The EuroWhat? Podcast

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

First Listen: Albania's Eugent Bushpepa takes "Mall" to Lisbon

""Mall" by Eugent Bushpepa has started the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest selection season on a good note, with an entry that could bring Albania some success in Portugal.

Albania's Eurovision Song Contest selection process Festivali i Këngës took place in the lead up to Christmas, with Eugent Bushpepa's song "Mall" claiming top honors at the competition. This year's process featured 22 contestants competing across two semi-finals, with 14 advancing to a grand final on Saturday, December 23. Unlike last year, the audience had no vote and the winner was determined by a five-person jury. After much, much, much deliberation((I was driving from Chicago to Detroit at the time, joking that I could probably get to my mom's house before a winner was determined. Had we not stopped for food or potty breaks, we might have been able to achieve that goal.)), Bushpepa earned the right to represent Albania in Lisbon next May.

Although there was no audience vote, the process did seem to correlate with YouTube views of the entries. Of the eight entries that advanced from the first semi-final, the top seven entries based on views advanced (though the eighth spot went to the least-watched video of the entire field). The second semi-final had similar results, with five of the six qualifiers ranked at the top of the YouTube field. "Divorci" was the only one to miss the cut, with seventh-place "Zemër ku je" by Denisa Gjezo taking the sixth spot.

The grand final only revealed the top three entries, which went to "Piedestal" by Inis Neziri, "Ekziston" by Redon Makashi, and winner "Mall" by Eugent Bushpepa. Although broadcaster RTSH explicitly said YouTube was not being used as a voting mechanism, the evidence seems to suggest that it was at least a consideration in the final decision.

So, here's the winning entry, as performed on Saturday's final:

This entry is a departure from what Albania has been sending to Eurovision the last few years, with greater accessibility for audiences than 2016's inscrutable "Fairytale" or last year's FFIX cosplay adventure "World".((To be clear, I loved "World" because it was an FFIX cosplay adventure and I'm still not sure why Europe was not on board allllll the airships.)) However, there are a number of potential pitfalls that could sink "Mall" if Albania and Eugent Bushpepa aren't careful:

  • English or Albanian? Eurovoix has reported that "Mall" will remain in Albanian, and I think that's the right decision. According to the article, Eugent Bushpepa says the current lyrics match the melody of the song, so trying to recreate that with an English translation is more effort than it's worth. Given how successful non-English and non-full-English entries have been the last few years (e.g. the winners of 2016 and 2017), I would love it if Eurovision 2018 was a multi-lingual celebration.
  • Get the scissors... because this entry will need to be cut down. Close to 80 seconds will need to be removed to be Eurovision-compliant. The intro could be trimmed without too much trouble, as well as the transitions. My fear is that this may go through an edit similar to what happened with "Occidentali's Karma" last year, where the second verse is eliminated even though that's where the most interesting song elements are happening. Equally problematic would be if all the gaps are cut out, creating a song that isn't allowed to breathe (e.g. France 2016 and 2017). However "Mall" gets abridged, at least it shouldn't multiply the degree of difficulty too much.((Oh hai "Suus".))
  • Stage presentation. To be fair, the nature of FiK doesn't allow for elaborate performances like you would see on Sweden's Melodifestivalen or local versions of The X Factor. However, eyes shouldn't be closed throughout the first verse and the visual display could be much more interesting and less screensaver-y. I presume this performance went over very well for the audience in the auditorium, but as a television performance "Mall" could have been more engaging. Since translation probably won't be part of the equation this year, I hope that energy is instead placed in art direction.

Overall, I'm intrigued by what this entry has to offer and I think it sets a solid benchmark for the rest of the field for Eurovision 2018. Good luck, Albania!"