Finland’s Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu 2020 was filled with surprises — from the women of F3M unleashing fire guns to Erika Vikman dancing alongside bears. And in the end, after an intense night of competition, Finland finally crowned its winner: Turku-born Aksel Kankaanranta.
He was meant to represent Finland at Eurovision 2020 with the song “Looking Back”. But following the cancellation of the contest to help turn the tide of coronavirus, his future at Eurovision seems unclear. Judging from YLE’s official statement on the matter, they are exploring different paths forward for Eurovision 2021.
“[The cancellation] has an impact on many things and we are considering different options,” UMK producer Anssi Autio wrote on the official Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu web site. “Of course, the Finnish delegation hoped that we would have a Eurovision spring in one way or another, which for many is the highlight of the year. However, given the current situation, this was a sound and sensible decision. In the next few weeks we will tell you how UMK will proceed.”
The statement leaves plenty of space for producers to manoeuvre. They could internally select Aksel and stage a one-artist UMK, as they did for Saara Aalto and Darude. This would likely see Aksel sing three songs with the public and a jury voting for their favourite. Alternatively, they could stage a show as they did this year with several different acts but give Aksel an automatic spot in the show. This would align with Estonia, who have decided to give their Eurovision 2020 singer an automatic spot in the semi-finals of their national final Eesti Laul.
Aksel Kankaanranta: Finland’s would-be Eurovision 2020 singer
We met up with Aksel in Helsinki just a day after his victory to learn a bit more about this man of mystery who endeared himself to hundreds of thousands of Finns.
Aksel’s foray into music started with the violin, which he played from the age of four until around 13. Later, when he was playing the bass, he decided to sing along with his orchestra. “I just started singing… and I realised, what is this? It worked really well… Then I just started to train more. And here we are!”
These days he writes songs whenever he feels inspired. He keeps his phone nearby so he can jot down his thoughts in the “notes” section. In 2017, Kankaanranta finished second in The Voice of Finland.
How did Aksel decide to participate in the Finnish national selection for Eurovision?
“Actually, I was first contacted by this Spanish dude and he asked if I wanted to participate in the UMK with his song, and I was like okay, yeah, sure. Then I wrote some lyrics for it.” Afterwards, he contacted music experts to professionalise the sound, and it was ready to go for the Finnish competition.
The final voting segment during UMK was incredibly tense. Aksel was ranked first by the international juries, but it was unclear for a time whether the televote would guarantee him a win. Although he finished second in that portion of the vote to Erika Vikman, he still won the night — and he wasn’t expecting it.
“I was a bit taken by surprise, and, well, I still don’t know how to feel about it. Still processing.”
As for the staging, the Finnish team wanted to scale it up to suit the Dutch stage design. The plan was to keep the same 3D screen, that was in the original performance during the UMK final. He also planned to have three more backing singers, bringing him to five in total. “It brings a bit more contrast to the song,” he said. Despite these additions, Aksel was keen to keep the performance in a minimalistic style.
Aksel admitted that he had already listened to the Eurovision 2020 songs. For him the Lithuanian entry is “literally on fire.” As for his broader favourites, he loves “Fairytale” from Alexander Rybak and says his favourite Finnish act is Paradise Oscar.
What do you think about Aksel Kankaanranta’s “Looking Back”? Let us know in the comments below!