The EuroWhat? Podcast

We are a pair of Americans trying to make sense of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Albania's Festivali i Kenges 56 kicks off selection season 2018

"Albania once again knows what we want for Christmas: the 56th edition of the Festivali i Këngës song competition which starts the Eurovision 2018 national final season. What does this year's festival have in store?<!--more-->

Albania's Festivali i Këngës, now in its 56th year, has been the country's Eurovision Song Contest selection process since entering the competition in 2004. On the one hand, it makes sense that a national song competition that already exists would be an efficient way to select for Eurovision. However, there are some drawbacks:

  • FiK happens at a time of year that doesn't correlate to success at Eurovision. Albania is generally the first to select for the following year's Eurovision Song Contest, not by strategy but because that's when the song festival happens.
  • The song qualifications for FiK are not as strict as Eurovision's. Songs can be up to four minutes long, political content is not outright discouraged, and there will be more than six people on stage because the songs are performed by a live orchestra. This forces rewrites and re-arrangements every year, which could compromise the original quality of the song.((See Italy 2017 and France 2016 for similar problems.))
  • How a winner is determined isn't great. Prior to 2017, the winner was determined solely by jury and without any transparency about scoring. Also, with the semi-final not always culling a large field((The 2015 edition had 30 songs cut down to 22, for example)), the vote spread gets a little thin. Last year's edition included viewer voting in the final for the first time, but that vote ended up being inconsequential. It counted for 1/13th of an entrant's final score, though points were only awarded to the top seven. Lindita Halimi's "Boje" had the competition locked up before the viewers weighed in.

This year's Festivali i Këngës will feature 22 songs. The first semi-final will be held Thursday, December 21 and the second will be held Friday, December 22. Although specifics have not been announced, expect anywhere from 12 to 16 of those songs to advance to the final on Saturday, December 23. All 22 entries are available on Albanian broadcaster RTSH's YouTube page if you want to check them out before the competition. You can watch the competition live on the RTSH FiK website. Shows should start at 2 pm Eastern all three days.

Here are the entries to keep an eye on:

Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" ("Yearning")

This entry is the current favorite based on YouTube views, and I can understand why. The track reminds me of Belarus's journey of joy in this year's Contest, as well as Malta's entry from 2014. This would also be a departure from the female, power pop, melisma factories we've been subjected to since 2014 which has not been all that successful at the Contest. The first performance will be during Thursday's semi-final.

Inis Neziri - "Piedestal" ("Pedestal")

This song is in second place in YouTube views, and is exactly what I mean when I say "melisma factory." It's not a bad song, per se, but if Albania wants to find success at Eurovision they may want to consider not send such a Eurovision-y entry. Expect Inis Neziri to advance out of Friday's semi-final.

Voltan Prodani - "E Pamundur" ("Impossible")

This song is currently sitting at the bottom of the list in terms of YouTube views. I'll be curious to hear how this plays on stage with an orchestra, though I can understand why this may not have captured the public's attention.

Akullthyesit - "Divorc" ("Divorce")

I am fascinated by this entry. My initial reaction when I saw the title pop up was "surely that's not a cognate," only to get yelled at by a guy with a bullhorn about 30 seconds while I confirmed with Google Translate that divorc and divorce are one and the same.((The duo's name translates to "icebreakers," which seems accurate, what with the bullhorn and all.)) This would certainly be an unexpected entry at Eurovision were it to win FiK, and I think I'm here for that possibility? As of this writing, the song is sixth in YouTube views and could resonate with the jury if the mood is just right?"