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Alexander Rybak: sexy, sparkly multiculturalism

One of the most endearing moments of Alexander Rybak’s record-setting Eurovision win for Norway tonight came when the performer of the charming “Fairytale” alternatively gushed in both Norwegian and Russian as he took the stage to perform the winning song one more time.

Originally started in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest is alternatively derided as a trashy spectacle and a chance for so-called Eastern bloc countries to band together and take their revenge on Western Europe for its higher standards of living. Being cynical about Eurovision, however, is a little bit like putting on an obligatory scowl for Valentine’s Day. You’re not really making a statement, and you kind of wish to give in to the silliness underneath it all anyway.

Tonight’s winner, Rybak, was born in Belarus back when it was still part of the USSR, and moved to Norway at the age of four. In Russia, he has already been adopted as “our Sasha” and Ukrainian singer and past Eurovision winner Ruslana has noted the influence of both Slavic and Scandinavian styles in the bit of folksy street theater that is “Fairytale.” For those of us who inhabit different cultures simultaneously, Rybak’s win is particularly delightful.

Organizers in Moscow obviously mumbled “crisis? what crisis?” as they set about transforming the Olimpiyski Arena into a giant jewel with TV screens for facets. “Fairytale” was the perfect song for the venue and mood of Moskva 2009 – a rich and whimsical melody with wistful lyrics, wonderfully executed on stage and aided by the fact that Rybak is a contender for the crown of Mr. Elfin Good Looks, like a more boyish version of Cillian Murphy.

My friend, the writer Veronica Khokhlova, aptly compared Rybak’s song to a mixture of Marc Chagall and ABBA, among other things. “I feel in love with him,” one of the presenters gushed as she revealed her nation’s top choices in the contest, “but it was only a fairytale.”

It’s nice to see a boy with a last name like Rybak (it means “fisher” in Russian) win a major song contest for Norway, inspiring revelry and glee both in the North and in the East. Despite the existence of various political alliances and blocs, Europe still needs the occasional reminder that it’s more than a collection of countries staring suspiciously at each other across meandering borders. Much like Piotr Adamski from the famous “Polish Plumber” poster, Alexander Rybak is internationalism as it should be – luscious.


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She’s the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.

13 thoughts on “Alexander Rybak: sexy, sparkly multiculturalism

  1. For once GB didn’t couldn’t get stiffed for backing the States due to the new voting system. We have always taken it less seriously than other countries for a number of reasons-mainly our global success in popular music in the first place.

    However I think our ‘sense of fair play’ had been sorely tested in recent years and secretly we were quite hurt by the snub. Others would call it bullying-some would say we deserved it but we have our revenge every year by some priceless commentary by broadcaster Terry Wogan and his successor Graham Norton.

    Well done Norway on a catchy tune but like all the other entries including GB’s I wont be downloading it anytime soon.

  2. I thought it was a particularly good show this year – better songs, great atmosphere, less bloc issues and more fun.

    For a lot of countries, the idea of Eurovision is relatively new, so that’s another reason why they treat it differently than, say, Britain does. I was appalled by some of the BBC comments on the matter when Eurovision first came to Ukraine. “How amusing, even the president of that peasant nation cares [we’re a little peasant nation to the BBC unless we’re duking it out with Russia, at which point we become a scrappy ally to Big Brother Britain].” Duh. For Ukraine, it’s something new and exciting – a chance to bring in tourists, investors, foreign talent, etc. Of course the president is going to care.

    I’ve already had one angry e-mail from someone who didn’t feel like putting up his comments for public review, but demanded to know how come I wasn’t outraged that Ukraine gave so many points to Russia. Um, half the song was in Ukrainian and the producer, Valerii Meladze, is beloved on the Ukrainian pop scene…? This is like me getting huffy that Ireland gave so many points to the UK this year.

    I think sour grapes are largely pointless, though I was disappointed with the way Sweden was treated. It was a great song and a great performance. Even Russia’s Channel One commentators were impressed, and that’s saying a lot (if you think Wogan is priceless…). And GB should have really done better than Turkey. Turkey was just way, way generic this year, I thought.

  3. It was almost like an Olympic opening and closing ceremony rolled into one. I just can’t get excited by it all but if I’m in-like last night-i’ll have it on in the background. For us old Western imperialists music is one of the few things we can still lord it over the rest of the world.

    I think voting for your ‘neighbour’ is a very human thing to do and I wonder how Norway will top the flying ‘swimming pools’? Although I’m not sure how they got away with calling it ‘dance’ by having people run and skid in some water-seemed fun though.

  4. What a bright star…only seen in the heavens every 1000 years…!!

    An extreme good looker and a face to watch…A mix of Brad Pitt, Colin Farrel with the exotic cheekbones of Rudolf Nureyef. His loads of charisma, 1000% photogenics,Peter Pan innocence and his sence of music will bring him very high on the world stage.

    His manager should prepare him the soonest for Hollywood… in Europe this exploding star will just fade away……

  5. I just found your site through googling Alexandar Rybak. Saw a wire story last night and checked out Fairytale on YouTube. I’ve watched it a dozen times since. Loved your article about him and Eurovision. I’m curious about something … I watched the top three and they all sang in English. I’m new to Eurovision (as a Californian) — is English the common denominator? Anybody?

  6. Generally yes as the years have progressed but not always. France always give their points in French as a point of honour.

  7. J DiNova, I’m a fellow American who watches Eurovision (strange how I picked it up), though I’ve only been watching it since Lordi won in 2006.

    English is commonly used simply because about half or more of Europe understands it, so they feel it’ll make their song more successful; still, a song in Serbian won in 2007 so it’s not always the case.

    Personally I think it’s more interesting if a song is in its own native language, I liked the Lithuanian song when it was sung in Lithuanian instead of English, but that’s just me.

    Alexander definitely deserved it but it’d be interesting to see how many of those votes were due to the jury. Yohanna’s singing was undoubtedly the best but the lyrics were boring. Azerbaijan’s song was the best pop song even if it was repetitive, Turkey’s act was great but the singing wasn’t, and it wasn’t anything new. I didn’t expect the UK to get so many points, but when you have Jade’s singing with Andrew Lloyd Webber attached to it, it’s gonna attract juries.

    This is the best Eurovision so far, simply b/c the West gave just as much of an effort as the East. Finally, it was a contest where all regions took it seriously.

  8. I’m an American living London with my English boyfriend. We had friends over Saturday night, now I don’t have anything against Eurovision contest, not having grown up with it, I find it well lets just say I don’t have the TV on when we have guests, but our Irish friend wanted to watch as he does every year. It turned out our friend from Colombia also wanted to watch. Our Australian friends weren’t to keen, but after it was on a while they started watching as well. So it seems Eurovision contest ir truly international. Don’t know if Alexandar Rybak was the best act, but he definitely was the best winner for the good of the contest itself. What a cutie & talented, just want to cuddle him and then f–k his brains out, if I was single of course.

  9. fairytale lyrics
    Years ago, when I was younger,
    I kinda liked a girl I knew.
    She was mine, and we were sweethearts
    That was then, but then it’s true
    I’m in love with a fairytale,
    even though it hurts
    ‘Cause I don’t care if I lose my mind
    I’m already cursed.
    Every day we started fighting,
    every night we fell in love
    No one else could make me sadder,
    but no one else could lift me high above
    I don’t know what I was doing,
    when suddenly, we fell apart
    Nowadays, I cannot find her
    But when I do, we’ll get a brand new start
    I’m in love with a fairytale,
    even though it hurts
    ‘Cause I don’t care if I lose my mind
    I’m already cursed
    She’s a fairytale
    Even though it hurts
    ‘Cause I don’t care if I lose my mind
    I’m already cursed

  10. Had the chance to see every year Eurovision on TV España/International Channel received on Cablevision in Monterrey, Mexico.

    Alexander Rybak’s splendid performance caused a revolt on the final since the beginning. With family at home, immediately considered his “Faitytle” as the winning song of the night. Norway
    must be very happy for this.

    Having read some comments about his life as a performer, seems that Rybak, with his great background, have the sky as limit.

    Keep on composing and playing and songwriting. Great and cute boy.

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