In a slight comfort to those of us counting down the days until Melodifestivalen, Norway held the first semifinal of its national selection for Eurovision, the Melodi Grand Prix, recently. Some familiar names took place, including 2008's MGP winner Maria Haukaas Storeng, Eurovision fan favorite Lene Alexander, and long ago Idol contestant Gaute Ormåsen (as well as the less well-known but still recognizable to international pop fans Elisabeth Carew of several pleasant contemporary R&B-pop songs). Songs by Maria and Keep of the Castle, a hard rock group whose entry is nowhere near as good as Wig Wam's "In My Dreams," qualified directly to the final, but it's one of entrants that only made it to the second chance round that I've had spinning around in my head.
Like Gaute, Bjørn Johan Muri took second in a season of Idol, though in the more recent year of 2007, but of more interest to me than the pedigree of the singer is that of the song. "Yes Man," a gentle singer-songwritery song, a little like a Eurovision version of Owl City or Coldplay, is co-written by Simen Eriksrud and Simone Larsen. Simone is the German-born but longtime Norway-residing lead singer of D'sound, a band with a laidback pop sound that too often approaches jazz or chill too closely for me to honestly say I adore them. Still, they've had their moments over the years, and when they steer themselves towards what I tend to think of as a "Norwegian" singer-songwriter sound, they can make lovely little songs. Take, as an example, their 2003 single "Do I Need A Reason," taken from the only album of theirs I own in full, Doublehearted.
D'sound's singles from this year may not have made an impression on the Norwegian charts, but Simone is hardly hurting for success: she's behind the melody of Donkeyboy's "Ambitions," probably the biggest hit of 2009 in her adopted home country. Likewise, Simen Eriksrud co-wrote that song and many of the others on Donkeyboy's debut album. If you've somehow missed it thus far, I beg you to listen to "Ambitions," a completely enchanting debut single, now.
"Yes Man" isn't a song that seems like a good match for the Eurovision context, nor is it as good as "Ambitions" (even if "Ambitions" has its share of less than great lines, the end result is, through one of those miracles of pop magic, lyrics that end up with a feeling of complexity and emotion, whereas those of "Yes Man" don't tug on you in quite the same way; also, the vocals here really have nothing on the Donkeyboy boys and Linnea Dale on "Ambitions") but its delicate, pretty melody and production style is one I'm far from tired of hearing. I'd say hopefully it finds commercial success in Norway, but signs are good that so far that's already occurring: it's currently topping the iTunes chart there, beating out both of the songs that qualified ahead of it.