Eurovision hero back home, his popularity overwhelms NRK

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Alexander Rybak, the young musician who secured a record-breaking victory for Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow over the weekend, came home to a stunning welcome while Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) tried to come to grips with his performance. It resulted in enormous TV viewership and means NRK must host next year’s Eurovision extravaganza.

Alexander Rybak was wildly popular after winning the Eurovision Song Contest. PHOTO: NRK

Thousands of fans descended on Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen Sunday night to wave the flag and welcome Rybak back to Norway. An estimated 2.3 million Norwegians had watched his performance on the Eurovision Song Contest broadcast from Moscow Saturday night, an astonishing number in a country of just 4.6 million people.

“Everyone wanted to be a part of it,” explained advertising executive and trends expert Kjetil Try on NRK’s national news Monday evening. “It just shows that there are still some things that can gather the entire nation.”

It may seem odd that it was an often-ridiculed European pop music event that did it. Norway isn’t even part of the European Union. Most agree it was Nybak himself, his song and his on-stage charisma, that spurred such public enthusiasm.He was modest as ever when he emerged from the customs and immigration area at Oslo’s main airport and into the swarm of screaming fans. He’d had to agree to a few bodyguards, but nonetheless accepted roses and even some hugs from adoring fans.

Welcome-home activities continued on Monday, when he performed in front of fans at home on Nesodden (the peninsula where he grew up, just across the Oslo Fjord from the capital) and met officials at NRK. The national broadcaster must first decide where to hold next year’s event, with Bergen, Trondheim, Hamar and Tromsø already vying for the privilege while Oslo and neighboring Bærum are the favorites. The Eurovision Song Contest has grown so large, with 42 countries competing in it now, that organizers place major demands on arena and hotel capacity. Few venues in Norway can meet such demands, and not even the capital of Oslo can host an event that could match the scope of Moscow’s.

Both Norway’s Minister of Culture and the head of NRK already have made it clear that budget allocations for next year’s event will likely be only half that spent by organizers in Moscow. Officials at the European Broadcasting Union reportedly have no problems with that, and think it may be a good idea to scale down the sheer spectacle aspect of the event.

Meanwhile, Rybak seemed pleased to be back in Norway, where his mother celebrated her 50th birthday on Monday. Both of Rybak’s parents emigrated to Norway from Belarus and they too seemed overwhelmed by their son’s success.

Among the many ways it was heralded on Monday: The carillon atop Oslo’s City Hall played Rybak’s winning song “Fairytale” every hour on Monday afternoon.