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Defeating Finland’s Fear Of Their Own Language At Eurovision Written by on March 3, 2023

With over half of the votes from the Finnish public, Käärijä will be heading to Liverpool to represent Finland at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. However, this landslide victory is important in another important way… it will be the the first time the Finnish language will be heard on the Eurovision stage for seven years. Ben Robertson investigates why perceptions of the Eurovision Song Contest have changed so much in Finland.

Many Finns grew up believing their country was the worst at the Eurovision Song Contest. Before Lordi’s victory in 2006 the most successful Finnish result at the Song Contest was a 6th place in 1973, and from 1990 to Lordi’s victory Finland’s highest placing was 15th out of 25 (it’s worth noting that Finland’s points score that year, 22, came mainly from 10 points from both Sweden and Estonia).

The worst part of this period was the relegation system, which for a period resulted in Finland having two year gaps between Eurovision participations. YLE Svenska journalist Alexander Beijar believes that this created a “trauma” with the Finnish population that has been “haunting Euroviisut (the national final show before UMK) and UMK for years”.

One of the attributing factors to Finland being one of Eurovision’s weaker nations on the scoreboard back in those days was language. When countries were required to sing in their official language Finland was thought to be a disadvantage. While Ireland and the UK dominated with English language tracks Finland struggled. The Finnish language exists in a completely separate language branch to the Romance and Germanic languages that dominated across Europe. So would the move to a free language rule help out Finland’s results?

Well since the Semi Finals have come into place Finland has qualified for the Eurovision final 7 times performing in English in 14 attempts, and only 1 qualification in 3 singing in Finnish. That qualification was a wafer-thin case where Teräsbetoni ended up 22nd in the 2008 Eurovision Final. (There is another non-qualification in this window for Finland, when in 2012 they sent the Swedish language ballad ‘När Jag Blundar’ to Baku).

However, suggesting the improved results are due to the English language, and how understandable that would be for the voting public, is incredibly naïve. Both the non-qualifying Finnish language entries of 2010 and 2015 would have qualified with the current 100% televoting rules at the Eurovision Semi Finals, and Finland’s qualification in 2009 was due to being the jury wildcard.

The conclusion here is that it has been the Eurovision juries, not the televoting public, that have been the ones to under-reward Finnish language Eurovision entries throughout the Song Contest’s history.

The Eventual Victory Of The Finnish Language

The growth of Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu has been remarkable in recent years to become a leading piece of Finland’s music entertainment programming. The song that has been attributed as the turning point of that competition was Erika Vikman’s ‘Cicciolina’, which became this viral sensation and was the expected winner of the 2020 edition of UMK before the show took place. While it did win the public vote that night it was the international juries that held back Erika Vikman’s entry, placing it 3rd and 18 points behind eventual winner Aksel.

But it’s notable here that Erika’s song was the only competing entry that year in Finnish of the six UMK tracks to be in Finnish. And that was the norm in the Finnish selection. In UMK’s history up to 2020 31% of all songs were performed in the Finnish language, but that number was dropping and only two songs in Finnish made the list from 2017 onwards (2018 and 2019 did have internally selected international artists, who on both occasions only prepared songs in English).

As much as 2020 might have been the modern breakthrough for UMK to grab a huge Finnish language hit, it was really the following years where their success was cemented. Yes Blind Channel won UMK comfortably with ‘Dark Side’ (if there is anything the Finns love more than their language, it is their rock songs) but the songs that were 2nd and 3rd were both in Finnish and both were big enough post-show hits to now have accumulated over 7 million Spotify streams since.

And while second last on the scoreboard at UMK 2021 let me shout out too the beauty of ‘Sinä päivänä kun kaikki rakastaa mua’, written by the same songwriter as Erika Vikman’s track a year earlier, with a storytelling so powerful about the then 78-year-old legendary singer Danny contemplating how his funeral would play out with a wry humour.

The number of Finnish language songs increased to four for 2022, with only three in English. While yes we can look at The Rasmus’ comfortable victory, again we have an example where the real winners were the Finnish language tracks lower down the order. Bess’ ‘Ram Pam Pam’ has been a mega hit with over 15 million streams and multiple awards and it was that song, not ‘Jezebel’ that was included in the set list for Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu this year. Yet despite topping out the streaming services pre-show that did not translate to more than a 3rd place at UMK that year.

Again, more of the songs that were doing well domestically in Finland were these ones in the Finnish language, but none of them could ever break through to go to the Eurovision Song Contest.

And now, this year, we get four out of the seven choices for Finland to be in the Finnish language once more. Not only that, but it so happened that the Finnish language hits were the ones from Kuumaa, Käärijä and Portion Boys, all comfortably getting the most domestic attention. Wheras Robin Packalen, the expected big name in the show, barely moved the needle when his Los Angeles written track ‘Girls Like You’ got released.

And in the landslide that was expected by anybody who would speak to be in Turku, Käärijä and the song ‘Cha Cha Cha’ is going to the Eurovision Song Contest. I will argue that his success isn’t purely down to a catchy tune, but for a song that tells a story that all Finns can relate to. His stage persona in interviews might keep the message of his song simple (“it’s crazy, it’s party”), but underneath that package there’s a lot of meat in the three minutes of text now presented to Europe.

The Lyrics Of The Year

Käärijä’s song begins in this dark, heavy metal flavoured rap, where the main character of the song is counting down the hours to Friday night, the end of the working week, and an insatiable desire to knock back a few drinks and open up from his icy exterior. And as the drink start to intoxicate the lead singer and melt that coldness, thereafter comes the dance floor increasingly appealing. And though the character believes they will never be the person who would ever release all inhibitions, eventually they become that person and let loose their wild heart as the song switches dramatically to a turbo pop conclusion, the antithesis to the song’s opening.

It’s no surprise that Käärijä has named Verda Serduchka as his Eurovision inspiration.

One of the reasons for Käärijä’s viral success and televote landslide in UMK is because of the self-depreciating yet relatable nature of this song on Finnish culture. Finland has been topping the World Happiness Report in recent years, but Finns themselves will consider themselves content rather than happy, and are well aware of the stereotype that they conceal their emotions considerably more than in other nations. And Finnish nightlife culture can be a juxtaposition with this coldness, this is the nation in Europe where karaoke is king (it’s home to the World Karaoke Championships) and the dancefloors on the ferry transporting me from Turku back to Stockholm I am sitting on aren’t filled by their their famous rock songs but by the Europop that ‘Cha Cha Cha‘ parodies so well.

In three minutes ‘Cha Cha Cha’ packs in so much that so perfectly is a reflection of Finnish culture, while also having time to throw in one of the Contest’s most catchy hooks on repeat. This number is something so finely balanced to be a humorous take on Finnish culture in ways few songs are able to nuance through the three minute time limit. The secret to how this is possible is within the Finnish language itself.

The Finnish language is infamous for its complexity in which many of the different words are inflected depending on who or what you are writing about. You may have spotted in Portion Boys’ UMK number that they refer to a “Kimi Räikkösen”, rather than the famous name Kimi Raikkönen, as Finnish grammar even changes how names are declined. But the beauty of Finnish grammar and its plethora of word suffix options means that it is possible to have a phrase that is a whole sentence in English be summated by a couple of words in Finnish.

It is no surprise that songs all of the UMK numbers in Finnish named in this article have an ounce extra in their storytelling than the majority of their English equivalents can offer. Käärijä’s ‘Cha Cha Cha’ is one of just many examples.

A Finnish Language Future

Käärijä’s victory at UMK means he will travel to the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. With the voting being 100% televote and ‘Cha Cha Cha’ already proving to be a dancefloor favourite (I witnessed this at a EuroClub night in Benidorm) the Finnish people have very little to be worried this year about how Europe will take to their language, Europe will love this.

And it isn’t just the Finnish language, the modern day televote has proven to be warm to songs in languages few across Europe speak. Last year’s televote top 4 were in Ukrainian, Romanian, Spanish and Serbian. Back in 2021 the top 4 in the televote were in Italian, Ukrainian, French and English (thanks to Finland’s Blind Channel). The idea that one needs to sing in English to do well at the Eurovision Song Contest is a thoroughly outdated belief, and the Finnish people have no need to fear that in May.

But the fact is that these songs in UMK are not just Eurovision songs, they are chart sensations that are delivering tracks year after year that the Finnish population are eating up. Win or lose in Liverpool Käärijä is already the big winner, with ‘Cha Cha Cha’ already overtaking his other singles for streams just in these few weeks alone. Alexander Beijar from YLE Svenska believes that the UMK is now so strong that as a brand it will be immune from poor results in Europe.

“UMK is seen as the place to push new artists. However it may go in Liverpool with it being the third year of UMK songs charting before the show, I don’t think [the results] will affect the artists and songs that will want to come to UMK next year.”

And as long as it stays that way, expect to see more Finnish language bangers hitting the Eurovision Song Contest for years to come.

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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