No other country’s entry at the huge if hotly debated Eurovision Song Contest won as many votes from the public as Norway’s trio known as KEiiNO late Saturday night. Two of KEiiNO’s members are crediting their Sami colleague Fred Buljo for catapulting them from 15th- to 5th place in the finals.
Norwegian fans and not least Norwegian media were relishing the fact that Norway won the television viewers’ voting portion of the elaborate annual song contest. KEiiNO’s song Spirit in the Sky had attracted good reviews but landed in 15th place based on the votes of the professional juries in each of the 41 countries participating.
Then, as the Eurovision broadcast to an estimated 200 million viewers around the world extended well past midnight, came the results of all those sending in their votes for their favourite entry. Program hosts started at the bottom of the list of the 26 countries that had made it into the final, adding the points awarded based on public voting to the juries’ points. Most of the public point tallies were modest, with Germany’s entry receiving exactly zero.
Then came Norway, at a time when Sweden was in the lead based on the juries’ voting, followed by North Macedonia and The Netherlands. Norway, which advanced to the final on Thursday night, had even fallen to 23rd place, after the so-called “televotes” had been distributed to other rival countries.
The program hosts were clearly startled by the numbers they were then sent from the control booth, asking Norway’s delegation, “Norway, are you ready? Because you got 291 points!” That actually hurled Norway’s KEiiNO into the first-place position, at least until the televoting ultimately sent The Netherlands’ vocalist Duncan Laurence with his song Arcade into the overall top spot.
The Norwegian members of KEiiNO and their fans were ecstatic, also over their final 5th-place finish. KEiiNO singers Tom Hugo and Alexandra Rotan said on Sunday that they were “dedicating” what’s considered a respectable result at Eurovision to their fellow singer Fred Buljo, whose Sami heritage and Sami joik set them apart from all the other entries that often featured wailing vocalists and lots of pyrotechnics.
“Fred works so incredibly hard,” Rotan told Norwegian reporters covering the Eurovision spectacle that was held in Tel Aviv. “The power he has when he joiks is exceptional,” she added, referring to the traditional and distinctive Sami chant.
Hugo agreed, calling Buljo “a superman. It’s to his credit that we’re here (among top finalists in the Eurovision Song Contest).”
“I’m very proud of my Sami background and culture,” said Buljo, who hails from Kautokeino in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark. “This shows that the joik, which is Europe’s oldest song tradition, touches people’s souls.”
The United Nations is also honouring traditional languages of indigenous peoples this year, with Norway’s Sami Parliament (Sametinget) receiving NOK 1.1 million to boost exposure of the Sami language. “Now we can continue the work to strengthen languages under threat,” Buljo said, adding that he’s involved in production of a “concept album” featuring indigenous languages from around the world.
Eurovision otherwise ended after weeks of debate and criticism that it would amount this year to “pure propaganda” for its host country Israel, which is a member of the European Broadcasting Union that produces Eurovision. Since an Israeli singer won last year’s Eurovision, Israel was thus obligated to host this year’s show.
Calls had gone out for boycotts, with the head of Norway’s own Palestine Committee claiming Israel would gloss over its “occupation of Palestinian areas and apartheid.” More than 140 Norwegian performing artists had signed a protest declaration against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while human rights organizations also had objected. Newspaper Dagsavisen had editorialized this week that Eurovision’s slogan this year, Dare to Dream, “couldn’t have been more paradoxical,” given how dreams of peace in the Middle East continue to be dashed along with Palestinians’ dreams of freedom.
Participating musicians including Norway’s KEiiNO noted, however, that Eurovision has often been caught in political conflicts even though it was founded in the last 1950s as a means of furthering European cooperation after World War II. Singer Tom Hugo had defended KEiiNO’s participation, noting that “we weren’t chosen to have political opinions. We were chosen to sing a song.” Eurovision winner Duncan Laurence followed that up late Saturday night, claiming as he clutched his trophy that “this is to dreaming big, this is to the music, always.”