Play Introduces “Stopover” Option

iceland budget airline play

The airline Play announced today that passengers on their connecting flights to and from Iceland can stop over in Iceland without an additional fee. This applies to passengers travelling between North America and Europe and they can now book a “stopover” for up to ten days using Play’s website interface, Viðskiptablaðið reports.

“Play is focused on offering competitive prices for its markets and with this service, travellers will be able to visit two countries without paying extra, using the airline’s online booking platform,” Play’s press release read.

Competing with Icelandair’s “stopover”

Icelandair, Iceland’s other international passenger airline, has offered the “stopover” option for a number of years. In their case, passengers travelling across the Atlantic can stay in Iceland for up to seven nights without an additional fee.

“This increases our offerings and will be a valuable tool in the competition for customers in our markets,” said Birgir Jónsson, CEO of Play, about the company’s new product. “It’s an unequivocal benefit for passengers to choose Play if they want to travel across the Atlantic and are intrigued by the attractiveness of Iceland. This new service on our website will simplify the process of booking a stay in our beautiful country and will increase our airline’s esteem abroad even more.”

In the United States, Play flies to Baltimore, Boston, New York and Washington DC, but also offers flights to Toronto in Canada. In Europe, the airline has over 30 destinations.

Decades of Darkness

Andkristni festival Icelandic Metal

On December 21, the annual black metal festival Andkristni kicked off at the bar and concert venue Gaukurinn in downtown Reykjavík. As an initiate, I had hoped for a night of mayhem, madness, and moshing, but what I found was a less anarchic, more introverted, more thoughtful group of people, uniting to celebrate the winter […]

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Iceland Drops in Corruption Rankings

Boat with Samherji Logo

Iceland is down two spots in Transparency International’s corruption rankings and now sits in 19th place. The Nordic countries, apart from Iceland, rank at the top as some of the least corrupt countries in the world, Heimildin reports.

Transparency International, a global movement to end the injustice of corruption, published its list this morning. Each country is rated on the basis of factors linked to corruption in the public sector, with 0 being the most corrupt and 100 the least corrupt. As it stands, Iceland has a rating of 72, the lowest rating it’s ever received. The country dropped two points and two spots from last year. In 2005 and 2006, Iceland ranked as the least corrupt country in the world before revelations related to the financial crash of 2008 saw it move down the list.

Samherji case highlighted

In a notice from the Icelandic office of Transparency International, a number of bribery cases, the privatisation of the publicly-owned Íslandsbanki, the Samherji bribery scandal, political uncertainty, and a corrupt fisheries system are named as examples of factors that have decreased public faith in good governance.

The Icelandic office specifically mentions the 2019 revelations that Samherji, one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies, had allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes. A number of Namibian officials are already on trial for their part in the scandal, but in Iceland, no one has been charged in the four years since the story broke.

“Namibia has 49 points, unchanged from last year,” the notice reads. “The Icelandic office would like to highlight that Namibia is down three points since the Samherji case began. During the same time period, Iceland dropped six points.”

Nordics top the list

Transparency International was founded in 1992 and now operates in over 100 countries. They’re independent, non-governmental, and not-for-profit and have a vision for “a world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption”, according to their website.

Denmark is the least corrupt country according to the index, with 90 out of 100 points. Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Sweden follow. The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia, according to the index, with South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and North Korea ranking just above it.

Melting Hearts

Ice Guys Icelandic boyband

Long in the tooth

Jón Jónsson had the idea for Ice Guys in early 2023. 

It all began as a kind of a joke. 

He was, after all, 38 years old and probably a bit too long in the tooth to start a boy band. 

But, despite his advanced age – in boy-band years, that is – he still had his boyish good looks and those teeth, no matter how long, would become the focal point of a Colgate Christmas campaign later that year.

Besides, Jón had a slew of popular singles to his name and years of experience in the Icelandic music business. 

So why not?

Jón dialled the bat phone to his brother, popstar Friðrik Dór; rappers Herra Hnetusmjör and Aron Can; and Iceland’s most handsome man: Rúrik Gíslason.

If you are unfamiliar with Rúrik Gíslason – Sexy Rú as he was playfully called during my time trailing the gang – a brief digression is in order.

Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband

“The hot one”

In the summer of 2018 – when Iceland was swept up into a mania of football-coloured patriotism – then-footballer Rúrik Gíslason came on as a substitute during Iceland’s first-ever World Cup match against Argentina. 

With thirty minutes left of the game, Rúrik sprinted onto the pitch with silky blond hair gathered into a neat bun, landscaped stubble affording a smooth fella some rough texture, and uncanny valley peepers seemingly designed by machine-learning algorithms to bankrupt the concept of celibacy.

It may have been the most successful substitution in the history of Icelandic football. 

Iceland secured a tie against Argentina, one of the tournament’s top contenders, and Rúrik secured ties with legions of Argentina’s female viewership; by the time the ref had blown the final whistle, the eager fingers of a quarter million South American women had smashed follow on Instagram.

Qué lindo.

Rúrik would hit a million followers soon thereafter, and in a press conference during the tournament, goalkeeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson – who famously saved a penalty from Messi during the opening match – was asked to comment on Rúrik’s newfound glory.

“He’s finally getting the attention he deserves,” Hannes remarked. 

The press cracked up.

Ice Guys boyband
Rúrik Gíslason
Rúrik Gíslason
Rúrik Gíslason and his uncanny-valley peepers

Big ideas

During their first meeting in early 2023, Jón asked Rúrik (who had begun releasing music in 2021) and the rest of the gang if they would like to start a boy band and maybe release a summer single. 

The proverbial ball began rolling quickly. 

During their second meeting – which coincided with reports that the Backstreet Boys would perform in Iceland that April – someone pitched an idea for an Ice Guys TV show, and a few days later, Jón found himself sitting across from TV execs with “no script, just vibes.” 

And whatever Jón was selling – Sjónvarp Símans was buying.

Deal done.

During their second meeting, someone pitched an idea for an Ice Guys TV show, and a few days later, Jón found himself sitting across from TV execs with “no script, just vibes.”

Rúletta

The Ice Guys released their first single Rúletta (Roulette) in collaboration with hit-maker Þormóður Eiríksson in June of that year. 

A month later, having recruited super-producer Ásgeir Orri Ásgeirsson, they released their second single, Krumla

(Krumla is the Icelandic word for the game of Mercy, in which two people interlock fingers and attempt to bend back the wrists of their opponents.)

A video to the song, which opens with Rúrik Gíslason playing a metaphorically amorous game of Mercy with one of Iceland’s top models, was also released. 

The video, directed by Allan Sigurðsson and Hannes Þór Arason, was produced by the aforementioned Mess-penalty-saving former goalkeeper Hannes Þór Halldórsson. He had founded his own production company that summer; in Iceland, every professional athlete needs a sideline.

 

Krumla is the Icelandic word for the game of Mercy, in which two people interlock fingers and attempt to bend back the wrists of their opponents.

Krumla featured the five attractive Ice Guys engaged in a Homerian bromance while dancing admirably in sync, and admirably in denim, at various locales around the capital of Iceland, including the Reykjavík airport. 

And the ball just kept rolling.

While vacationing in Italy with his brother in July, Jón pitched the idea of hosting a Christmas concert at Kaplakriki, a sports arena in Hafnarfjörður.

Far-fetched

The idea for the concert was somewhat far-fetched, Jón admitted, sitting across from me at the Salurinn concert hall in Kópavogur, where the Ice Guys were rehearsing a few days before their big night.

“Given that we had only released two songs and all,” Jón recalled.

The Ice Guys went on to perform those two songs at the National Festival in the Westman Islands, arguably the biggest stage in Icelandic popular music, in August. 

(They weren’t booked for the event but snuck on stage as a cameo during Herra Hnetusmjör’s set.)

Parts of the TV show were filmed during their performance. 

While some were initially sceptical of this supergroup coming together under the pretence of a boy band, the TV show, released in October, seemed to clarify the concept to its detractors. 

Playing up some of the salient qualities of the five men – and inventing others – the audience was made to understand that all of this was very much tongue-in-cheek. 

(Although, as would later become evident, their wink-and-a-nod attitude was belied by the ambitiousness of their musical productions and dance routines.)

Ice Guys boyband
The younger generation looks on

Ice Guys, the TV show

In the semi-fictional TV show, it’s Friðrik Dór, and not Jón, who has the idea for founding Ice Guys, on account of having grown so emotionally drained by performing show after show as a soloist. 

Jón Jónsson agrees to the idea and spends much of the first season trying to escape the cold shadow cast by his more popular younger brother; even their mother unfairly dotes on Friðrik Dór, and wherever Jón goes, Friðrik’s music is being played. 

Aron Can, the baby of the group, plays a compulsive liar; Herra Hnetusmjör sinks deeper and deeper into debt, trying to keep up with the lavish lifestyle associated with famous rappers; and Rúrik Gíslason portrays a vain narcissist incessantly shadowed by a German film crew.

Ice Guys the TV show received rave reviews – and ticket sales for the concert picked up.

The team huddles backstage before the concert.

Swiftian

The band had originally planned on hosting a family concert in Kaplakriki in the afternoon and a longer version of the show geared towards a more adult audience during the evening. But now, in light of rising demand, the Ice Guys decided to add a second family concert for good measure. 

It sold out in the space of 12 hours.

To the outside eye, it seemed almost Swiftian: both in the sense of a satirical Jonathan of yore and the more modern, and more seismic, Taylor of now

The band released a Christmas EP in November, which featured a few original tracks and a handful of covers. 

(Ever since, my two sons, aged three and five, have sporadically broken into song and mangled the Ice Guy’s lyrics in an especially endearing way.)

To the outside eye, it seemed almost Swiftian: both in the sense of a satirical Jonathan of yore and the more modern, and more seismic, Taylor of now.

Ice Guys boyband
The Ice Guys rehearsing at the Salurinn Concert Hall

Connections

The Salurinn concert hall in Kópavogur seemed an unusually grand venue for a rehearsal space. 

Jón admitted as much.

“We had been rehearsing in World Class [an Icelandic gym franchise], but we needed some place where we could synchronise the music to our dance steps. And our boy here,” he gestured towards Herra Hnetusmjör, “was quick to pull some strings.”

Herra Hnetusmjör, or Mr. Peanut Butter in English, had, in the space of about six or seven years, crossed over from one of the island’s most technically gifted and popular rappers to a fixture of mainstream pop culture. He was currently serving as a judge on the Idol singing competition and had gained an admirable social network.

“He fished out his phone and within a minute he had done it,” Jón explained. “He called some insider from Salurinn and also some buddy of his on the municipal council.”

Jón laughed.

“The bad boy”

Every good boy band is predicated on a carefully orchestrated group dynamic constructed around precise stereotypes. If Rúrik is “the hot one,” and Jón is “the responsible older brother,” Herra Hnetusmjör is the designated “bad boy.”

He dresses in fashionable clothes, wears sunglasses inside, and maintains a stolid poker face when interacting with others – as if to suggest that while he is generally courteous and pleasant to be around, that b-boy attitude is always lurking around the corner. 

Later that day at Salurinn, one of the management took down the Ice Guy’s respective email addresses, and when it was Hnetusmjör’s turn to provide his, he replied: “…@kopbois.com.”

“How do you spell that?” the individual inquired, a bit confused. And a helpful Herra Hnetusmjör lifted up his shirt to reveal the words in tattoo form on his belly (a reference to his hometown of Kópavogur).

“How do you spell that?” the individual inquired, a bit confused. And a helpful Herra Hnetusmjör lifted up his shirt to reveal the words in tattoo form on his belly.

Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband

New Kids on the Block

It is hard to put one’s finger on the first boy band in music history. 

Some have pointed to the revival of barbershop quartets of the early 20th century while others have suggested the Beatles. 

There is, however, a much more solid argument to be made that what we in the modern age understand by the concept of “boy band” traces its roots to New Kids on the Block.

In 1982, musician, songwriter, and record producer Maurice Starr discovered New Edition at a talent contest. He went on to co-write and co-produce their debut album, Candy Girl. In spite of the success of the album and the subsequent tour, Starr reportedly only paid the members of New Edition two bucks apiece, which led to the group firing Starr in 1983 and suing for embezzlement. Starr went on to found New Kids on the Block, a kind of white version of New Edition. 

Indeed, several prominent boy bands throughout history have faced legal and financial challenges with their management. The Puerto Rican outfit Menudo reportedly endured underpayment and harsh working conditions, and both NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys had legal battles with their manager Lou Pearlman, accusing him of misrepresentation, fraud, and failure to pay adequate earnings.

 If one were to distil the essential elements of the modern boy band, it might go something like this: a group of young and handsome men, all of whom can sing and dance, are recruited by an outsider for the somewhat Machiavellian purpose of gaining popularity especially among a young and mainly female audience.

Unlike many American boy bands, whose relationship with their management has often been fraught with exploitation and legal disputes, the Ice Guys seem very much in control of their own destiny. 

Whatever the true origins of the genre, Ice Guys is, undoubtedly, the first band in Iceland that hews to the true essence of boy bands: dance moves.

Of horses and choreography

Stella Rósenkranz had hardly learned to walk when she began to dance.

As one of Iceland’s most experienced choreographers, she has worked with almost everyone, ranging from Of Monsters and Men to Emmsjé Gauti and Páll Óskar.

Stella knew Jón Jónsson from her time at Verslunarskólinn Junior College, which was also where she met producer Ásgeir Orri. 

When Jón first approached her with the idea of choreographing the video to Krumla, she said yes immediately.

A long-time fan of boy band culture, Stella found that reviewing any old videos from NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys was unnecessary; she had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to do. The only question was how capable the Ice Guys would be in executing her moves.

“The boys don’t have any background in dancing, so how do you choreograph them in a way that they don’t simply throw their hands in the air?” she explained.

She knew she had to give them plenty of footwork, to make sure they were always moving, but not so much as to detract from their vocal performances. 

And so she did what she always does. 

She took the music for Krumla to the Heiðmörk conservation area and began to walk.

She prefers to stay away from places filled with cars or pedestrians:

“I want to be in places where if I meet someone – that someone is a horse.”

She is not always successful.

“Occasionally someone will pass and write me off as a lunatic.”

The steps for Krumla came relatively quickly.

“But I had to slightly revise them in the studio. As I compose while walking, there is always this forward motion, and so I had to adjust the steps so that the boys weren’t moving 20 metres forward on stage.” 

Having settled on a basic framework, she took her ideas to the Ice Guys and gauged their abilities and reaction. 

“We just hit it off at once. I began adding more complicated moves and they proved equal to the task. I realised that I could really challenge them, which was exciting for me.”

Aron Can

“I want to be in places where if I meet someone – that someone is a horse.”

Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband
Choreographer Stella Rósenkranz directing the "guys"

Soundcheck

It was just before noon on December 16, and the Kaplakriki sports stadium was tottering towards excitation. 

In an hour and a half, the uncrowded hallways would be congested with stirring children and their parents, and, as the day slowly turned to night, and one performance followed the next, Jón Jónsson would appear to transcend to the veritable culmination of his earthly existence; even when there is nothing doing, he’s all energy, but this morning the occasion seemed to finally measure up to his enthusiasm. 

Bouncing on stage during soundcheck, Jón was belting out the lyrics to Stingið henni í steininn, when the playback was suddenly cut off. Without missing a beat, Jón promptly reframed the technical mishap in a positive light – almost in the vein of Norman Vincent Peale.

“It’s OK, that’s why we’re practising!” he declared as he frolicked on the stage; and then, in a sort of upbeat non-sequitur, he yelled: “Awesome!”

Meanwhile, Stella – whom Jón credited for the ambitiousness of the Ice Guys’ show – was amicably barking instructions through her wireless mic. 

Once the playback came back on, the band continued to rehearse. Jón stepped down from the stage and reached over the partition, pretending to slap hands with the crowd – which had yet to arrive. 

Judging by his enthusiasm, however, there might as well have been a crush of fans screaming below on the empty dance floor. 

(He later explained that this trance-like gusto was a part of his process of visualisation, a technique that once carried him through an entire marathon for which he had not adequately trained.)

His brother Friðrik Dór was less obviously excited. Like a young Frank Sinatra, face eternally paralysed by cool, Friðrik was visibly drained trying to balance the demands of choreography with the requirements of vocal performance. 

When he descended the stage following the soundcheck, he was notably flustered. “This is going to kill me,” he remarked.

Without missing a beat, Jón promptly reframed the technical mishap in a positive light - almost in the vein of Norman Vincent Peale.

Zeitgeist

Among the people looking on as the Ice Guys completed their final soundcheck was Ásgeir Orri. 

A seasoned producer who has worked with many of Iceland’s most popular artists – ranging from Friðrik Dór, Páll Óskar, Herra Hnetusmjör, Steindi Jr., and Bríet – Ásgeir, like Stella Rósenkranz, did not take much convincing to collaborate with the Ice Guys. 

He was partly inspired by the Swedish super-producer Max Martin, who has been responsible for many of the era’s major pop hits: the Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way, NSYNC’s It’s Gonna Be Me, and Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time, to name a few. 

“I’ve tried to use modern drum samples in conjunction with the snares, hits, and claps that are ubiquitous in some of the classic boy band songs. And then all of it is driven home by these big catchy Euro pop melodies.” 

What Ásgeir enjoyed about the project was how it seemed to gel with the current zeitgeist of fun and joy. He also believes that music benefits from being tied to cultural phenomena.

“A lot of what has been popular lately are songs that are tied to these larger gimmicks or cultural events, like the Barbie movie, for example. It’s really hard for a song to set itself apart if it isn’t tied to some larger occasion.” 

Once the soundcheck finished, Ásgeir decided to gun it back to the studio and re-export the tracks to accommodate some of the breathless dancing. 

“Higher backing vocals in some places, a little lower in others.”

Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband
Ice Guys boyband

Reservations

Despite the number of elements that required coordination, the Ice Guys’ first family concert went off without a hitch. 

During the first half of the show, the members of the group jumped onto the stage and performed songs from their own private catalogues, prior to launching into the Ice Guys’ more impressive, and more ambitious, choreographed routine. 

The children were visibly enthused by the performance, although I – sitting on the bleachers with my family – wondered if the group would have been better served jumping right into the latter half of the show.

Whatever reservations I had harboured prior to the evening performance, however, were dispelled once the Ice Guys launched into their final, full-length show. 

It kept to the same format, with individual members of the group taking the stage one at a time, or in pairs, but this time, there was a live band on stage, more individual performances, and a few notable cameos.

When Birnir joined Herra Hnetusmjör on stage for Já, ég veit, an old-school hip-hop banger featuring a stuttering, in-your-face synthetic bass line, the crowd went wild. Seeing Hnetusmjör change into a white suit later in the performance, so as to croon a Christmas song with the Ice Guys while seated, was likewise unique, to say the least.

(A TV weatherman from Fox News, a die-hard fan of Jón Jónsson, was reportedly among the crowd that evening.) 

The decibel levels following the Ice Guys’ performance of Krumla were deafening. My ears would ring for the better part of the night.

A return to youth

Jón Jónsson would later confess that he had never experienced anything like it. 

“I’m the kind of person who can usually fall asleep immediately after a show, but I was so buzzed after our performance, that I stayed up most of the night, scrolling through videos on social media and thinking to myself: ‘Did that just happen?’”

When Jón stumbled to his feet in the morning, he felt as if he had run three consecutive marathons. 

“Fortunately, my family was on their way to the public pool, and I tagged along. I shuffled between the steam room and the cold tubs in an attempt to recover.” 

On the night before, it was as if he had returned to his early twenties; many of his wife’s friends felt the same way.

Which seemed, somehow, appropriate.

(Season 2 of the Ice Guys TV show was announced just prior to the annual comedy revue that aired on the National Broadcaster on December 31, 2023.)

Deep North Episode 59: Turf and Rescue

turf house farm iceland

Hannes Lárusson grew up in a cluster of turf houses on the farmstead Austur-Meðalholt in Southwest Iceland.

His ancestors moved there around 1850. The houses they constructed were made with the remnants of the land’s pre-existing houses, which slouched near the marshes when they arrived. The history of the farmstead stretches nearly as far back as the settlement.

In 1965, when he was ten years old, Hannes moved to Reykjavík. He studied visual art and philosophy in Iceland and abroad prior to redirecting his attention to his childhood home in the mid-80s.

By that time, the turf houses of Austur-Meðalholt were abandoned and on the verge of ruin. Although he had observed those houses being mended as a boy, he lacked the know-how to rebuild them himself; and so Hannes and his family enlisted the aid of Jóhannes Arason, a turf master who grew up in the Westfjords’ Gufudalssveit area, and who stayed with them for parts of the summer between 1987 and 1993.

Read the story here.

Grindavík Residents Visit Their Homes

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

Authorities gave permission yesterday for Grindavík residents to enter the town and pick up some of their belongings. Residents were allowed re-entry in groups and had three hours to collect their most important possessions, Morgunblaðið reports.

This was the first time residents were allowed back into town since a volcanic eruption began on January 14. The eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the unforeseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity.

Strict rules for re-entry

Many Grindavík residents had not returned to town since before Christmas and were anxious to receive permission from police and authorities to return. The road conditions on Krýsuvíkurvegur were suboptimal during the visiting hours and many cars got stuck in snow. Even though the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration cleared the road yesterday morning, heavy snowfall caused condition to quickly deteriorate.

Residents had to follow strict rules during their visit. They were not allowed to adjust the heating in their homes, use bathrooms, or move around the town. Many open crevasses remain across the area and infrastructure is damaged.

Family displaced

“We picked up more clothes and toys for our children,” said resident Alexandra Hauksdóttir, who returned with her husband Gunnar. “Gunnar took his golf clubs and we also picked up our pizza oven. Just this and that, but no large items.”

The couple moved in to a new house two and a half years ago, but it is now near the largest crevasse and the lava which flowed into town. “I felt at home there,” Alexandra told Morgunblaðið and added that they would like to return with their two children when it’s safe. “We’re staying in Keflavík in a 60 square metre apartment, down from 190. It makes a difference.”

The Icelandic Red Cross has set up a page with donation options for those wishing to lend support. This includes both one-time donations and repeat subscriptions.