Eurovision academics have advised Malta to get out of its “comfort zone” and try to compete with a more attention-grabbing and authentic Maltese song that reflects the country’s culture.
Europe - and Australia - will have their eyes on Liverpool on Saturday night, as the UK hosts the Grand Final of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.
One of 26 participants will be crowned as the competition's winner, but Malta has no chance of making it after its entry The Busker failed to make it past the semi-final stage.
It was the second consecutive year that Malta fell short before the final night. Last year, Emma Muscat’s song I Am What I Am also crashed out in the semi-finals.
“I want to praise these guys (The Busker), they did a wonderful job in representing Malta, engaging with the media, and are overall very charming,” Dean Vuletic, told Times of Malta.
Vuletic, a lecturer and researcher of contemporary European history at the University of Vienna, is dubbed the “Professor Song Contest” and also wrote a book called “Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest”.
But while Vuletic found The Buskers' performance colourful and energetic, he said it failed to be authentic.
“While The Busker produced their own song, it failed to bring out what it means to be Maltese," he said.
"There was nothing Maltese about it, in terms of language or culture, and it got washed away among a sea of other English language pop songs which were sung by other young male singers.”
He pointed out how two other contestants, Latvia and Ireland, were also male bands who sang in English. The two countries performed in the same semi-final as Malta, and just like Malta, failed to make it to the final.
Irving Wolther, a German academic and journalist for Eurovision.de, also shared the same thoughts.
“This is the first time in many years that I liked Malta’s entry,” he said.
“While you were placed in a very difficult slot in the semi-final, I am disappointed that Malta did not make it to the final.”
Having said that Wolther, who in 2006 wrote the first doctorate on Eurovision, believes Malta, once again failed to show its true colours.
“I have a feeling Malta is trying desperately to play a role, and forget its roots. Eurovision is all about showcasing your country,” he said.
Looking back at previous Maltese contestants, he said there had been many good performers, but none of the songs stood out.
“Destiny for example is a fantastic artist, but her song is interchangeable, anyone could have sung it. Malta needs to get out of its comfort zone.”
A Maltese song about migration?
Both experts provided the same message of advice- to compete with a Maltese song.
“You need to be memorable among 37 songs,” Vuletic said.
He highlights that the trend of singing in English has changed, and pointed out that the countries that sang in their national language passed to the final.
“Times have changed, and I believe singing in Maltese would draw more attention.”.
“Very few people know about Maltese, and this would be a fantastic platform to promote the beautiful language,” he said.
He said that the key to grabbing the audience’s attention is not the language, but the feeling the song brings out and Wolther believes the Maltese language and sound would do so in an interesting way.
The last time Malta competed with a Maltese song was in 1972 when Helen and Joseph sang “L-Imħabba” which placed last in the competition.
Wolther said the Eurovision can be a platform for countries to send a hard-driving message in a creative means.
“What are the topics relevant to Malta? Imagine a Maltese song about the migrant issue, now that would catch people’s attention if done in the right manner.”
Wolther said Eurovision should not be seen as a stepping ladder for artists to kick off their careers, but more as a means to promote their country.
Vuletic said that it does not have to be about winning but showcasing the country’s culture.
“It’s all about authenticity, that is what people want now.”
The two experts' advice runs counter to advice proferred by another academic, who has highlighted a distinct pattern among winners.
Glenn Fosbraey from the University of Winchester has noted that of the last 20 Eurovision Song Contest winners, 17 have been sung in English, 17 are about relationships, 13 have used the word “love” and all 20 have repeated choruses.
Vuletic noted that Malta's two best-ever Eurovision rankings, in 2002 with Chiara and 2005 with Ira Losco, both came with English songs, but argued trends have since evolved.
“They sang English language pop songs, but that was over 20 years ago, and the Eurovision style has changed since then.”
Not a numbers game but an attention game
While data shows that smaller countries struggle to have other participating countries vote for them, both experts believe that the competition is more than just about voting.
“It’s not a numbers game, but an attention game,” Wolther said.
Vuletic said there is a lot more than just neighbouring countries voting for each other that determines the final vote.
“Look at the UK for example, last year they came back with a bang, but in previous years they were not doing so well for a while,” he said.
National discussion on how Malta Eurovision representation
Both Vuletic and Wolther believe Malta needs a national discussion among important stakeholders to see how Malta should represent itself in the Eurovision Song Contest.
“What is it you want to achieve? I believe the television station, tourism industry, and music industry should come together and discuss what they want to get out of Eurovision,” Vuletic said.
“Do you want to win? Or just promote national culture, through the use of Maltese? Do you want a protest song that will gain attention and stir up discussion?”
On the other hand, Wolther believes Malta needs more variety in its music genre and its national Eurovision Festival.
“Looking at the festival, I always see the same ballads sung by women, who have wonderful voices, but the songs are flat.”
“Eurovision is about being proud of who you are, and not being like others. It’s about being proud of the song you picked, and at some point in time, that pride will be understood by Europe.”