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Eurovision kicks off with Ukraine favourites, and Finland sending The Rasmus

The band's lead singer says he would vote for Ukraine to show his love for the war-torn country and "that we stand together." 

From left: Lauri Ylönen, Aki Hakala, Emilia 'Emppu' Suhonen and Eero Heinonen in Turin, Italy. Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

Vocalist Lauri Ylönen said the band he fronts, The Rasmus, have a good chance of bringing Finland to the Eurovision Song Contest finals, adding that he would vote for Ukraine's entry to "show that we stand together."

Finland's Eurovision hopes this year rest on The Rasmus, one of the country's most internationally successful bands that have sold some five million records over nearly three decades, but their lead singer says that he personally would vote for Ukraine.

Ylönen said support for Ukraine would show "that we stand together."

In the national heats back in February, known as the New Music Contest (Finnish acronym UMK), they were the favourites from the start.

That's not surprising: The band's Facebook page has almost one million followers and their biggest hit single, 'In the Shadows,' released in 2003, recently breached 100 million plays on Spotify.

Ylönen told Yle News that they decided to compete at Eurovision because fans kept asking them to.

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"That planted the seed in our minds. Ten years ago I thought there was no way we'd ever compete with our music and our art, you know? But this has been fantastic," he said, adding that the nature of the contest has changed for the better.

"It's become a bit more serious of a platform. Also, in Finland it's huge," he said.

"Hard to be an artist in this world"

The Rasmus ahead of an impromptu outdoor performance with Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra in Turin, Italy. From left: Eero Heinonen, Emppu Suhonen, Aki Hakala and Lauri Ylönen. Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

Their song 'Jezebel' has been described (siirryt toiseen palveluun) as having "infectious hooks, a rock edge and the noughties nostalgia", and could do well — but it has a darker side too.

In scripture, Jezebel is portrayed as a murderer and prostitute, among other things, and often referred to as the Bible's "bad girl."

"She's kind of this vicious woman, a very bad person but at the same time attractive, beautiful and dangerous, so that was the inspiration," Ylönen explained.

"But we only stole her name, and sort of brought it into the modern world and it's more about an independent person. In the song, she's a woman but I find myself to be a Jezebel as well."

"For us, it's the concept of a person who makes decisions in life that might not be the safest ones — just trying to be an artist in this world is hard, you have to try really hard and it still might not work," he said.

Making the song

Rasmus performs 'Jezebel' at UMK 2022. Image: Miikka Varila / Yle

There is some heavyweight talent behind the band on this, with Ylönen's friend and former Rasmus collaborator, US songwriter and producer Desmond Child, helping out.

Since 1979, Child has produced, written and co-written pop and rock tracks with groups and artists including Kiss, Aerosmith, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and Bon Jovi.

The veteran producer worked with The Rasmus on their 2008 release, Black Roses, an album that reached the top of Finnish charts, and peaked at number 13 on the UK rock album chart.

"Desmond is the man behind the hits, especially in the 80s and 90s. He's one of my idols in music," Ylönen said.

"When Covid hit, I was lost"

Emilia 'Emppu' Suhonen and Lauri Ylönen in Turin, Italy. Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

After struggling with a year-and-a-half of pandemic-related isolation and restrictions, Ylönen said he was very happy being able to get out to work again.

"After Covid, I was so glad to have dates marked on my calendar. Since last summer, I have had a goal, I've had focus. We're going somewhere."

"When Covid hit, I was lost, I really felt sick, mentally and physically, you know? But then there were other negative things like when our guitarist Pauli quit the band and everything went really down the tubes for a while," he revealed, referring to the resignation of founding member Pauli Rantasalmi, who had played with the band since they were kids.

The band announced Rantasalmi's departure at the beginning of this year, saying that he had been replaced by Emilia 'Emppu' Suhonen, a guitarist who started her music career as a member of 90s teenage girl group, Tiktak.

After deciding to try for Eurovision, writing 'Jezebel', and then getting Suhonen into the mix, Ylönen said everything changed for the better.

"You know, the song was actually written before she joined, and it's about this rebellious woman and then suddenly, Emppu became our guitarist — and she's very Jezebel-like herself," he said. "Now that she's in the band, it feels like she's always been in it."

"I would vote for Ukraine"

A younger Ylönen onstage with the band in 1999. Image: Yle kuvapalvelu

In the run-up before the semifinals, Ylönen recalled a special moment during a Eurovision pre-party event (siirryt toiseen palveluun) in Madrid, which was taking place amid the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We were one of 30 acts from 30 different European countries in the same room, and it was so emotional because of the situation in Ukraine," he explained, saying that he had mixed feelings as they were partying and playing while Ukraine was in the midst of war.

"It felt so sad, but kind of good at the same time — this is how it's supposed to be, [we in Europe] have to support each other," he said, adding that it felt like the unity Eurovision has provided Europeans with over the years felt even more significant now.

"Everybody will want to vote for Ukraine and they might win, and that's fine. That's something that I would do myself, that would feel good. I could show my love for them and show that we stand together," he said.

When informed that it seems that Ukraine is indeed the favourite to win this year, at least according to bookmakers, Ylönen did not seem terribly surprised.

"I haven't checked the odds yet, you don't recommend it?" he laughed sheepishly. "Well, they do know a thing or two."

At the time of publication, the Ukrainian Kalush Orchestra's traditional folk-infused hiphop track 'Stefania (siirryt toiseen palveluun)' had a 49 percent chance of winning Eurovision — according to bookmakers (siirryt toiseen palveluun) — far outstripping the odds of performers from any other country.

The Rasmus and Kalush Orchestra played an impromptu outdoor performance (siirryt toiseen palveluun) together in Turin over the weekend.

Even so, Ylönen said he thinks his group has a good chance of making it to Saturday's final.

"I would be really happy to get to the final," he said.

New beginnings

Following up on their Eurovision exposure, the band have been working on a new book out this autumn.

"It was fun to write it, we would book a sauna and talk for three hours, going through the history, chronologically. It's been very therapeutic and it gave me a lot of strength. One of the reasons I thought we should do the book was when Covid started and I thought 'I need a therapist, I need an author that I can talk to.' Going through my life and our adventures really made it feel like 'wow, this [band] has to go on, this can't be the end," he said.

"We've had a great, wonderful life and the book will have an interesting ending with the Eurovision [story] and Emppu as the new guitarist. It sort of feels like a new beginning for us in many ways. We feel stronger than in decades," he said.

The group is also planning to release a new album soon and they have an extensive tour scheduled this summer across Finland and then Europe and the UK in the autumn, something which Ylönen said he is eagerly looking forward to, as well.

The Rasmus is scheduled to perform in the Eurovision Song Contest's semi-final on Thursday.

Apart from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, all countries need to qualify in the semi-finals' top-10 to qualify for the final.

The 2022 Eurovision Song Contest's first semi-final is on Tuesday, 10 May, with the second semi-final on Thursday, 12 May. The contest's grand final will be held on Saturday, 14 May.

All of the shows, which will be broadcast live on Yle TV1 and Areena, begin at 10pm, Finnish time.