Heavy metal monsters Lordi ended Finland's Eurovision drought in 2006. The first-ever victory for Finland prompted some observers to wonder if hell really had frozen over. Now Finland has high hopes again for the competition, mocked for its bubblegum pop and cheesy power ballads. More than 40 countries are hitting the stage in Baku, including Israel and Turkey.
Politics or pop?
Pernilla Karlsson, who is also a professional handball player, will be singing När jag blundar (When I Close My Eyes), written, composed and arranged by the 21-year-old singer’s brother Jonas Karlsson. This is the first Swedish-language song to enter the competition since the late 1990s, following the introductions of a free-language rule allowing entrants to sing in another language than their own. While going with Finland's second official language made headlines here, it's a non-issue elsewhere.
"Most of the world doesn't care. It's either English or something else," Tarja Närhi, Yle's Eurovision commentator told Yle News.
The move could be seen as a savvy ploy by Finland to attract votes from its Scandinavian neighbours. However the Nordics, like other geographical regions with a shared history, usually vote for each other anyway. But Närhi doesn't warm to the idea of voting blocs per se.
"You vote for someone close to you culturally -- you recognise the melody and harmony. That's the main reason neighbouring countries vote for one another."
Understated, just like Finland
Eurovision music often follows a certain recipe for kitsch, and it is wildly popular in the gay community. After Lordi’s win, Helsingin Sanomat produced and translated a "gay guide to Helsinki" to assist the anticipated hordes of Eurovision fans when Helsinki hosted in 2007.
According to Närhi, Finland wants to break the mold that often produces gimmicky songs.
"The main goal should be to find a song that people like beyond the Eurovision planet."
Female singers and showy ballads are big in this year's contest, so how will Finland measure up?
"I would love to see Pernilla in the finals, but the problem is that there are so many female ballad singers, strong voices, dramatic songs. The Finnish ballad is not dramatic -- it's beautiful and comes straight from the heart," Närhi explained.
While pyrotechnics helped light up the stage for Lordi's infernal performance, this year eyes will only be on Karlsson and her cellist.
"It's an intimate, down-to-earth show," she told Yle.
The pre-Idols talent show may seem outlandish today, but decades ago it was a window on Europe that brought the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe into people's living rooms.
"It's the biggest and longest-running TV show on the continent," Närhi said of the extravaganza, which often features sequined costumes and campy dance routines.
A top favourite this year is Finland’s arch rival Sweden, which is pinning its hopes on a club track by former Idol contestant Loreen. Hot tickets also include Italy and France who are sending established artists to the songfest.
Other wave-makers are Ireland’s sibling pop duo Jedward, known for their big hair, a group of Ural grannies performing for Russia and UK representative Engelbert Humperdinck, who at 76 is the oldest ever Eurovision contestant.
For years, Finns have been fed up with the country's poor record on the show.
"Remember this is entertainment, so don't take it too seriously," is Eurovision veteran Närhi's advice.
Yle TV 2 will air the semifinals on May 22 and 24, as well as the final on Saturday, May 26. Viewers may vote for their favourite entry (though not for their own country) by phone or text. These results will be merged with scores awarded by professional juries in each country.
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