UMK Is Soon Here! Which Song Should Take the Trophy?

It is once again time for the self-proclaimed Eurovision nerd to wake up from her sleep and tune in to the candidate songs of the year. UMK aka Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu, will be held on March 7th in Tampere. The six competing finalists have already been released in the end of January. No more songs will be participating – compared to the Swedish Melodifestivalen with 28 entries it may seem few, but it is still more than during the last two years when we only got to choose from three songs by the same artist.

The goal for the artists in both UMK and Melodifestivalen, as well as in many other contests in many other European countries, is a spot in the grand old Eurovision Song Contest, held for the 65th time this year. The final takes place in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on May 16. Not all the songs get to go to the finals, but every country gets to try their luck in the semi-finals a couple of days before the grand finale. Lately Finland hasn’t been so successful in the contest, and some frustration with the situation is well acceptable, yet true fans will always get excited – year after year after year!

For what it’s worth, Yle has selected six entries, from which the audience and juries get to choose their favorites. It sounds exciting enough – the audience can choose not only their favourite song, but also their favorite artist. A small pre-selection before ESC is usually a symptom of modest success in or popularity of the contest – Sweden keeps on having great results and the SVT continues to stage sumptuous events with many renowned artists joining the party. However, winners can come from surprising places, as we have learned during the last years. So, let us take a quick look on the Finnish selection of songs in 2020, and see which song Finland should send “to Europe” this year…

1. Tika – I Let My Heart Break

Jokinen/Oiva/[email protected] Music/Wang

Tika is known from X Factor, as she triumphed in the Finnish version of the show in 2018. Tika’s song is a powerful ballad in a true Eurovision style. It’s redeeming features are Tika’s strong voice and the dramatic arrangement that allows a lot of room for spectacular interpretation on stage. Personally, I think this is one of the strongest candidates, especially if Tika delivers live. However, I am a bit worried whether the song is enough to stand out from the crowd – each year there are a couple of so called ‘James Bond’ -ballads, and they must be very special to stick out. The days of typical Eurovision ballads have been over for quite some time now, and a slow song needs to carry a powerful message.

2. Erika Vikman – Cicciolina

Laakkonen/Rintala/Vanhakkala/Vikman

The year’s media favourite, Vikman’s song has probably caught more attention than any other song this year. The song is named after an Italian politician and a star of adult entertainment, Ilona Staller aka Cicciolina, and is the only one out of the six songs that is sung in Finnish. The song carries a feminist/empowering message, stating that women shouldn’t give in in the face of shaming, but search for pleasure if that’s what they want. Camp is back in Eurovision in a positive way, so the extravagant arrangement of the song might not be so embarrassing as some people like to think. However, there is a risk that the message will be completely lost to international audiences. Especially Italians have the tendency to vote in an unpredictable way, so namedropping might not get us far. This is an assured hit in Eurovision after-parties, but for me the lyrics actually sound somewhat old-fashioned (you are not going to get them out of your head, though).

Cicciolina herself has shown interest in the song and has offered to join Vikman on stage if the song proceeds to ESC – with a price, of course.

3. Aksel Kankaanranta – Looking Back

Angeria/C. McDonough/R. McDonough & T. McDonough/Phillips

This is a song I have already heard playing on the radio, and it definitely filled the bill. I assume the show on stage will also be quite sober and subdued to fit the song and the artist. The merits of the song include Kankaanranta’s pleasant and soft voice, relatable story about childhood that’s passed (a classic theme in Eurovision!) and radio-friendly sound. Aksel Kankaanranta has competed in the Voice of Finland in 2017, so he knows how to sing. The only concern is that the song is somewhat reminiscent of the last year’s winner, Duncan Lawrence and Arcade. If the aim is to do well, it might not matter – but if the aim is to fight for the victory, it is usually not that profitable to send a similar song to last year's champion. In other words, the song is enjoyable, but is it enough to convince the audiences?

4. F3M – Bananas

Elivuo/Ollikainen/Äkräs

F3M is a band of three singers of different genres, Miara, Baby O and Viv. Their song is about partying, friendship and living in the moment without caring what the other people think is appropriate. The message is a bit similar to Vikman’s song, but the musical style is completely different; a bit more subdued, yet still spiced up with spunky hip hop elements. Eurovision fans usually welcome warmly any danceable piece, but my concern is that the song is not uplifting enough. These days, the ESC is art of pleasing both juries and the wider audience. Both of them might appreciate party songs, but juries are usually looking for stylistically clean entries, and audiences love distinct and spectacular numbers. If the song falls somewhere in between, there is a risk that it will be forgotten by everyone.

5. Sansa – Lover View

Sansa/Sonin/Yotto

There is quite a lot of variety among the songs that have been chosen to UMK, which is great. While electro pop is not my cup of tea, I can definitely understand why it appeals to many. Sansa’s song is subdued and calm, or “cool” as the song is described on Yle’s website. The lyrics are deliberately ambiguous. I think that the problem lies in the fact that this type of music doesn’t usually translate well in massive television productions and on a huge stage. There is a time and place for this music, but it is not the Eurovision Song Contest, at least not yet. There is a certain value in bringing new trends to the game, but the past couple of years have showed that it is still a bit too early for this type of calm electro.    

6. Catharina Zühlke - Eternity

Myrberg/Rats/Sondeijker/Tala/Zühlke

There is that special something in Zühlke’s voice and style, which makes me like this entry. To be honest, I am not a fan of EDM-inspired interludes, but it does admittedly lift the song up. The song has personal and touching lyrics about losing a special person. The ending of the recorded version manages to give me shivers, but whether it has that special something which makes it stand out to wider audiences is not up to me (sadly). There is a chance that these types of songs will be prolific this year too – at any rate, I wish good luck to Zühlke!

 

The public favorite in 2019 was Norway’s Keiino and their song Spirit in the Sky, which was slightly camp entry build up with a mishmash of musical influences, yet a cheerful, catchy and meaningful whole. Brave yet good-humoured eccentricity may appeal to audiences, so sending Vikman to Rotterdam might at least leave an impact. But Eurovision is a wicked game, so to say, and you never know what’s going to happen, at least not before all the songs are chosen and released. Sending Tika, Kankaanranta or Zühlke would be a safer choice, but a lot is still up to the performances. My Eurovision-orientated nose doesn’t sniff out a winner here yet, but we will stay alert and impatiently wait for the show on Saturday March 7th…