Sunday, April 16, 2017

Notes from National Finals - UMK, Finland, 28.01.17

Hello again!  The past few weeks have been very busy and I haven't had the time to blog, so I'm taking the opportunity of some very welcome extra free time over Easter weekend to bring you my backlog of (long-overdue) reviews from this year's ESC national selections.

All of my national final posts will as usual be written in present tense/real-time, based on the notes which I wrote during each national selection.

Let's climb into the time machine and go back 11 weeks to the end of January and the Finnish national final.

This year YLE went for a one-off final of UMK, the format which they have used over recent years to select the Finnish Eurovision entry.

This year's show is hosted by Finland's 2013 ESC representative Krista Siegfrids, who remains a big favourite of the fan community.  No wonder, because she is a very entertaining host this evening with an equally entertaining line of outfits, from the toilet roll holder dress.... this colourful combo with matching glasses....

,,,and who could forget this?

Krista clearly has a great sense of fun and lots of personality, and she is the perfect fit for hosting UMK.  I can see her hosting this show for many years to come.

It could be argued that whoever made the final selection for UMK was also having a great laugh, given the number of 'novelty' songs included in this year's final line-up.  Before the contest though, there was one very clear favourite in the fan world, which would kick off the competition.

1:  "Circle of Light" - Emma.

Kicking off with the overwhelming fan favourite of early season.  This hybrid of "Only Teardrops" and "Hear Them Calling" was tipped to win UMK but it very quickly becomes apparent that it would not be such a foregone conclusion as the live performance falls short of what we all expected.  It's more 'Rakas we are not fine' as Emma, dressed in a drab and unflattering outfit, struggles with her vocals and even the fire on stage doesn't do what it should.  The staging is all very mystical, but it's not enough to save a poor performance.

2.  "Arrows" - Alva.

Some environmentally unfriendly use of hairspray in the postcard :)  This is a rather lightweight and bland effort, the kind of entry which usually comes 6th or 7th in a Melodifestivalen heat.

3.  "Love Yourself" - Günther and D'Sanz.

Yes, Günther - he of "Ding Dong Song" and "Like Fire Tonight" fame - is back, and this is when it gets dangerous.  I decide to go and make some toast at this point of the evening. Whilst waiting I am caught up in the excitement of this uptempo dance-pop tune with hilarious lyrics, and start singing along with it and dancing around the living room.  Unfortunately I forget to check on my toast.  The grill on my super-duper new cooker makes toast a lot more quickly than the previous one, so in no time at all I start to smell smoke, and then the smoke alarm starts beeping very loudly indeed...!!

"Love Yourself" is old-school singalonga-Eurodance/pop and whilst there appears to be no place for that in the Eurovision Song Contest these days, we still need the likes of it in a national final.

4.  "Reach Out For The Sun" - Anni Saikku.

The combination of a) preventing a fire, b) rescuing my toast and c) my internet connection deciding to give up, means that I miss most of this song. I have to end up shutting down my laptop and restarting which means I also miss the start of this next song.  Although that may be a good thing.....

5. "Caveman" - Knucklebone Oscar and the Shangri-La Rubies.

*Update* I listen to both songs later and conclude that neither of them would trouble the top end of the scoreboard, however Anni's song was quite pleasant and I'd maybe listen to it again. As for Oscar and friends, I just don't see the point.  This probably denied a more deserving song a place in the final, but we shall never know.

6.  "Blackbird" - Norma John.

In my previous 'first listen' post from November 2016, I got my information wrong as I thought the singer's name was Norma, when in fact none of them are called Norma, or indeed John!  This is in fact a duo made up of Leena and Lasse, who also wrote the song.  In that post I also wrote the following:

"...for me this is the standout of the national selection and could have the best chance of getting Finland a decent result at ESC.  This song's slow brooding drama immediately made me think of something which would turn up in Norway's MGP...If they get the staging right, this could do very, very well."

Regardless of the ever-changing interpretation of what constitutes a great Eurovision entry, I would say that it would be a song with immediate impact and which stays with you after only one hearing. After that first listen, the dark and beautiful "Blackbird" fulfilled that remit and immediately became my favourite in that early national finals season.

On the night, it doesn't disappoint.  Leena is dressed in a black lace-topped gown which perfectly matches the darkness of the song.  The staging is minimal and the piano solo is exquisite. Just wonderful.

7. "Helppo Elämää" - Lauri Yrjola.

Extra points from me for a song in the native language.  This is minimalist, contemporary pop which would sound fresher if someone else hadn't got there first.  Every year in national finals you'll hear at least one song which is strongly influenced by a Eurovision entry from the previous year.  What do those flashing lights and stark industrial beats in the chorus remind you of?

Thank you Sir Hat, on Twitter, for pointing out the similarity of this song to last year's Latvian entry.
Lauri tries his best, but he's no Justs.

8. "My Little World" - Club La Persé.  

At this point my internet connection decides to give up again, which means that I miss most of this song. What a drag, indeed.  This song has quite a memorable chorus but the rest of it is just a mess.

9..  "Perfect Villain" - Zühlke.

A very Norwegian flavour, as the team of writers include A1's Christian Ingebrigtsen and former MGP contestant and host Silje Nymoen.  In this year's UMK final there have been some very iffy vocal performances, but Zühlke delivers some strong and confident vocals although it must be said, the lyrics of "Perfect Villain" are a little silly, what with all those references to the X-Men and Superman.

10.  "Paradise" - My First Band. 

In another life this could actually be quite a decent little modern pop tune, but the absolutely hideous lyrics and irritating falsetto completely drag it down to gutter level.  This is the other favourite to win, but if it was only between this and "Circle of Light" I would have to go for Emma's song.  My First Band really want to be Maroon 5 (a band which I once liked but now despise for their bandwagon-jumping desperation).  The lyrics are vile, the staging is vile....please don't let this win.

So that's it.  Songs over and it was time for a couple of interval acts.  Firstly, the Norwegian teen twin sensations/irritants (delete as appropriate) Marcus and Martinus, who are very popular in Sweden and Finland as well as in Norway.  One of their songs is called "Bae" which is one of those annoying modern expressions which I've never understood, but then again I'm too old for all that nonsense...!

On to the international jury votes.  The UK votes are delivered by none other than high-profile Wiwibloggs frontman William Lee Adams.

After the jury votes, the top 3 are as follows:

1. Norma John
2. Zühlke
3. Emma.

The second interval act is Jenni Vartiainen (above), who is clearly in a different class.  Perhaps a Margaret Berger-style entry might be good for her in future, should she ever decide to finally participate in ESC?

The televote scores are announced in Melodifestivalen/ESC 2016 style, with votes converted to points.  What we learn from this is that Alva is more popular with the televoters than with the juries, whilst they don't love Anni and Lauri as much as the juries did.  Juries and televoters do agree on the top 3 though - so that means that Norma John will represent Finland in Kyiv with the brilliant "Blackbird".  Here is the final scoreboard:

For me, "Blackbird" is the best Finnish entry since "Something Better".  It has the emotional strength to appeal to both juries and televoters across Europe.  If they keep the staging simple, and just focus on Leena's haunting and powerful vocal performance, I would hope for at very least a place in the final....and if it achieves that, then who's to say that a top 10 finish wouldn't be out of the question?

(All pictures above are screenshots from YLE's coverage -

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