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Ulrikke at MGP: More Than Norway’s Returning Winner Written by on February 4, 2023

Ulrikke Brandstorp won Melodi Grand Prix 2020 with the song ‘Attention’. Sadly the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2020 meant she never got the chance to perform at the Song Contest that year. However, it has taken three years of waiting for Ulrikke to return to Norway’s selection process and she has qualified for Saturday’s final of Melodi Grand Prix. But why has it taken so long for such a return? Ben Robertson tells the story.

Ulrikke Brandstorp had a long history of being in the public eye as an artist before winning Melodi Grand Prix in 2020. Eurovision fans may remember her first Melodi Grand Prix experience in 2017, finishing 4th with the song ‘Places’ after opening the ten-song show in Oslo Spektrum. Norwegian will know Ulrikke from before that however, she took part in Idol in 2013, reaching the Semi Final stage, while losing out in the battle rounds of The Voice and finishing in second place in NRK’s Stjernekamp entertainment show.

While Ulrikke has managed to carve a way into the music industry in Norway, she was always just falling short rather than taking the final prize.

At Last, The 2020 Show

Christian Ingebrigtsen and Kjetil Mørland wrote the song ‘Attention’ as a perfect fit for Ulrikke. The song got a pass directly to the final of MGP and went in on the night as the favourite to represent Norway in Rotterdam. On the night, a voting malfunction caused the crowd in Oslo to boo the presenters, and the four songs qualifying for the Guldfinal that evening were decided by a backup jury. While some of the fan favourites surprisingly missed out at this stage Ulrikke made it through the vote-off between four songs to make the head-to-head for the ticket to the Netherlands. And here she was against debutant Kristin Husöy, eliminated in the first live round of The Voice in the previous year, and somebody who had surprised expectations on the night to get this far.

But Kristin took the early lead in the region-by-region voting, gaining 70% of the votes from the central region that was her home. Ulrikke only scored 60% from her home region in the east of the country, but the higher population surrounding Norway’s capital meant Ulrikke took a rollercoaster victory with 50.72% of the votes. It doesn’t get much closer.

This moment, the first time when Ulrikke actually won a major show on Norwegian television, she described as “the greatest thing” that she has ever experienced.

The only thing that could possibly top that would be what happens in Rotterdam.

But Ulrikke never made it to Rotterdam. The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest never took place, as the pandemic took hold from country to country. “My dream has been shattered”, said Ulrikke on hearing the news. “The thing you want to do is scream and cry but you know ten minutes later you have to be on TV on the national news talking about it so you can’t let your emotions out.”

In the following days of turmoil and fallout, many broadcasters offered their selected artist an opportunity to represent their nation in 2021. Not Norway. The Norwegian broadcaster NRK confirmed that Melodi Grand Prix would return the following year, and although Ulrikke would be offered a space directly into the show’s final (the same offer that was given to The Roop in Lithuania), she was “naturally very disappointed with NRK’s decision.” Ultimately Ulrikke did not compete against TIX and KEiiNO the following year, but did return to the show to reprise ‘Attention‘ and perform her new single.

And while all of this drama and disappointment happened in front of the cameras. Behind the cameras was another story of heartbreak.

A Story Of Two People

At this point, we need to introduce Christoffer Gunnestad. Christoffer’s professional relationship is as Ulrikke’s manager but together they are far more than that. They have described themselves as being close friends and back at the start of 2020 Christoffer and Ulrikke were sharing an apartment together.

Speaking to the Euro Trip Podcast, Ulrikke spoke about how their relationship came to be.

“Actually it feels like I have known him forever. We met in 2018 and we just had an instant connection and moved in together. He wasn’t planning on being my manager, we were just friends. I was doing a tv show called “Battle of the Stars” where you sing different genres and stuff and he just started doing things a manager would do. I was looking for a manager at my time and…he was living in my apartment.

“My whole family loves him, he spends the Christmas holiday with us, we are always together. He is the lost brother my parents never had.”

At the same time as the Melodi Grand Prix circus was building momentum, Christoffer’s father fell ill with cancer, a fact that he hid from Ulrikke until after the press launch buzz had died down.

Winning Melodi Grand Prix opened up plans to head away on the pre-party circuit, and Eurovision, which “was not just my dream it was his dream”, explained Ulrikke. The first stop to meet the fans was Melfest WKND before the final of Melodifestivalen in March. That trip though was the start of the end, the CoVID pandemic had hit Europe and on return to Norway the pair were quarantined, meaning Christoffer had to miss some of those final days with his father. He did eventually get the chance to speak to him in person at his nursing home, holding his hand and telling him about his rollercoaster of adventures over recent weeks.

Then came phone call after phone call while in the same room as his father. News had broken that the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest had been cancelled. After telling his father that he had to go and take care of Ulrikke, his father squeezed his hand to acknowledge his farewell, the most response his father had been able to give for a week and a half.

The next morning, a phone call came to Christoffer in the morning. His father had died that very night.

In the middle of all the chaos happening around the world with lockdowns and cancellations was another internal grieve taking place. Ulrikke and Christoffer, living the same apartment, stuck together with quarantine, had a heaviness to their relationship with a “big elephant in the room” about the events that took place. The strain of those stressful few months meant that Ulrikke moved back to her parents, and their relationship became functional and work focused, void of emotion.

Months later the pair did sit down and have a proper conversation. Tears flowed. Both of them were terrified of losing each other.

“I Couldn’t Tell You Were Broken”

When Ulrikke didn’t return to Melodi Grand Prix in 2021, the reasoning was that Ulrikke needed to find the right song, and one where the message is more important than ever.

Her entry for 2023, ‘Honestly’ she describes as “a declaration of love” from herself to Christoffer. This is a song about “being afraid of losing someone you love and not knowing how you can reach out for help.”

The lyrics are a perfect match to explain this story. Ulrikke starts the song by discussing the “pain in your eyes” but how she “couldn’t see it”, and while Christoffer was “going through hell” on the other side Ulrikke “couldn’t tell you were broken”.

Ulrikke describes ‘Honestly’ as the “most vulnerable and impressionable song I have ever written”, and while she admits it is “a bit like ‘Attention’” fitting into a category she describes as “proper Eurovision ballads” there was still an element of surprise the team wanted to provide in the song.

Part of that comes from the song’s bilingualism, with the phrase Til Evig Tid (meaning forever or to eternity in Norwegian) which isn’t just the only occasion one might feel a touch of ‘Husavik’ inspiration from the formula used here. This line is even the phrase used for the huge vocal crescendo towards the final chorus which screams pyro curtain (Ulrikke and Christoffer are well aware of this, and would have liked to have used on for the Semi Finals of NRK, but the show’s budget didn’t extend to that) and the whole package comes across as that Disney-princess-musical-emotional-heartbreaking story, all fitting into that classic three minute Eurovision formula, that I’m sure is familiar for all of you.

But despite the familiarity that is fully authentic for Ulrikke. While she may not be the artist leading the Spotify streaming statistics this year with ‘Honestly’ nor was she in 2020 either. Her career outside of the Song Contest is dominated by her musical work, with her cast in The Sound of Music and Mamma Mia in recent years (conspiracy theorists note that she is booked for Mamma Mia again this year, from April to June, including the night of the Eurovision final). For an artist with this background, and with this back story, I can think of no better artist to authentically bring a track like ‘Honestly’ to the MGP stage. This is the style of music and performance that is at one with who Ulrikke Brandstorp is and wants to be.

There were some doubts for Ulrikke about entering the circus again. On one side there were the fears of competing and the fact there is “more pressure” this time round, both as returning winner but also because “this song is so much more personal”. Yet ultimately the conclusion to roll the dice once more was because the “Grand Prix environment is so amazing” with Ulrikke concluding that “I can’t let my fears stop me from competing.”

There’s also the fact that now, three years on, both Ulrikke and Christoffer have found the song, the message and the relationship between each other to go into this competition one more time and see whether the Norwegian population takes them to fulfill their Eurovision dream or not.

Whatever happens on Saturday night (bookies make it roughly a 50/50 chance that Ulrikke gets the ticket to Liverpool) arguably more important is that this journey is the culmination of Ulrikke’s and Christoffer’s journey through separation and then coming back together, stronger.

Til evig tid.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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