Treading water? Another national post-mortem ...

More or less the same complaints emerge from the post-Eurovision woodwork each year with depressing regularity.

Hi hopes for Ira Losco's second outing at the Eurovision Song Contest ran aground and the national post-mortem carried out on social media once again raised questions on Malta's fixation with the ESC
Hi hopes for Ira Losco's second outing at the Eurovision Song Contest ran aground and the national post-mortem carried out on social media once again raised questions on Malta's fixation with the ESC

The Eurovision Song Contest has come and gone, leaving our ‘big gun’ du jour – Ira Losco – stranded in 12th place despite a highly enthusiastic promotional campaign in the run-up to last weekend’s competition, as well as a strong show of support from the competition’s judges in Stockholm  – with Losco ultimately felled by the pan-European popular vote. 

As ever, the usual murmurings erupted to the fore upon Losco’s fanfare-accompanied descent back to the island. Whose heads should roll for Losco’s failure to clinch a favourable result? Should any heads in fact roll? Is Losco to blame in any way at all, or is it all down to – once again – ‘politics’, and the natural advantage mainland countries have with neighbours? 

But perhaps the most hard-hitting question – or rather, suggestion – hit at the heart of the entire glitzy enterprise. Perhaps spurred on by whispers of particularly outrageous spending from the national broadcaster this time around – six figures were mentioned, only to be summarily denied – some even dared to question whether Malta should continue throwing its hat into the Eurovision ring. 

So far, so standard. More or less the same complaints emerge from the post-Eurovision woodwork each year with depressing regularity. But what perhaps adds a mournful edge to the proceedings this year is that, well, it’s Ira we’re talking about here. Our Ira – the one who nearly nabbed us a victory in 2002 with ‘Seventh Wonder’... now placing 12th with ‘Walk on Water’. There may have been an air of desperation to plucking her out of ‘Eurovision retirement’ as it were: by all accounts, Losco is perhaps one of the only Maltese Eurovision alumni to establish something resembling a healthy career independent of the festival, and so getting her back out there feels like a rushed attempt to capitalise on former glories. 

Even still, Losco proved she had the vocal range, looks and professional attitude to take to the festival with gusto once again... not to mention a trendily anthemic song ready for attack. Which probably only contributes to the sting of her unimpressive final placing, and might explain away some of the intense online scrutiny this year’s edition has been placed under.

No radical departures, please

That said, some of Malta’s previous Eurovision representatives were none too keen on the idea of our island pulling out of the race for good. 

Among them is Ludwig Galea, who had  flown the Malta flag in 2004 with partner Julie Zahra. To start off, he offers his own definition of what the Eurovision Song Contest actually is – along with what its potential could be – which leaves no doubts about his confidence in this pan-continental pop culture behemoth.

“Eurovision has a special place in the hearts of the Maltese people, it is a platform that puts us on the map in a very positive way year in, year out irrespective of the result. 

“It is one of the most widely followed music performances and it offers a good showcase for local talent abroad,” Galea said, before rushing to defend the contest from accusations of irrelevance. 

“Different people think of Eurovision differently. It’s not wise to generalise about entire countries based on how they look at the Eurovision,” Galea said, describing the Eurovision as both a one-of-a-kind spectacle that offers entertainment “for those who are into that sort of thing” and also a great opportunity for artists to showcase their music.  

“There is no reason why it can’t be taken seriously as both entertainment and a platform for good music. Some very good talents and tunes came out of this contest and each year the festival has a story of its own.”

Galea is also confident that the festival itself has matured and learned to fall in line with more general pop music trends. According to Galea, gone is the ‘Eurovision style’ of song that would work wonders on the Eurovision stage but flounder outside its remit.

“Case in point was [Julie & Ludwig’s own contribution] ‘On Again Off Again!’ For the 2004 contest it was great and it worked; but would a song like that work today? Definitely not. Tracks nowadays are more commercial and radio friendly...”

This is all the more reason, in Galea’s view, that the Eurovision’s potentially exorbitant budget could be counted as a worthwhile “investment”. 

“We need to work, share ideas with the best in the field. That’s how we can optimise our standards. What identifies us local singers with the rest of the world? What’s our sound? What did Bob Marley, The Beach Boys and the Beatles offer the world with their music and sound? Simple…. Jamaica, USA and Liverpool.  We still need to get there and that takes time and a lot of money.”

The sentiment is shared by singer Brooke Borg (pictured, right), who was in direct competition with Losco this year with her song ‘Golden’, and who strongly believed that a sizeable investment in the Eurovision is “necessary”. 

“Other countries have a set budget of millions every single year, in order to promote, publish and market the singer and song, normally also backed up by a distribution deal from record companies. Nowadays, participating is simply not enough. Marketing and PR go hand in hand with the whole package. In order to compete with these other countries we need to invest the same amount of time, money and energy.”


Calibrating our priorities


However, not everyone was so enthusiastic about the overbearing attention – and subsequent angst – that the Contest  has been getting over the years, and especially this year. Malta-born, Paris-based jazz musician Oliver Degabriele (pictured, left) initiatied a civil but extensive Facebook discussion with Ira Losco herself, in response to the singer imploring Maltese musicians not to ‘snub’ the Eurovision, and somewhat dismissively referring to efforts by colleagues to spread their wings abroad as “busking”. Speaking to this newspaper, Degabriele stressed that apart from everything else – and fully conceding that as a televised event, the Eurovision is great “for a night of silliness” – the most damaging effect of the festival is that it creates the impression that musical success is equated with the ‘one big break’, as opposed to a rigorous application of discipline. 

“There is no magic wand for success in music. Just like anything else, you need to work for it, tirelessly, endlessly. It’s a hard industry, sure, but whoever said that rewards only come from stardom and huge stages with fancy lights, very expensive dresses and millions of waving fans?” 

Degabriele added that apart from the fact that the Eurovision “is considered as a bit of a joke by most musicians (at least the ones I have met and read about), the irony of the matter is that the only exposure the Eurovision gives in local exposure. 

“The participant returns to Malta as a hero, a figurehead for at least a year. That can bring about a few slots on TV, a few endorsements, maybe a quick album. I’m not even sure what kind of international successes people associate the Eurovision with…”

Brikkuni frontman Mario Vella (pictured, above) also believes that the festival is more about television spectacle than about music, and that it only propagates the toxic notion that, “musical careers are exclusively the result of a single lucky break”.

But unlike the former Eurovision participants we spoke to, Vella does find overspending on the festival as something of a cause for concern, and even suggests that the blinkered cynicism of this tendency is damaging to the local cultural infrastructure. 

“Granted, being the biggest televised event on the isle I’d expect it to swallow a fair chunk of our broadcaster’s budget. What I wouldn’t expect is the lack of artistic (be it musical or otherwise) diversity on state television and a complete absence of a solid legal structure protecting artist’s rights. Nobody seems willing enough to get to the bottom of such elementary requirements. There doesn’t seem be enough political mileage to be gained from sensible undertakings. Splashing on the Eurovision on the other hand…”

Additional reporting by Martina Borg

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