News broke this evening that Malta would be scrapping their national final for the first time in their Eurovision history. The competition, most recently branded as the Malta Eurovision Song Contest, has existed in varying forms to select all 31 of Malta’s Eurovision entries. However, with the announcement that the winner of the first ever X Factor Malta would represent the island in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, it marks a big change in plans for TVM and Eurovision in Malta.
A struggle to adapt
Back in the 1990s, Malta had a string of successful results at Eurovision. A string of eight consecutive top ten finishes occurred between the country’s comeback in 1991 and Chiara’s agonisingly close top three finish in 1998. Furthermore, as we moved into the 2000s, Malta would extend that record to 11 top tens out a possible twelve. Nevertheless, the introduction of the semi-finals saw Maltese fortunes at Eurovision take a tumble. Since 2004, Malta has only achieved four top-half finishes in the grand final in fifteen attempts:
- 2004: Julie and Ludwig – On Again… Off Again (12th place)
- 2005: Chiara – Angel (2nd place)
- 2013: Gianluca – Tomorrow (8th place)
- 2016: Ira Losco – Walk On Water (12th place)
It’s the songs, not the artists
Arguably, the Eurovision Song Contest has undergone a significant increase in song quality since the mid-2000s. In particular, since the re-introduction of the professional juries at the end of the decade. Therefore, while Malta’s enthusiasm and song output for the contest has stayed at a consistent level throughout their Eurovision history, the competition and enthusiasm from other countries and broadcasters have only risen. Thus, Eurovision success has become much harder to achieve.
I believe many Eurovision fans would agree with me when I say that there are many quality artists within the Maltese industry that are extremely worthy of representing their country on the world’s biggest stage. Each year, the Malta Eurovision Song Contest is full of great vocalists and great performers, extraordinarily so for such a small nation. A common remark is that the live national final performances were “so much better” than the pre-released studio versions of the competing entries suggested they may be. Indeed, therein lies the problem.
A talented, but small pool
Malta only has a small pool of songwriters and producers. When you consider that the Malta Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest national finals, with the number of entries usually well into the teens, the numbers don’t quite add up. Songwriters churn out multiple entries, arguably not being able to focus on the one.
One of Taboo‘s songwriters, Muxu, was involved in four other Malta Eurovision Song Contest final entries this year. To name further examples from MESC 2018, Cyprian Cassar had four entries to his name whilst Elton Zarb had two. While foreign composers are a factor in Maltese selections, it is often not to the same high level of concentration that they may factor in other nations’ selections. Overall, this smaller pool of regular names has resulted in what some call a stereotypical Maltese song. Usually a good quality, well-performed, pop song that doesn’t quite have the spark to stand out in a more competitive Eurovision field.
Of course, now and then Malta do get that success. Tomorrow was the perfect combination of an adorably cute song matched with a massively charismatic performer in Gianluca. However, this is an exception to the rule. TVM realised this in 2016… to an extent. Step forward, Ira Losco.
First signs of a change
In 2016, Ira Losco won that year’s Malta Eurovision Song Contest with Chameleon. However, in a controversial move, Ira made full use of that year’s MESC rules and changed her song. Walk On Water became the first song to represent Malta not chosen through their national final in recent memory. Nevertheless, TVM had found themselves with a great performer that the public had chosen, not to mention that Ira is the country’s biggest pop star, and could now put all of their efforts into finding that one song. It proved successful, and Malta finished in the top half of the Eurovision final. They’ve not qualified since.
Now, with the introduction of X Factor Malta, TVM is openly asking the public to just select an artist. This is similar to their format of selecting their annual Junior Eurovision Song Contest entries since 2015, which resulted in Destiny Chukunyere’s eventual victory in Sofia. They’ve secured two further top 10 finishes at Junior Eurovision with the same method. TVM will then be able to do what they did in 2016 and put all of their efforts into finding the perfect song for the winner of X Factor Malta. While unconfirmed, it is presumed by many that the song will be internally selected by TVM.
Israel proves its success
It’s a format Israel has fine-tuned beautifully since they introduced it in 2015. Using the Rising Star format rather than The X Factor, Israel has selected their artist via a public-voted reality show. Then, the broadcaster has paired the perfect song with the winning artist. It has turned Israel’s fortunes around completely. Prior to 2015, Israel had failed to qualify on four consecutive occasions. Now, they have four consecutive qualifications to their name which culminated in their first victory since 1998 last month in Lisbon.
It’s not just Israel who has found a winning entry via this public artist selection, internal song selection method. Back in 2011, Azerbaijan selected Ell and Nikki via a national selection with public involvement. Ictimai then internally selected their eventual Eurovision-winning entry Running Scared.
Is Malta finally heading for victory?
Commissioning the first season of X Factor Malta and awarding the winner the honour of representing Malta at Eurovision 2019 is the best move TVM could have made. The Malta Eurovision Song Contest was, at best, inconsistent in providing successful Eurovision entries. Now, TVM can find a publicly-backed singer who has proven themselves as a great performer via a series of live television shows. They can then pair them with that one great song. Will the likes of Gaia Cauchi or Destiny Chukunyere, two Maltese superstars who are finally eligible to participate at the adult Eurovision contest, put themselves through a competition like this for 2019? Time will tell.
As long as TVM follow Israel’s example and fine-tune their process over a number of years, Malta could just be beginning their journey to Eurovision victory… and boy would they deserve it!
Do you agree that TVM has made the correct decision to turn around Malta’s Eurovision fortunes? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below and via our social media channels @ESCXTRA!