Three-Minute Throwdown: Finland 2020 Edition

Earlier this Eurovision cycle in June, YLE, Finland’s broadcaster, announced that Finland would return to the pre-2018 Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (New Music Competition) format after Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman enticed fans to look away in reaching a last-place finish in Semi-Final 1 in Tel Aviv. The tracks were released in late January, and the stage design for the final in Tampere was just revealed on Monday. Following the pattern of the previous Three-Minute Throwdowns, each track (barring “Cicciolina”, which I had listened to previously) will be listened to once fully. No backtracking will be allowed; pauses are ok. A musical analysis (theory, production, technique, artistic interpretation, and potentially a few musicological tidbits if applicable) will be given on a running basis. These are given so that if someone has listened to the songs, they may find a specific part they may like or dislike or discover new details they may have missed at first glance. Without further ado, let’s begin!

Aksel Kankaanranta – Looking Back

Bb minor, begins with a subdued synth that fades in. Verse begins with piano and singer. Slightly breathy vocal delivery. Pads in the background the entire time up until 0:42. I think this song is going to build starting from the second verse, but not with a straightforward drum pattern. There have been cymbals and very atmospheric guitars in the first minute. Confirmed – sounds like a lot of bass drum hits that were triggered. There’s another percussion bit that was clearly sampled. Much clearer in the chorus – I don’t think there was a filter sweep, just a clear differentiation between amount of high frequencies in the percussion between the second verse and the chorus. Noted blue backdrop on the “red lights” lyric makes me chuckle inside. Two choruses ending the song, it seems like. It does build, but maybe not enough to place two of the same section next to each other. I would probably have gone for a more Coldplay “Clocks” vibe except with more high-end information. The thing with the dark sounds of songs these days is that while it’s more tolerable than excessive tinniness, excess bass is unhealthier because most people don’t realize how much bass they’re hearing. This is also not to mention that balance in music is what brings tracks like “Uptown Funk” (Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars), “In the End” (Linkin Park), and “Set Fire to the Rain” (Adele) to life – there’s definitely a present bass, but there’s more going on that makes these songs sound more than mediocre.

Catharina Zühlke – Eternity

Starts off with a very mellow electronic piano. Bb minor. The volume level between “you” and “keep me alive” is so stark – there must have been some movement between her and the microphone. Enjoying the cello. The wispy high notes contrast with the semi-deep cello arco (bowing). Halfway through the chorus, bass drum hit and she goes to chest voice. The groove of the synth strings at the drop takes a while to understand the beat placement if not counting beforehand. Phrasing would be nice – singing “bigger than the world can see” as one whole phrase instead of breathing in the middle would make the phrase sound bigger. A duet version would have mitigated the difficulties of jumping between different parts of the range and how stilted they sound. If she can use the mic to full effect on the 7th while hitting the relevant notes, it will probably sound better than it sounds in this studio recording. Bittersweet a cappella ending was very vulnerable – there were no instruments to support her voice.

Erika Vikman – Cicciolina

B minor. I read that this was about an Italian porn star… These pink and purple hues are almost stereotypically associated with being female. This is also in Finnish, and it’s been 5 years since they sent the language. Maybe this is secretly a pattern they’re trying to keep up assuming this song wins? It starts off with a polysynth beginning melody with V to i motion between the F# major chords and B minor chords. The speed and usage of synths instead of organic instruments suggests schlager very strongly. After two lines, she’s sung 3 notes: B3, D4, and C#4. Groove kicked in after those two lines. Octave synth bass. 80’s drums. Clapping into chorus stopped for extra drama. Bm A#dim Bm A/C# D A/C# D D/F# G A F#/A# Bm G6 Em Bm/F# F# is the chorus. This screams cheese and also fan favorite at the same time. 2:14-ish break into dramatic backing choir and I believe organ. Super-catchy, should do well if she can sustain this level of performance live.

F3M – Bananas

Db Mixolydian, and that’s a lot of confetti and watermelon-colored lighting for talking about bananas. Interesting to hear the Db Cb (sounds like B) Db and then an Fb (E). The first three chords are safely in Db Mixolydian (like major, but with the note Cb which is in the Cb chord (you don’t say?!)). The last Fb is in Db minor and also has the notes Ab (in Db major and Mixolydian) and Cb (in Db Mixolydian), so the Fb is borrowed from minor/blues. This is catchy and unexpected. A bit lyrically repetitive. This was the last song I listened to of the 6; I currently have the highest hopes for this and “Cicciolina”. This song is rather progressive lyrically, allowing for pro-pansexual lyrical interpretations. This is the most hip-hop based of all the songs and hearkens back to girl group days strongly. Solid track, could win if it doesn’t annoy the voters…

Sansa – Lover View

B minor. The lyrics started off, um, very suggestively. Electronic backdrop. Odd accenting of “Apollo” – the melody accented everything except for the second syllable, which gets the stress. Cool percussive fill into the chorus. Very sleek, syncopated EDM. This song might be popular during parties during the heat of the moment, but there are so many produced bits that I am skeptical that even the backing vocals will sound as polished as they do here. This is one of the better-sounding studio cuts in the competition, however.

Tika – I Let My Heart Break

Bb minor. The emphasis of the second syllable of “coffee” musically comes across as really strange; the melody may have worked better with a different rhythm there. Red backdrop amidst heartbreak might still be a “not over you” kind of song, Again with the weird accent on second syllable – second verse, “number”. I am aware that it happens a lot in many languages, but fighting against the natural lyrical rhythm makes the singer sound like she’s fighting both the language and the song, which is too bad, considering that her vocals are stellar. Kaleidoscope pre-chorus visual is cool. The lyrics “so afraid to feel” are sung Eb-F-G-A-Bb, which outlines melodic minor, one of the variants of minor scales that smooths out the melodic line (in this case, the vocal line) while also adjusting for the V-i movement in minor (discussed in the third article about “Arcade”). However, instead of staying on the leading tone A, the melody goes directly to Bb, which sort of deflates any tension that would otherwise have been present. Cymbals would have brightened up the mix here just fine. Key change to B minor. Could have ended the song in head voice instead of a belt for some dynamic contrast and some word painting – having the music do what the text is saying. Overall, the idea of the song is not bad, but the ideas seem to interfere destructively.

Of these six separate songs, which of these do you think separated itself the most from the pack? The final will begin on 7 March at 20:00 CET (21:00 EET). Best of luck to all competitors!

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