Berlin - Did you know that the winner of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest could be a Berliner – and it isn’t Germany’s act? Daði Freyr, 28, is singing for his native Iceland – but has lived in Berlin since he came to study at the Catalyst Institute for Creative Arts and Technology in 2014.
Despite having never visited the city before he moved, Daði now feels at home here. The city’s diverse multicultural and creative scene is something he particularly appreciates: “That’s one of the most fun things about it,” he told the Berliner Zeitung’s English Edition at an interview in October last year. “You’re always meeting people from different places, but still people that have similar mindsets – they came to Berlin to pursue something. We’re surrounded by artists constantly.”
He’s recently been back home in Iceland preparing to represent the country at Eurovision, which this year is taking place in Rotterdam. He had to wait longer to take to the Eurovision stage than he might have expected when he won the Icelandic national selection competition in 2020. His song, Think About Things, was a viral sensation, racking up 27 million views on YouTube and nearly 80 million streams on Spotify; fans and bookmakers were sure the competition was his to lose. But coronavirus saw the contest cancelled for the first time in its history. Now, Daði is one of the many artists who were due to represent their countries in 2020, but will take to the stage in Rotterdam with new songs.
The betting odds suggest Daði’s 2021 entry, 10 Years, stands a good chance of securing a historic first Eurovision win for Iceland – but the stakes are high. On Wednesday this week, a member of Gagnamagnið, the ensemble of Daði’s close family and friends who perform with him on stage, tested positive for coronavirus. The group made the decision that rather than perform live but one man down, viewers would vote on a video recording of one of their rehearsals in the arena – for both their semi-final performance on Thursday and in Saturday’s grand final.
It’s news that might disappoint Eurovision fans who were hoping to see Daði live in Rotterdam – but for him, just making it to the competition with his crew is an achievement. “The main reason I want to go back is to experience Eurovision with those guys,” he said in October.
In fact, Daði’s music career could have taken a completely different direction if it hadn’t been for his viral success in 2020. “If Think About Things hadn’t panned out the way it did, I probably would have moved back to Iceland and done sound engineering. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t live in Berlin now,” he says. Having already entered Iceland’s national selection competition in 2017, he went into the 2020 contest with a more determined mindset: “The biggest part of the plan was to get another song played on the radio in Iceland so I could play more gigs there and keep working as a musician.”
Daði now lives in Schöneberg with his wife Árný – 10 Years is an ode to their relationship – and their daughter, who was the inspiration for Think About Things. In the chorus he sings: “Baby, I can’t wait to know / What do you think about things?” Árný is also part of Daði’s Eurovision performance as a member of Gagnamagnið. The couple recently announced they are expecting a second child.
Whether or not Daði lifts the Eurovision trophy on Saturday night, the success of his songs for the competition has been enough to score him a dedicated international following. He has strings of tour dates across Europe and the US lined up for 2022. Performing live again is something he’s had to wait a long time for as well – performances for November and December 2020 and spring 2021 were all cancelled in the wake of Europe’s third wave of coronavirus. “I can’t wait for things to be back,” he said in October. “It’s super weird to sell out shows for the first time when I’m planning a tour and people are actually buying tickets, and then I just can’t go to the gigs.”
Daði was able to perform a virtual set from Berlin’s Metropol for the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in January this year. Although he says it’s hard to compare the music scenes in Iceland (population 364,000) and Berlin (pop. 3.7 million), it’s the music venues here that offer him a positive contrast to back home. “There are so many here, smaller venues where anybody can play. We probably have three in Reykjavik, and they’re all downtown at this point because everything is turning into hotels,” he says wryly.
Nonetheless, the glory will be for Iceland if Daði and Gagnamagnið secure the win despite coronavirus’ best efforts. His eyes are on the prize – but also on enjoying the Eurovision experience. “I’m going to try to win – but I’ve got to make a song that’s got the goods to go high in the competition first,” he told us. “If we can go with our group of friends to Eurovision and take home a trophy, that would be a good story. But the point is not to win. We’re going to aim for the win - but we’ll expect less.”