- 19 Jun 23
"I don’t want to play it safe," Finnish sensation Käärijä tells Hot Press after nabbing the runner up spot in Liverpool last month with 'Cha Cha Cha'.
Jere Pöyhönen - best known by this stage name, Käärijä - was Finland’s bid for this year’s Eurovision. The Helsinki native captivated audiences around Europe with his eclectic performance, winning the public vote which earned him 526 points, earning him second place. His song, ‘Cha, Cha, Cha’ ignited listeners around the world and set the contest’s live audience into a frenzy during his performance.
The 29-year-old's single found a place in people’s hearts but also in the charts, soaring to number one in Finland, whilst becoming the first Finnish song to break into the UK Singles Charts’ top 10. Käärijä also found a fanbase in Ireland, peaking at number seven in the charts. He released his debut album in 2020, Fantasista, which set the tone for his now famous Eurovision anthem. Hot Press caught up with the Finnish artist following his mammoth success in the televised singing contest.
How does it feel placing second in this year’s Eurovision?
“When I think of it now, it's only the good things, and it makes me happy. When it happened, and I heard second place, of course it made me sad. I went to the bathroom and cried. I gave it my all and I was so tired by the end of it. But no matter what, I have positive memories.”
You were considered the people’s choice, becoming the second-most voted for song in the contest’s history, how does that feel?
“That means a lot. When people like your song, and so many people vote for you, and give you support, I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it. In my country, people believe that we can’t get to a good place when we release a song in Finnish. But people can’t say that anymore - now that I’ve done it. It feels great, of course. It feels good to believe in yourself, too.”
It must have been overwhelming taking a song in your native language to an international stage and seeing it garner the success it has?
“At first, I felt so excited. I was also wondering what people were thinking when I was singing the song in Finnish because I knew most couldn't understand the majority of it. Of course, they understand “piña colada” and “cha cha cha”, but these are just a few words. It doesn’t matter though, because your voice is the instrument, just like the drums or a guitar is.”
Now sitting at 8.1 billion views, it’s easy to draw comparisons to the worldwide hit ‘Despacito’.
“Exactly! Just like when I am listening to what [German band] Rammstein or Enrique Iglesias are saying, I don't understand everything that they’re trying to say. People who want to know what I’m saying will translate it. It's funny, it's like if I were to hear an Estonian song…I think it incites some humour.”
It’s the same in Ireland, the majority of our population speaks English, but our native language is Irish.
“Exactly, you have the same but even with accents. I remember when I met Wild Youth, I loved them, but sometimes I was thinking, 'What are you trying to say?'
"Of course, my English isn’t all good, but I mostly understand. When this Irish guy speaks very fast and has the energy behind it too… the drummer was the best one for talking like that. I was just trying to focus on what he was trying to say.”
You’ve mentioned German band Rammstein as being a major musical influence, who else has inspired your music?
“Rammstein is not my only favourite, but I love them. I respect Slipknot and their metal elements and punk style. I just want to do something new. I don’t want to play it safe.”
Music wasn’t always your main priority, you used to play ice hockey professionally?
“With ice hockey, I trained up to five days in one week and then we had games on weekends, but it felt like it was my whole life for quite some time. But that was the lifestyle, you know? When I was young I played the drums and my father and brother played guitar. We used to play music together. When I grew up, I bought real drums. I started playing it more and more and realised that this was something that I could pursue. With a lot of work and a label, here I am. Music has always been in my life for as long as I can remember."
‘It’s crazy, it’s party’ has become a viral meme. Where did it originate?
“It came from when I had that first interview. It was some guy that did an Instagram Story. He asked how I could explain the song 'Cha Cha Cha' and I had said that, just because I don't know how to speak English well - without trying to be funny at all! It became something on its own.”
Lastly, can your fans look forward to an upcoming album?
“Of course. We’ve done a lot of work this past year, and I think that by next year, we’ll have a new album. I promise it will be crazy!”
Stream Käärijä's grand final performance below.