What?? Who is this? A mustachioed man with a salad bowl haircut? And what about that green outfit with puffed sleeves and exposed chest? Is this serious? Or is it a joke? The answer: Käärijä, who represents Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 with his song Cha cha cha, is both.
Käärijä is the alter ego of Jere Pöyhönen (1993), who grew up in Vantaa, a city near Helsinki. For a long time, Jere had to choose between two careers: ice hockey or music. In his youth, he made music with his brother. He played drums, and his brother played guitar. Oh, and he also started training in upholstery and interior design. Three directions were swirling around each other. Or four, because he had one more passion.
Jere went to casinos for the first time when he was fifteen, and gambling has been an important part of his life ever since. He got the nickname ‘Käärijä’ from his friends because he was able to rake in excessive amounts of money. The literal translation is ‘wrap’, referring to a piece of paper to wrap something in. Wrapping the money is what he did.
So we have an explanation for the name. But Käärijä is much more than a stage name, because Käärijä is a complete character, and he does dangerous things, as we can see in his song for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Cha cha cha
In it, the story is told of a man, Käärijä, who goes to the local bar after an exhausting work week. He can only think about the piña colada he’s going to pour down his throat. Only this tropical drink can break through his ‘icy armor’. And as soon as he gets his hands on the first piña colada, the dance begins.
I hold my drinks with both hands like a
cha, cha, cha, cha, cha, cha, cha,
he raps over a dance beat loaded with synths and electric guitars, a style of music Jere himself describes as party metal.
Back to the bar, because Käärijä has just arrived. The goal is the dance floor, and he sits in his chair drinking until he’s so drunk that he can only crawl off his chair – and woah! Finally, it happens, the moment he’s been waiting for. Käärijä staggers up, and the pounding in his head gives way to a happy melody. He sings:
I’m going to the dance floor
like a cha, cha, cha,
the world can’t touch me anymore.
Like a cha, cha, cha
champagne is pouring over me.
Käärijä is liberated – a funny happy ending to a drinking story. But is it all that funny? Or is it actually quite tragic? Won’t he be back here next Friday, with the same exhausting work week behind him?
The mysterious thing about Käärijä is that you can’t know how deep his emotions go, because Käärijä is an alter ego. ‘Käärijä is difficult to explain,’ Jere says, ‘you have to experience him yourself. But if I had to describe him, I would say he’s a gentleman with a salad bowl haircut and an amazing mustache.’
That’s it – ah yes, and he makes party metal. That’s all we have to go on. You can dance to him, stomp to him, laugh at him, but you can’t grasp him. And so you can’t break him. ‘I’m not trying to play a character, he’s a part of me.’ And Jere can express many quirks and humor through him. Two examples:
1) Alter-alter ego
Käärijä has different personalities, which create mystery and unpredictability. ‘But in a good way, not a scary way,’ Jere says.
Now I’m that guy, now I’m that guy,
he sings in Cha cha cha when alcohol has set him free. In the video clip, that guy is none other than Käärijä with a platinum blonde wig and a sky blue suit. The alter ego has an alter ego, and now that Käärijä himself has found his alter ego – the alter-alter ego (are you still following?) – he dares to do anything.
2) Imaginary friend
Käärijä has an imaginary friend who appears in various songs. His name is Kari, and he often keeps Käärijä company.
He’s with him in the bar…
Kari is crazy as a loon, drinks with both hands (from: Viulunkieli)
He’s with him on the street…
The taxis have arrived, but we’re not going home (from: Välikuolema)
He’s actually everywhere where there’s drinking.
Kari falls to the ground,
they drag him away, and now he’s outside the door asking for his coat (from: Viulunkieli).
‘Kari is an important part of Käärijä’s world,’ says Jere. ‘And who knows, he might visit more of his songs in the future.’
‘We push the boundaries and try crazy and funny new things,’ says Jere. The ‘we’ is important, because through his alter ego, he can be exactly who he wants to be. And that also translates into the music he makes. ‘I can write a ballad today and drum and bass tomorrow, and I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to do what the audience wants.’ This feeling of immense freedom dates back to the period around his fifteenth year when he first discovered gambling, and this is not a happy story.
One day, during that initial gambling period, Jere noticed blood in his stool. He had it examined and was found to have inflammation in the rectum. He took medication and adjusted his diet and stuck to it… until he turned eighteen. ‘You can guess what happened then,’ he says. ‘You’re allowed to enter clubs and bars and you live your life.’ Jere fell back into his old eating habits and that’s when the first alcohol came in. The inflammation returned. ‘But it was just so much fun to go out and party!’ His entire large intestine became inflamed, he was rushed into surgery and received a stoma. ‘I was told that if I had come one or two weeks later, I probably wouldn’t be here.’
During his recovery period, the switch flipped. No more ice hockey or interior design; from now on, all focus was on music, Jere’s dream. And perhaps most importantly: he was going to do it his way, starting with a joke. ‘Certain jokes were repeated often enough,’ Jere says. ‘That’s how Käärijä was born.’
Ball of wine
‘But Jere, you’re going to Liverpool soon. Will you manage with the English language?’
Jere responds with an anecdote. He was recently abroad with a friend and ordered a bottle of wine: ‘One ball wine please.’
Photo: Nelli Kenttä / Yle / Eurovision.tv