong. If you’re like me, you’ll spend the entire performance wondering when she’s finally going to hit the gong. Perhaps the voting public thought the same and deducted a few points!

With a winning formula, one might be forgiven for thinking MGP wouldn’t make any drastic changes to the 1986 contest, but one would be wrong! The 11 points system used in 1985 was ‘modernized’ to 12 points (Eurovision started using it in 1975).


Regional juries were still around, the studio audience got a vote, and the fussy “expert” jurors that didn’t like Bobbysocks! the year before had been replaced with a new press jury. And in what I strongly suspect is a Eurovision first, an oil rig off the Norwegian coast gave its votes. After the pageantry of all these votes, Ketil Stokkan was chosen to sing “Romeo” at Eurovision on home soil in Bergen, where he finished a respectable 12th place.

After a 9th place finish at Eurovision in 1987, in 1988 MGP made yet another change to the show’s format. Semi finals were back for the first time since the inaugural MGP in 1960! A total of 16 competing entries we split into 4 semi finals. Each semi final was made up of 2 duels, the winners of which were chosen by a panel of 1,000 viewers.

Jahn Teigen was back (again) at this edition with his response to Gorbachev’s glasnost policy with an appropriately named song, “Glasnost”. He came second, unable to beat “For vår jord” (For Our Earth) by Karoline Krüger who went on to a 5th place result in Eurovision in Dublin.

NRK opted for another new format the next year. MGP 1989 consisted of a final of 9 entries, of which a combination of juries chose 3 to advance to the “Superfinal”. When MGP mainstay Jahn Teigen was not chosen to continue to the Superfinal, loud booing erupted from the audience. Check out some of the very 80s special effects in his performace:

After “Brandenburger Tor” by Ketil Stokkan came last in Eurovision 1990 (Norway’s 7th last place for anyone counting), NRK made a bold move. MGP 1991 was canceled as the organizers considered the song quality to be too poor. Instead, NRK put together a replacement show called Bare for gøy! (Just For Fun!) that saw performances from former MGP artists. At the end of the show, the specially-made-for-Eurovision-group Just 4 Fun (get it?!) were introduced and played their entry “Mrs. Thompson”.

Just 4 Fun was made up of four (double entendre!) singers, one of whom, Hanne Krogh, is one half of Bobbysocks!, hence NRK having high hopes for great success at Eurovision in Rome. It was not mean to be, yet again, this time limping home in 17th place.

MGP was back in its usual form for 1992. By 1994 the show had revived itself into a final of 10 entries. For MGP 1995, NRK decided to use semi finals again, now for the third time ever. Starting in January, the first of nine Semi finals aired, each of which had 2 songs.

The final eventually took place in April and consisted of 10 songs, each semi winner, plus a wildcard won by Elisabeth Ødegård Widmer and her almost Celtic sounding ballad “Til en stjerne” (To A Star). I’m sure the violin and fiddle music had nothing to do with the fact that Ireland had been doing well at this time and Eurovision was to be hosted in Dublin!

Norway’s success at Eurovision 1995 almost never came to be though. The forgotten song “Kjære min engel” (My Dear Angel) by Olé Ask only lost to Secret Garden’s “Nocturne” by a vote of 48%-52% in the semi final. And I say ‘forgotten’ as I could only find one video of it on YouTube, and it has less than 300 views. Poor Olé Ask!

Expectations were high for MGP 1996, as NRK would also be hosting the big show a few months later. In a modest studio at NRK, seven acts battled it out – for second place. Elisabeth Andreassen was back for her third MGP, having won in both her previous attempts. “I evighet” (For Eternity) blew the other seven songs out of the water.

Elisabeth was off to her fourth Eurovision (she had also participated for Sweden in 1982 as part of Chips). Her fourth appearance as a main artist on a Eurovision stage tied a record she now shares with Lys Assia, Fud Leclerc, Valentina Monetta and the group Peter, Sue and Marc.

But what goes up must also come down. After a gold and a silver, one might expect Norway to perhaps finish 3rd (or better) in 1997. Instead, Norway came home with yet another (and record-breaking fourth) nul points.

“Lys” (Light) by Manjari is a contemporary hit, sung beautifully, and would have been perfect for Norway to send to Eurovision in Dublin that year. Instead, a 60/40 percent split public televoting and jury panel chose “San Francisco” by Tor Endresen. Elisabeth Andreassen was back at MGP, though this time as a juror, and good buddy of Tor. She later told media that “Endresen deserved to win” no matter the song he sang.

MGP responded in 1998 by changing the voting to a 71/29 percent split in favour of the voting public. Eurovision rules were changing at this time as well. As more countries from the Balkans and Eastern Europe were entering the Contest, rules for qualification were brought in, putting pressure on countries who didn’t want to sit out a year.

MGP 2001 had no runaway winner, resulting in victory for an underwhelming ballad. Haldor Lægreid sang “On My Own” in Copenhagen. Norway was fourth in the running order, which didn’t help, but the song was woeful, and the staging did nothing to elevate it. Once the remaining 19 songs had been performed, “On My Own” had been forgotten by all, except for the Portuguese televote that awarded Haldor 3 points, and thus avoiding another messy nul points situation!

The impact of this was massive. Norway was relegated from Eurovision 2002. This meant that for the first time in its history, NRK had to cancel MGP when it didn’t want to (1970 and 1991 aside, which were decisions deliberately taken by NRK).

When MGP came back in 2003, Norway made it clear that they were ready to move on from previous poor results. We know this because the winning song that year was literally called “I’m Not Afraid to Move On” and won by almost 30,000 votes! The good times continued to Eurovision in Riga where Jostein Hasselgård finished in fourth place.

The Norwegian roller coaster of results continued with another last place at Eurovision the next year. Luckily for Norway, relegation was no longer cool. The EBU had instated a Semi Final, so that every country could take part, and could fight their way into the Grand Final. So MGP 2005 was given the green light.

Since the Semi Finals were introduced, Norway has only failed to reach the Final on three occasions – 2007 (perhaps a mistake to send a song in English with a Spanish title), 2011 (perhaps a mistake to send a song in Swahili), and 2016 (I don’t know what to tell you here, I didn’t think it was that bad).

Some highlights from the late noughties include:

  • Jahn Teigen’s 14th and final MGP appearance in 2005
  • MGP 2008 went on tour around Norway for the first time, including 3 Semi Finals, the Siste Sjansen (last chance) round, and a Final
  • Alexander Rybak won MGP 2009 with over 616,000 votes separating him from the 2nd place song, a record which still stands

MGP 2018 is a stand-out year for me. Aleksander Walmann was there to defend his 2017 title (but without JOWST). Alexander Rybak was back for his second MGP. Stella and Alexandra opened the show: Stella Mwangi won MGP 2011, and Alexandra Rotan would go on to form KEiiNO – along with her future bandmate Tom Hugo who also competed that year as a soloist.

Finally, when we think of 2020, we all think of one thing – the MGP voting scandal, surely! In its 60th edition, there was a lot to celebrate, or there should have been. The quality of the songs was much higher than in most years, and after the international juries almost passed on KEiiNO the year prior, MGP had decided to give the public a bigger say for 2020.

But all did not go as planned, once the voting opened during the Final, people were met with an error message on the app. MGP sent out a Tweet just before the voting period ended, to address a technical problem they were having:

As you may have noticed, we have not been able to receive the online votes. Therefore, a preselected public jury will vote for the gold finalists.”


Luckily, MGP had used a group of 30 jurors who voted before the show based on rehearsals. This essentially meant however that each of the 10 performances on the night of the final were pointless, as the outcome had already been decided.

Of the three acts that got through to the Gold Final, “Attention” by Ulrikke Brandstorp eventually won, and while the online voting did work for that, her victory was somewhat tarnished.

Fans and even competitors took to social media to voice their anger and frustration at what happened. Tone Damli did not make it to the Gold Final, and after the show posted her disapproval to Instagram:

“Ulrikke’s song ‘Attention’ is a fantastic song and a worthy winner of MGP… [but] I’m not happy. For so long I have [worked] for this great circus. I have spent day and night and energy, and then it should end like that. I am not bitter to not be among the top 4, I saw that coming. I’m just so damn p*ssed off the way it was done! As I have understood, there are 30 people who have decided the outcome of the competition, and this [was] before we were standing on stage in the final. It would be that what we artists performed in the finals did not have sh*t to say.”

Since Norway’s eleventh and final last place at Eurovision in Baku in 2012, things have been looking up – the roller coaster ride is getting better! Norway has finished in the top ten on four occasions, and has only missed the Final once.

MGP is a much more diverse festival now, not just in terms of its contestants, but also in terms of the music. Norway might not have hit the top 10 every year, but they are unapologetic about it and have never given up.

MGP has been pumping out hits throughout the 2010s and MGP is one of the most anticipated national finals on any Eurofan’s calendar. MGP 2022 looks to be no exception!

Lykke til, Norge!

Let us know your thoughts on MGP or your favourite memories from previous MGPs!

Also, let us know who your favorites are in the first four semi finals, by voting in our polls right here:

Vote for your favorite in the first semi final of Melodi Grand Prix 2022!
  • Frode Vassel - Black Flowers 35%, 231 vote
    231 vote 35%
    231 vote - 35% of all votes
  • Mira Craig - We Still Here 28%, 181 vote
    181 vote 28%
    181 vote - 28% of all votes
  • TrollfesT - Dance Like A Pink Flamingo 23%, 151 vote
    151 vote 23%
    151 vote - 23% of all votes
  • Eline Noelia - Ecstasy 14%, 93 votes
    93 votes 14%
    93 votes - 14% of all votes
Total Votes: 656
January 10, 2022 - January 15, 2022
Voting is closed
Vote for your favorite in the second semi final of Melodi Grand Prix 2022!
  • Steffen Jakobsen - With Me Tonight 35%, 340 votes
    340 votes 35%
    340 votes - 35% of all votes
  • Farida - Dangerous 27%, 266 votes
    266 votes 27%
    266 votes - 27% of all votes
  • Lily Löwe - Bad Baby 19%, 186 votes
    186 votes 19%
    186 votes - 19% of all votes
  • Daniel Lukas - Kvelertak 19%, 182 votes
    182 votes 19%
    182 votes - 19% of all votes
Total Votes: 974
January 10, 2022 - January 22, 2022
Voting is closed
Vote for your favorite in the third semi final of Melodi Grand Prix 2022!
Vote for your favorite in the fourth semi final of Melodi Grand Prix 2022!

*All images Ⓒ NRK

1 Comment
  1. Eva says

    Wow Thanks for this!

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