In typical fashion, Albania were one of the first nations to select their Eurovision act, and as per usual, it was through their national final format of Festivali i Këngës. After years of their national selection feeling like it was stuck in the dark ages, this year felt like a step in the right direction – a more modern direction. With Albania failing to qualify to the Eurovision final for two years in a row now, it’s about time we see the nation return to the final but is their selected artist Eugent Bushpepa the one to bring them back to the final?
Going into the national final Eugent Bushpepa was certainly a favourite with his song Mall, and as expected, he triumphed at Festivali i Këngës. Also in typical fashion, the song was well over three minutes, which meant that it would be getting a cut and a revamp. Early on, Eugent said that his song will remain in Albanian language, a promise which he has delivered on, but ultimately the song would change simply due to the cut to three minutes as per the Eurovision rules.
Now, rewind back to before the song was cut. When the song first won the contest, and I had my first listen to the song that was hyped through the national final, I thought it was nice, but nothing too special. Then, as more and more of the Eurovision 2018 songs were released, I went back and gave this another chance. Something changed for me, and it’s truly a phenomenon which from now on I’ll lovingly call the ‘Bushpepa effect,’ where a song you were indifferent to just comes out of nowhere and suddenly becomes your favourite. That’s really what happened here, as I really fell in love with everything about this.
It’s a rock song, but it doesn’t alienate people who don’t love rock, and it grows incredibly well over the entirety of the uncut version of the song. When we reach that final minute, it feels like a winning minute, especially knowing just how well Eugent can perform this live. In fact, I’d argue that this song performed live is actually more impressive than the studio version, as there’s no denying that his voice is absolutely breathtaking. He begins the song in a commanding but still understated way, and then when we build into the bigger notes of the song, it’s just a hundred times more impressive as he hits every note perfectly.
Ok, we love the uncut version, but the cut had to come eventually, and here’s where things changed a little for me. First listen of the cut version, and I did feel a little disappointed. For the most part, the song remains true to the original form other than the reduction of running time, but the song took a big change to the first minute, featuring a new chorus in a different tone. For me, that interfered with the flow and power of the song, but as we go into the next two minutes, the song remains fairly similar to the original.
Listening again now with a fresher mind, that first chorus bothers me less, but I’m still of the mind that the cut perhaps could have been a bit different to ensure that it’s a completely powerful three minutes. Despite the minor things, I’m glad that the song stayed in Albanian as promised, and has retained majority of the identity of the original, uncut version of the song.
All aboard… the underrated train!
If this song was submitted by countries more traditionally successful at Eurovision, this would be recognised as a potential winner. Unfortunately, coming from a smaller and more overlooked nation, this has the potential to be lost and forgotten in the semi-final, especially knowing it’s in semi-final 1.
However, we can’t write this off just yet. The potential for a powerful staging is huge, especially knowing that his voice will fill the arena. If it’s kept simple enough, this will be visually appealing for both audiences at home and in the arena, as it demands you to really pay attention to the song. The other huge potential for this entry is knowing what Eugent can do with his voice in the live performance. I believe he has said in interviews that the studio version is a bit more restrained compared to what he will pull out for the live performance, so I’m expecting a true Dami Im note crushing performance live, and that will be the clincher for Albania.
This song needs more love, and I’m here to give it more love. This is one of my personal winners of the contest, and one of those songs that I can’t get my hopes up too high about, but also I’d still be quite disappointed to see miss out on the final.