Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (The Contest for New Music) starts up its fourth year in existence with this week's first of three semi finals. While UMK has managed to give Finland reasonably good placings at the ESC, it has failed to take off nationally neither in the ratings nor as a local hit maker.
This year since a change of format as the judging panel is gone and the selection process has been made far more effective. From now on every entry has one chance only to qualify - out of six songs in each semi, three will make it to the big final and the other three will be out on their ears.
If you'd like to be a spoilsport you could point out that the new format makes UMK look confusingly much like it's predecessor Euroviisut, but I'd rather focus on the diversity of musical styles the line-up contains this time around.
On Saturday night, the first six songs will be performed live in the Yle studio in Helsinki and these are my scores on the entries in their studio versions.
01. Hans on the Bass / Loveshine
This band had a number of quite good songs a few years back, some of which went into quite a heavy rotation on Swedish-languaged Radio Vega. This is a most enjoyable opener, relaxing and totally laid back, and a soothing quality track. The risk is that it is a wee bit too pulpy for the audience to remember it by the end of the show.
02. Vilikasper Kanth / Äänen kantamattomiin
A young man with another radio friendly song with a slightly ethereal feel to it. Intriguing choice of Yle to let these two songs start the whole contest back to back instead of opening with more of a bang. A good voice but the song would have needed a lot more punch in order to impress.
03. Norlan "El Misionario" / No voy a llorar por ti
More midtempo, this time in Spanish. I'm happy to see that UMK is becoming more diverse also when it comes to the ethnicity of performers, but I'd be even more happy had the song been better. This just goes on and on without anything in particular happening throughout.
04. Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät / Aina mun pitää
This punk quartet made up of musicians with intellectual disability have been a frequent subject of discussion prior to the final. Those discussions only serve to underline how poignant this entry really is. Ultimately the song isn't strong enough to win, but will most likely easily sail through to the final.
05. Pihka ja myrsky / Sydän ei nuku
Pleasant and straight-forward Finnish radio pop in a synth-based arrangement. There is nothing wrong with it and it is nice for as long as it goes on, but there are thousands of similar songs out there that sound the same. A little bit of a climax or anything to make it slightly more original wouldn't have hurt.
06. Satin Circus / Crossroads
This boy band on the verge of their big break - their debut album sold quite well last year - deliver the best song out of this semi. It's a positive sign that an act on their way to become a household name see UMK as a credible device to get there. The only drawback here is the lazy and uninspired "yo-yo-yo-young"-hook of the chorus that almost spoils an otherwise fine song.
No idea how the various acts will perform or work their way through the screens, but based on the studio versions and the video clips posted on the official UMK site the three qualifiers will be Satin Circus, Pertti Kurikan nimipäivät and Pihka ja myrsky.
So this isn't the running order at all, merely an alphabetical presentation. Never mind the comments about the weird running order, it can still turn out to be even weirder. It seems a bit odd not to reveal starting positions (or phone numbers) in advance but there must surely be a solid reason for this.