Festivali i Kënges is a bit like your old grandma-knitted Christmas jumper. As much entertainment as it gives you to see it every December, it also kills you a little bit inside each time you have to wear it. But then, one day, you stumble across this new Christmas jumper store, selling shiny, colourful, exciting, new jumpers that can spare you the annual embarrassment at the family Christmas party. Well Albania, that jumper store is called Kënga Magjike, and that Christmas party is the Eurovision Song Contest. Here are 10 reasons why we think Albania should swap their Eurovision selection method from FiK to Kënga Magjike.
1. ALBANIA’S UNSUCCESSFUL HISTORY
Albania’s track record at Eurovision is among the worst of any country currently competing in the competition. Over the past 10 years, Albania have collectively scored a measly 345 points in Eurovision grand finals. To put that into perspective, this years’ winners – Sweden — have scored a grand total of 1503 points in the grand finals of the past decade. That’s over quadruple Albania’s total! If that doesn’t tell you they need a change, I’m not sure what will.
2. SONG QUALITY
In 1964 the FiK jury decided that all the entries were so awful that no-one deserved first place – therefore a second and two third places were awarded. Ouch! Song quality, obviously, is a subjective matter, but one scientific method we can use to prove our point is Youtube. Just search ‘Kënga Magjike’, and you’ll find endless videos with view counts in excess of 1 million. For Festivali i Kënges, on the other hand, you’ll very rarely find a video with over 10,000 views. The sad truth is that the song quality in Festivali i Kënges is really quite poor – whilst the standard in Kënga Magjike is 1000x higher, with many songs going on to become national hits. Below I’ve compiled a video comparing the usual style of popular Albanian artists, compared with their FiK entries. It’s quite telling…
3. BIGGER ARTISTS
Over time, Festivali i Kënges has received an ever-decreasing amount of interest from popular artists in the region. In 2014, 2015 and now 2016 we’ve seen a line-up of artists that (excluding the GODDESS that is Elhaida Dani) is less exciting than Rambo Amadeus’ toenail collection. However, as one thing goes out of fashion, another thing must come in. On the other side of the rainbow, Kënga Magjike attracts the big guns, with names as big as Genta Ismajli, Besa, Young Zerka & Nora Istrefi entering year after year.
4. THE ORCHESTRA
Whilst some argue that live orchestra is a beautiful element of the contest, the truth is that it just ain’t practical for Eurovision. The majority of modern music relies on synthetic sounds in order to make it sound even vaguely contemporary. Therefore, Festivali i Kënges only really leaves scope for orchestral ballads or rock songs – which, when faced with Europe’s electronically produced music, sounds very dated. The only other national selection to employ a live orchestra is Skopje Fest in Macedonia – and they’ve qualified once in the past 8 years. Kënga Magjike, however, allows the use of playback, allowing a far greater range of songs to compete. If you ask me, this modernisation is Albania’s key to escaping the bottom of the leaderboard.
5. THE ELECTRIC GUITAR
Anyone who has watched the show will know the importance of the electric guitar in Festivali i Kënges culture. You’ll be watching an entry, possibly even thinking “hey, this is a cute ballad” – and then it comes. Deep down you always knew it was gonna happen, but the aggravating ring of FiK’s most beloved instrument never ceases to annoy. Fairplay: an electric guitar in a rock song. But when it appears in every darn entry it’s just ridiculous. Fortunately, in Kënga Magjike the participants can resist the temptation to whip out their strings and totally confuse the message of their song. And I can confirm that it is NOT missed.
The performance element to Festivali i Kënges is, to put it bluntly, non-existent. With the artists putting in no attempt to visually entertain us (as well as little effort to musically entertain us), the show is a painful 3 hours of drably dressed Albanian singers lingering around a grey LED screen. What’s more, the winner turns up in Copenhagen with little artistic direction, whilst the countries who thought through their stage presentation in the national final (Sweden, Denmark, Belarus) rock up and steal the show. In Kënga Magjike, however, the story couldn’t be more different. Extravagant costumes, stunning LED imagery and dancing Winny Poohs. Now tell me, would you ever see this in Festivali i Kënges?
7. THE JURY
In a contest where the outcome is chosen 100% by jury vote, you’ve got to pick your panel carefully. Unfortunately, this appears not to be RTSH’s forte. In 2015, for example, only two of the seven jurors were under the age of fifty – one could’ve easily mistaken the jury table as privilege seating for Buranovskiye Babushki’s fanbase! Among the jurors last year we had a man who won the eighth ever contest (we’re now on number 55), an Albanian filmmaker and history scholar (!?) and, surprise surprise, a darn electric guitar player!!! In Kënga Magjike, however, the competing artists vote too, immediately lowering the average age by about 2000 years.
On the Albanian flag you will see a black eagle. Well, the history of Festivali i Kënges certainly ain’t no white dove either. Take 1963 — a contestant was prosecuted by the government… for mispronouncing a word! Or 1987, when minutes before the winner was to be announced, Albania’s First Lady decided she didn’t like the jury’s choice and insisted that a different song be chosen. And then there’s the 1999 incident when the jury votes were incorrectly counted and Aurela Gaçe, Albania’s 2011 representative, was initially denied her victory. Furthermore, in 2007 Manjola Nallbani claimed that RTSH sabotaged her entry, as her voice was neither heard in the arena nor on TV. This same year, Blero withdrew from the contest, claiming that the top 3 is decided before the show, and that he had been asked for a large sum of money in exchange for securing his victory. Hmmmm…
9. CULTURAL DIVERSITY
In order to participate in Festivali i Kënges, all artists and composers must have Albanian citizenship. This excludes artists which are part of the Albanian diaspora in countries such as Switzerland, Macedonia and the USA – home to many of the country’s most popular singers. This means no Bebe Rexha, no Eleni Foureira and no Rita Ora. And whilst we’re all for home-grown songs representing their country, the composers rule does eliminate the safety net of Thomas G:Sson when RTSH have nothing good up their sleeve *cough* ALWAYS. Kënga Magjike, however, is renowned for uniting Albanians from all over the globe, as well as allowing foreign composers to collaborate with artists. Diversity is the way forward, y’all!
10. 2015’s SUCCESSES
This year Albania chose their artist through Festivali i Kënges, but selected their song internally. The result? Albania’s first ever real fan-favourite. Elhaida was topping polls throughout the season and even ranked 9th with our Wiwi jury. After qualifying for the grand-final for the first time since 2012, Albania went on to achieve ninth place in the televote as well, proving that without FiK, they actually have the capacity to send an appealing, quality pop song. What happened with the juries this year, however, was a different matter…
I appreciate that Festivali i Kënges is a 50 year-old tradition, and probably something quite special for Albanians. The truth is, however, that this relationship with Eurovision just isn’t working out. Sometimes you need to say goodbye to that beloved old jumper just replace it with something new.
Do you agree? Have your say in the poll below:
How should Albania select their entry for Eurovision 2016?