It’s like those hypothetical sporting debates about the best footballer never to play in a World Cup or the best golfer who never won a Major: is Daði Freyr’s Think About Things the best Eurovision song never to take part in the contest?
That’s what YouTube (8.1 million views), Spotify (10.2 million plays) and TokTok (53,000 homemade videos) users think, anyway. The buoyant, funky, finger-clicking synthpop track, written by 27-year-old Icelander Daði Freyr Pétursson (it’s pronounced “Dathi”) has multiple ingredients that add up to a viral smash. There’s that Technicolour whoosh of a chorus, a signature dance that’s easy to copy (not least by Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner this week), a silly video in which the band gives their all in front of a deeply underwhelmed household, and emerald green sweaters with pixelated images of the wearers’ faces.
He wasn’t the favourite to win – that was the Billie Eilish-lite of Tears Getting Sober by Bulgaria’s Victoria – but he had the internet’s heart and you could bet on him at 6/1 before Eurovision’s cancellation was announced on March 18. So last Saturday, when he should have been in Rotterdam bringing that dance to a vast international audience, he and two widely spaced bandmates were on stage in a depressingly empty Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, doing it for a mini version of the contest with nine other countries on German television. Lithuania won.
“I didn’t know that we were still kind of competing, and the German people would be voting,” he says via video call from his Berlin apartment two days later. “So we did a stripped down, slower version of the song, which everybody thought was weird. We still came second.”
Pétursson had been building up to this moment for a long time. In 2017, just after finishing a Sound Engineering degree in Berlin, he entered the contest to find Iceland’s next Eurovision candidate. Many of the same elements were in place – the retro keytars, some rudimentary dance steps and the funny jumpers – but the song, Hvað með það? (“Is This Love?”), wasn’t as strong and it was Paper by Svala that went on to the main event that year.
He wasn’t worried about his credibility. Maybe it’s only the UK that tends to feel smug and a bit superior about Eurovision – we’re less bothered whether Europeans like our entry because, with our Ed Sheerans, our Adeles and our Coldplays, their charts give UK music douze points every other week of the year. “I wouldn’t say it’s considered cool, but in Iceland, to compete isn’t frowned upon,” he explains. “Hatari, the industrial techno band we sent last year, haven’t lost any of their hardcore fans. If you have a nice song and a nice act, no one thinks less of you for sending it in.”
So it was inevitable that he would have another go. “The Icelandic TV station has asked me every year since that contest. I’m really happy that the 2017 song didn’t take off like this one has, because I was nowhere near being ready for all the attention and all the work. But I’m ready now.”
Indeed, he’s put a huge amount into making Think About Things a success, not only on the song itself (“You only have three minutes to be as entertaining as you can. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time on three minutes.”) but on everything around it. There’s an Instagram filter that sticks your face on a skinny body doing the flappy hands dance. On his website you can create a pixel version of your own head and order it on a jumper. Hip British dance band Hot Chip have just done a remix.
He even wrote the lyrics twice. In English, they’re a sweet sentiment about the arrival of his baby daughter (that’s his wife on synth in the video). In Icelandic, the song is about a band from outer space coming to save the world by teaching them a new dance. He says, wisely, that he wants the English version to be the one that lives on.
Now he has another song out this week – the optimistic, lockdown-themed Where We Wanna Be – a winter tour about whose potential cancellation he is also feeling optimistic, and no regrets about what would have been his greatest moment. “If this is gonna be my biggest song and I can keep making music for the rest of my life, I’m fine with that,” he says. “Eurovision being cancelled didn’t ruin everything – all that was ruined was a good party.”
Daði Freyr’s new single Where We Wanna Be is out now on AWAL. He plays Dec 2-3, Oslo, E8. oslohackney.com