Saturday, 1 February 2014

Popheaval goes Eurovision: UMK14

UMK (abbreviation for Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu or "Competition for New Music") is the Finnish national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. The UMK final is drawing near (it's on this Saturday night), so the situation is getting quite electrifying!

The competition has basically four rounds. In the first round, the acts perform to the four-member jury and get feedback from them. None are eliminated. Starting from the second round, there is a live audience. The contestants are divided into two heats, from which the entries that have received the most votes go straight to the final. Respectively, the entries with the least votes are eliminated. Both jury and and the audience vote. Third round is the semifinal: only the audience votes and additional two entries are eliminated. Thus, four acts have been eliminated so far, and eight contestants remain in the competition, all eager to seize the victory in the fourth round, the final. The competition is bound to be an exciting one, and here are my thoughts about the national pre-selection entries.

1. Softengine - Something Better

Softengine's "Something Better" won the 1st heat, hence making its way straight to the final. It's a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the band clearly has a lot of support. But on the other hand, the other entries have had one performance more to cement their position in the viewers' heads and grow on them. The song itself is great, a bit Coldplay-ish perhaps with the piano parts and the synths, and it has a nice anthemic feel to it, complete with the obligatory sing-along "wooo-oo-oo-oo" in the bridge. The song could do without the screamo-influenced vocals in the end, though. All in all, it's a good, catchy song and I wouldn't mind if it were to represent Finland.

2. Hanna Sky - Hope

"Hope" was the winner of the second heat, so the song has earned its place in the final. It's quite interesting that both the winner entries of the two heats were placed in the beginning of the running order. The song is decorated with exotic instrumentals, so there is an element of cultural fusion in it. That, along with the lyrical theme of hope, makes me feel that the song tries so hard to be a world-embracing peace anthem, it comes across as a cliché. And we know how they tend to fall flat competitively. It also feels like she's trying to play a bit too evidently with the 'child of nature' image (like last year's winner Emmelie de Forest), ending up trying to emulate Beyoncé gone Elovena.

3. MIAU - God/Drug

When I heard the fierce 37-second demo preview of the song, I fell instantly in love. Then I heard the song performed in full length, and I was disappointed: the song turned out to be too repetitive for my liking, and it basically took the first two and a half minutes for the group to get to the final climax which is what the song is all about. However, the tables were once again turned by their semifinal performance - while the song might not be the most diverse one out of the bunch, the ballsy girl trio have an incredible live energy and put on one hell of a show. The song has developed and they've added some new vocal tricks to bring variation. And then there's also the batshit crazy backup dancers (who are men, by the way). So, the song and the performance have really kept becoming better and better, and at the moment they are my second favourite contestant in the race. The final chorus of this particular version was actually the only moment of any of the songs to give me the chills. 

4. Lauri Mikkola - Going Down

Lauri Mikkola is a skilled singer for sure but song just doesn't work for me. The soulful chorus is pretty much the only interesting thing in the song, and Mikkola's moving on the stage is mostly cringeworthy. I really like the backing vocals though. It's not a bad song, but it's not memorable either, so... I'm sorry to say, but the song is going down.

5. MadCraft - Shining Bright

Has someone given them too much sugar or what? This overly colourful, overzealous group are somewhat entertaining to look at, like the kids skating at the local mall, but there's only so much hyperactivity one can take. In fact, weren't they already skating to this song back in the '90s or is the song just that generic in its genre? Sure, they've brought colour into the UMK mix but that's about it. They've received media attention which is probably what they came for in the first place, and I'm fairly certain the final is as far as they go.

6. Mikko Pohjola - Sängyn reunalla

The original demo of "Sängyn reunalla" ("On the edge of a bed") was rather boring (other than the "kotii-i-i-ii-iin" vocal hook) and didn't get anywhere. The final version, however, features a proper build-up and now sounds much more promising. The emphasis in this song is heavily in the sad lyrics which tell the story of a man who's having an affair with a woman who is already in a relationship. So basically, the storyteller is a total dick but the lyrics describe it beautifully. Now, the thing is, considering Finnish is hardly a widely-spoken language and the song lyrics are translated and subtitled only in Estonia (with the exception of Finland itself), it would be a risky move to send a highly lyrical entry to the Eurovision Song Contest when it won't be generally understood and a large part of the song will remain undelivered. Then again, Ott Lepland's powerful ballad, sung in his native language Estonian, placed 6th in 2012, so universally understandable lyrics are not the automatic key to happiness. If he does win the contest and represents Finland in Copenhagen, please force him to consult with a stylist, though - he looks like he's literally just got out of the bed. Pohjola's song has apparently been the most streamed one on Spotify so who knows what's going to happen.

7. Clarissa feat. Josh Standing - Top of The World

Okay, this one I must've heard already in the '90s. No? Alright, then the song is just an incredibly tacky mixture of musical elements we've all heard far too many times before, with the final part of it even seemingly trying to recycle "Euphoria". The singing's not that impressive either. The duo might be singing about being on top of the world but this song is certainly not taking me there. Interestingly enough, the Finnish Eurovision fan community Viisukuppila has gone bananas about the song. Perhaps it's the campiness of it...? 'Cause I mean, this is the campiest of camp.

8. Hukka ja Mama - Selja

Ah, Hukka ja Mama, how I love this song. Drawing from both indie folk and the Finnish rautalanka rock genre popular in the 1960s, "Selja" is a fascinating mixture of musical styles and dream-like lyrics. (The lyrics describe a situation where a person has fallen in love with someone named Selja because of the dreams the person has had about the titular character.) There's a wonderful contrast between the sincerity and naivety of the lyrics and the vocals and the melancholy of the musical arrangements. The duo is also fun to look at: they for example start the performance sitting on a kind of a sofa you could find at your grandma's, they've bought a sizable wolf plush toy on the stage (the Finnish word 'hukka' can be translated to 'wolf') and singer Martina's hairdo is adorned with giant colour pencils. The songwriting is excellent and Martina makes a captivating frontwoman. The almost magical "Selja" is my personal favourite and I'll certainly be rooting for it here in Denmark - save the best for last, eh? Douze points!

So here's my final verdict:

Definitely yes!

Hukka ja Mama - Selja
MIAU - God/Drug

Not bad at all.

Softengine - Something Better
Mikko Pohjola - Sängyn reunalla


Hanna Sky - Hope
Lauri Mikkola - Going Down

Please, no.

MadCraft - Shining Bright
Clarissa feat. Josh Standing - Top of The World

The whole competition has been an enjoyable couple of weeks, and what I really love about the execution itself is how well it takes social media into account, such as in Twitter where they actively scout the hashtag #umk14 asnwering, favouring and sharing tweets. Therefore, the UMK feels like an actually interactive format, and they have received positive feedback about it even from abroad, so good for them!

I'm ending the post with another UMK14 favourite of mine, Lili Lambert's seductive "Let Me Take You There", that was unfortunately the first one to go. While it might have not been the best song here, there was something so instantly infectious about it that I've been listening to it almost daily. (I do prefer the vocals in the demo version, though.) Anyway, the winner and Finland's representative in ESC 2014 will be chosen today, and the broadcast can be streamed live wherever you are over at this link, starting at 20:30 (or 8.30 p.m.) UTC+02:00 so remember to tune in! (And all you Finnish readers, do vote as well - it's all in your hands now.)

What are your own favourites? Let me know in the comment section below!

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