Photo Credit: EBU
Malta have always been a well respected member of Eurovision, but in their long history, they haven’t won the contest yet. Despite high hopes for Eurovision 2023, Malta ultimately finished last in their semi-final, so we try to look at what went wrong, but also highlight what went right and discuss what’s next for Malta at Eurovision.
A Brief Overview of Malta’s History In Eurovision
Malta first took part in Eurovision in 1971 where they finished in last place and again in 1972. After 1975, they withdrew until 1991 where they began to have some success, scoring a top 10 finish in every year from 1991-2002 bar one. They were close to victory on multiple occasions such as a 3rd place in 1998, and two 2nd places in 2002 and 2005.
After 2005, Malta’s fortunes began to change and they failed to qualify for the first time in 2007. As the years went on, it became less often that Malta qualified. They have still had some success in the 2010s, but across the whole decade, they only scored one Top 10 result, which was in 2013. Malta had a brief resurgence in the late 2010s/early 2020s with a qualification streak. Their 2021 contestant Destiny became a favourite to win Eurovision in the run up to the contest, but she ultimately finished in 7th place and Malta haven’t qualified for the final since.
Malta’s Participation in 2022
Malta, like many years previously, used MESC to decide their entry. Eurovision fans and the Maltese public were stunned to see Maltese superstar Emma Muscat on the list of names taking part. Emma, who was also successful in Italy where Eurovision 2022 was held, sang ‘Out Of Sight’ where she won the contest, winning the hearts of the public and the juries.
Not long after her victory, Emma announced that her Eurovision song would be changed, (something which has always been in the MESC rules) and she instead sang her empowering song ‘I Am What I Am‘ hoping to bring success to the small nation.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for Emma as she finished in 16th place out of 18 in the semi-final and she became the first Maltese artist since 2009 to fail to qualify with both the juries and the public. Even with one of Malta’s biggest stars, it wasn’t enough and Malta had to rethink their selection process for 2023.
In June 2022, it was announced that for the first time, MESC would have 40 artists hoping to represent the island nation rather than 22, as we’d seen the year prior. Quarter-Finals were also introduced in order to whittle these 40 songs down. This decision was made because the broadcaster wanted to showcase more Maltese talent in their selection. They had 3 different Quarter Finals, a Semi-Final of 24 and then the Top 16 would qualify for the final.
Amongst the names that were revealed by PBS in November 2022, there were a few notable names such as MESC 2022 runner-up AIDAN, an MESC and international fan favourite Brooke, double Eurovision contestant Fabrizio Faniello and X Factor winner Ryan Hili. There were also a lot of new talent taking part in their first MESC.
30 second snippets of all 40 songs were revealed in late December 2022 and the first Quarter Finals took place in January 2023. These Quarter-Finals were featured each contestant singing their song in a studio with no choreography and no staging. 13-14 songs took part in the three Quarter-Finals and the top 24 songs overall made it through to the Semi-Finals, which were revealed in a special results show. The format was a little confusing to fans as many thought it would be four groups of 10.
Some of the contest was also partially overshadowed by the shock disqualification of AIDAN, who was heavily favoured to win MESC with his song ‘Reġina’. This was met with surprise and some anger amongst fans with online petitions being made hoping the broadcaster would reinstate him, but to no avail. .
During the Semi-Finals, we saw the 24 artists perform their song with staging for the first time and there was one act who wowed everyone, and that was The Busker. Their unique staging was memorable and instantly became a hit with the Maltese public and all of a sudden, we had a dark horse in the race. They also featured graphics on screen for viewers at home showing the different acts of the performance, as well as a cat shooting laser beams with its eyes midway through the performance.
Once the finalists were revealed, many fans thought Brooke or Ryan could be a likely winner but The Busker pulled off another great performance which brought the house down. When the votes were revealed, MATT BLXCK was the surprise jury winner with The Busker and Ryan in joint 2nd place. The televote results changed everything, The Busker scored a landslide 80 points from the televote which put them well ahead of 2nd placed artist Ryan to win the right to represent Malta at Eurovision 2023.
Photo Credit: TVM/ The Busker
The Lead Up To Eurovision
There was a lot of excitement in Malta as ‘Dance (Our Own Party)’ was something a little different and there was hope and some expectation that this could qualify for the final. Some people thought it could appeal to casual fans with it’s catchy sax solo and unique presentation but not all Eurovision fans and bookmakers were convinced.
Malta were performing in the first Semi-Final which many fans considered a “bloodbath” despite the fact there was only 15 songs, but only 10 could qualify. Once the running order was revealed, Malta were going to perform in 2nd position, which is synonymous with bad luck at Eurovision.
Photo Credit: EBU
Bookmakers never predicted Malta as a qualifier ever since the odds were first revealed on March 20. According to Eurovision World, Malta were consistently in 12th and 13th place but on the night of the Semi-Final, bookies predicted a 39% chance that Malta could be an outside qualifier, which was the highest it had ever been.
Ever since it was announced that there would be a rule change for 2023 which was the Semi-Finals would now be 100% televote, there were worries that Malta would struggle to qualify, as this is something Malta in recent years have found difficult at Eurovision. I wrote a more in-depth article regarding Malta’s televote history if you’d like to read more about it.
The Busker’s Eurovision Semi-Final performance was similar to MESC but on a much bigger scale. The vocals were strong, the camera cuts were slick, the graphics were cool, the props looked effective. They gave the performance of their lives. As someone who was lucky enough to see them live in the arena for the preview show, they received a great reception, and when I watched the live show in the Eurovillage, a lot of people really liked it and gave it a big cheer.
The only thing I noticed that didn’t quite work was the costume reveal wasn’t actually visible on the camera, you could just see a shot of the saxophonist and drummer performing. You could hear the crowd cheer but it wasn’t known why they did this, until you see the band wearing their shiny sweaters and this visual gimmick could have been another way for fans to remember their song.
What Went Wrong
As the results came in, Malta were not revealed to be one of the 10 qualifiers and after the final, it was revealed Malta finished in last place only scoring 3 points.
Despite some fans speculating that their catchy song would appeal to the televote, sadly, the theory other fans had of Malta struggling with the televote proved to be correct. Unfortunately just Israel and the ROTW (Rest Of The World) gave it points, Israel giving them 2 and the ROTW giving them 1. In terms of televote, Malta don’t have many voting allies and one of their main ones, the UK, were voting in the 2nd semi-final instead.
Early running order may have also had an impact in the result as well, Malta performing 2nd in a really strong semi-final with so many different styles was always going to be tough especially with the eventual Eurovision Final Top 3, Sweden, Finland and Israel performing in the second half of the semi final. Malta were also performing right after Alessandra from Norway who was a big fan favourite, so she may have overshadowed them. Running Order has more of an impact than casual fans think as no matter whether it’s a semi-final or final, most people tune in at the end and catch the last remaining songs. This also links to my next point, the recap video.
The recap video is chosen to show off each song after everyone has performed. Not every viewer may have seen the early songs performed so it’s important that the short recap video is great so that the public will pick up the phone and vote for them. The recap video that Malta used was an unusual choice. The video showed part of the dance the lead singer did and he sang the last “hey, wait, whatcha say” but you didn’t hear much of the song itself. The camera then cuts to them in the green room, so you couldn’t see much of what was going on stage, which was a shame as there were so many cool elements to Malta’s staging in the full performance, and you couldn’t see much of that in the recap video alone. Perhaps if it was a chorus or had some of the verse where the camera cuts and staging were shown, it would have been a lot more impactful.
I mentioned how good the graphics were for Malta, but they weren’t the only country to implement on-screen graphics to enhance their performance. Serbia also used to them to their advantage and, unfortunately for Malta, Serbia were performing right after them. During the climax of Luke Black’s ‘Samo Mi Se Spava’ in the style of a video-game boss fight, the viewers at home could see the words ‘This Ends Now’, ‘Fight’ as well as a health bar representing the enemy on screen who Luke was trying to defeat. It was a very cool and unique way to illustrate what was happening in the performance. Unluckily for Malta, the graphics that Malta used may have ended up being forgotten after Serbia.
When you look at the full Semi-Final 1 results, it shows that the public were almost unanimous in choosing the Top 9 songs with Serbia and Latvia having a close battle for the last qualification spot.
Semi Final 1 Results:
- Finland 🇫🇮 177
- Sweden 🇸🇪 135
- Israel 🇮🇱 127
- Czech Republic 🇨🇿 110
- Moldova 🇲🇩 109
- Norway 🇳🇴 102
- Switzerland 🇨🇭 97
- Croatia 🇭🇷 76
- Portugal 🇵🇹 74
- Serbia 🇷🇸 37
- Latvia 🇱🇻 34
- Ireland 🇮🇪 10
- Netherlands 🇳🇱 7
- Azerbaijan 🇦🇿 4
- Malta 🇲🇹 3
We won’t know how the juries would’ve reacted to Malta’s entry, but as Malta finished last with the televote, they’d have needed a big score from them to secure qualification if the 50/50 system was still in place especially as the difference between last and 9th place in the televote alone was 71 points. Many of these songs that did well with the televote in this semi-final also happened to do well with the juries in the final such as Czechia, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland which would’ve made Malta’s task to qualify even harder.
Many countries year on year up their game in terms of song, production and staging in order to stand out from the crowd and while Malta was one of those countries who did this, but ultimately they got left behind compared to the rest of the field.
The last minor point in terms of why this result may have happened is that a few of these songs that did well had a lot of hype even in their National Finals such as ‘Cha Cha Cha’ for Finland and ‘Tattoo’ for Sweden. Whereas ‘Dance (Our Own Party)’ was more of an underdog, and it was only until the live MESC Semi-Final that it became a contender. ‘Cha Cha Cha’ and ‘Tattoo’ were instant hits with the fans from first listen, even without a live performance. As a lot of casual fans hear these songs for the first time in the live semi-final, a country needs to make sure fans will respond to their song instantly along with the viewers and the juries.
What Went Right
While it’s easy to get caught up in the negatives of it all, there were a lot of things that Malta did right. MESC doesn’t always have the best reception in the Eurovision sphere and often has the reputation for just having pop songs and not a huge amount of diversity. The Busker gave Malta and Europe something slightly more unique which was more of a risk in terms of MESC standards, and that risk was rewarded by the public. It is rare for there to be a landslide winner in the televote with that big of a margin. It’s just unfortunate that it just didn’t have the same reaction for the rest of Europe.
The song was still a major success in Malta and went to Number 1 further showing the huge amount of support they had back home.
The Eurovision performance has since gained over 500,000 views on YouTube and the official music video has over 1.4 million views. It is interesting how looking back at the televote scores that the ROTW gave them 1 point, showing that they didn’t have fans across Europe that connected with the song, but fans across the whole world!
Despite finishing in last place in their semi-final, this did not upset The Busker. Some contestants may have been disappointed, upset, or even angry if they finished in last place but not them. Not long after the Semi-Final, The Busker shared this post on their Instagram story displaying their reasons to be grateful. At the time of posting, they said they had gained:
- 9,000 new likes on their Facebook page
- 13,800 new followers on their Instagram
- 1,160,000 views on YouTube
- 1,200,000 streams on Spotify
Photo Credit: The Busker
On June 4, 2023, The Busker had 728,108 monthly listeners and their song Dance (Our Own Party) has almost 3 million streams on Spotify and made the Viral 50 playlists in 17 countries including the UK, Ireland, Sweden and Israel. Not bad for a last-place finish and showing once again that despite the result, a lot of people really liked the song.
Ever since the contest they’ve been seen as national heroes and have been performing lots of concerts across the country as well as guest appearing on Love Island Malta!
The Busker were also the best ambassadors for Malta as well. Not every artist would have reacted in the way that they did and while personalities don’t affect Eurovision results, it’s still important that a country’s representative is grateful for the opportunity and determined to make their country proud.
What Malta Could Do In 2024 And Beyond
So after everything covered here, what can Malta do next? What we know so far for 2024 is that MESC will be returning as the selection process for Malta at Eurovision. There have been some songwriting camps where former MESC and Eurovision contestants have been featured such as Ryan Hili, Nathan and one third of Norway’s 2019 entry Tom Hugo from KEiiNO.
One thing I think Malta should think about more is that there are a lot of fans who want to see Malta do something a little different, as MESC is normally full of pop songs and features lots of similar songwriters year on year. Eurovision has come a long way since Malta’s glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s and countries are continuing to send different and more modern songs to try to appeal to Europe and in a rapidly changing music industry. Malta’s music industry isn’t just MESC. Sometimes you have to think outside the box for a song to do well at Eurovision, especially if you want to earn the televotes from the public. Malta aren’t the only country who this applies to however, as some countries have this vision of what a Eurovision song should or shouldn’t be like and that isn’t the case anymore, a Eurovision song can be any genre or style.
When you look in recent years of Eurovision, we’ve had all sorts of genres of songs that have been incredibly successful, 2021 winner ‘ZITTI E BUONI’ by Måneskin being rock, 2022 winner Kalush Orchestra’s ‘Stefania’ being Hip-Hop and electro folk. 2023 televote winner ‘Cha Cha Cha’ by Käärijä was genre-defying, combining industrial metal and rap for the first half of the song, before becoming a euphoric dance-pop song. MESC doesn’t normally have many songs of these genres take part in the contest, and it would be great to see more diversity so Malta has a more varied selection of artists and songs to choose from.
MESC or X Factor Malta
MESC hasn’t been the only selection process Malta have used in recent history, in 2019 and 2020, X Factor Malta was used to determine the artist.
It’s interesting to look back at recent history of MESC as Malta hasn’t had a song to win MESC and qualify for the Eurovision final since 2014. In 2016, Ira’s song was changed and Michela and Destiny both won their series of X Factor Malta.
Eurovision contestants in recent years are no stranger to reality shows like The X Factor and The Voice as many contestants, including Eurovision winners. Dutch winner Duncan Laurence was a contestant on The Voice Netherlands before his victory in 2019. Måneskin made it to the latter stages of The X Factor Italy before they found worldwide success thanks to Eurovision. Netta also won the right to represent Israel by winning ‘HaKokhav HaBa’ (The Next Star) in 2018. So this is a tried and tested formula and this selection process has produced Eurovision winners.
While some fans would like to see The X Factor Malta used as the format to decide Malta’s Eurovision act, it’s important to remember that once someone has entered X Factor and done well, they can’t come back, meaning if Destiny or Michela wanted to return, then they wouldn’t be allowed. You will also have a lot of new singers take part which is fine but experienced singers who are already popular won’t take part whereas any artist can take part in MESC which gives the people more freedom as to who they can choose. They have the opportunity to choose some of Malta’s biggest stars such as Emma Muscat.
Malta is also a smaller country than the likes of Italy and The Netherlands for example. Malta’s population is just over 500,000 so you have a smaller pool of artists to find on a show like The X Factor compared to other countries. That being said, as we’ve seen with Destiny and Michela, you can still find a lot of talent.
Another National final?
MESC and X Factor Malta aren’t the only singing competitions that Malta has, they also have one called Mużika Mużika. Mużika Mużika is a festival that celebrates Maltese music and all songs are performed in the Maltese language. This festival was created in the 1960s, before Malta took part in Eurovision and it then evolved into the Song for Europe which became a selection process Malta used for Eurovision.
Mużika Mużika is still a big contest now and many Eurovision and Junior contestants have taken part such as Gaia Cauchi, Kurt Calleja, Gianluca Bezzina and Glen Vella. Songs that have taken part in the contest have gone on to big success in Malta. AIDAN’S song ‘Naħseb Fik’ finished in 5th in 2021, but went on to be a number 1 hit. So if these songs become hits domestically, who’s to say it couldn’t work for the rest of Europe?
Could Malta go Internal in the future?
Some countries use an internal selection method to decide their artist where the broadcaster themselves, some of the best known examples of countries that use this method currently are the UK, Azerbaijan, and Armenia but various countries switch between national finals and internal selections year on year.
One good thing about some countries going internal is that it saves the broadcaster money on hosting a big national final production and means that more funding can be allocated for things like staging and promotion. Two important elements to potentially achieving a good result. It also gives the artist a lot more time to produce something special to them and gives them more time to work on their song if they’re announced early on in the season. Internal works for some countries but it doesn’t for others, its what the broadcaster thinks is the best move for them.
A negative of a country going internal is that it means the public therefore don’t have a say as to who the artist is or what song they’re performing. This is something very important to Malta as they’ve used a national selection every year bar one, whether it be MESC, X Factor Malta, Malta Song Festival or Malta Song For Europe. Therefore the likelihood of Malta ever going internal is incredibly small and many Maltese fans want to be able to have their say on who represents them at Eurovision.
They have only used an internal selection to decide their artist once and that was in 2021 when Destiny was announced as their representative again after the 2020 contest was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While it is important to note that, as previously mentioned with Emma Muscat in 2022, it is in the rules that the winning artist is allowed to change their MESC song for Eurovision if they wish to. This has only happened one other time with Ira Losco changing her song ‘Chameleon’ in 2016 to ‘Walk On Water’ so for those two years, the public chose only the artist and the song was internally selected from MESC. When X Factor Malta was broadcast the winners, Michela and Destiny both had their songs internally selected but the public chose them as their X Factor winner and therefore Eurovision representative.
While Eurovision 2024 is still a long way off yet, many countries and broadcasters across Europe will be working out what’s the best songs and artists to showcase their country at Eurovision. A lot of these countries are going above and beyond in terms of creativity, taking risks and having a diverse line-up of songs to choose from. While there isn’t necessarily a formula for how to win Eurovision, it’s always good to keep experimenting and presenting Europe a strong and memorable song that represents their country. It may not have worked for The Busker this time around, but it shouldn’t put off Malta for wanting to send something different in the future as it will pay off. As we know MESC is back next year, I personally hope that despite the result, The Busker being something a little bit different will inspire other bands and artists who may have never considered MESC before to take part.
As we saw in the intro, throughout Malta’s history, despite not winning, they’ve still had lots of successful results, even in the modern era and with the right song and right performer, I have no doubt that Malta can do it again in the future!
Who do you want to see represent Malta in 2024? Let us know in the comments!
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