Malta: Songwriters express their concern about new X Factor format

by Roy Knoops 2,631 views

Malta is gearing up for X Factor Malta as the platform to select its Eurovision 2019 entry, yet prominent Maltese composers and songwriters have put forward their concerns.

In the aftermath of Eurovision 2018, Malta decided to forsake the annual Malta Eurovision Song Contest (MESC) in favour of the new X Factor Malta in its search for Eurovision success.

Giving up the MESC has been met with pro’s and con’s, yet combining the popular X Factor format with the national Eurovision selection is a bold step.

However, seasoned songwriters from the Mediterranean island country have expressed concerns about the new selection process. Successful composer Philip Vella and lyricist Gerard James Borg, who were responsible for Ira Losco‘s 7th Wonder (which reached 2nd place at Eurovision 2002), have spoken out about X Factor Malta and Eurovision.

A good voice is not enough

Philip Vella has no problem with X Factor Malta, but tying the talent show to Eurovision is another deal:

I think the X Factor would be a good opportunity for Maltese singers but I have a problem with the winner going to the Eurovision.

The Eurovision was turned from a song selection into a singer selection when PBS started organising it 10 years ago, and changing the format into the X Factor will only cement that.

You cannot just rely on the singer’s voice though; after all they’ll be competing against 42 other good singers at the Eurovision. I used to work with singers for years before we got the style and song right, including Ira Losco.

We have a limited number of singers, composers and resources in Malta so we need to invest time in refining the product. Nowadays though, composers from all over the world send singers readymade songs in the belief that the singer’s voice is all that matters in the festival.

As fantastic as their voices may be, I’ve heard amazing songs in studios that just didn’t work out on stage – Ira’s Walk on Water a case in point.

Ira Losco finished in 12th place in Eurovision 2016 with her internally selected entry Walk on water

Originality and confidence

Mr. Vella also spoke about his doubt that X Factor Malta could find the right type of artist to grace the Eurovision stage:

Also, you need originality to win the Eurovision. How, for example, will the X Factor allow us to send a gimmick or six singing nuns who will create a story at the festival?

The Eurovision is not only about the singer and making it so is a guarantee for failure. Some of the singers they’re up against, in particular the Eastern European ones, have studied at conservatories and are extremely professional.

You need to be trained psychologically or the occasion will get to you and you might lose control of your voice without you even being aware of it. Plonking up and coming singers on the Eurovision stage is a recipe for disaster.

Philip Vella’s colleague Gerard James Borg has also stated his concerns about the combining of X Factor Malta and the national Eurovision selection, especially from the perspective of a songwriter:

I understand it’s an interesting idea but one should not forget that Malta is a very small market when it comes to songwriting – and the local contest is also a big launching pad for up and coming and established songwriters who want to write for other artists, new or established.

This format will limit songwriters, unless there is an open call for songwriters to write songs for the winning artist.

Borg wrote Malta’s Eurovision entry, Breathlessly, back in 2017

The accomplished lyricist added:

On the other hand, it can ignite songwriters and established artists to find other channels where to pitch their music. But the reality is this is Malta, and we do have our limitations, and a very small market, so I guess Eurovision is one of few opportunities.

In the past, I have co-written with some foreign writers who live in bigger countries, and have also written for some known artists, who too see Eurovision as a channel where they can get their music heard by many just as artists use it to market their singing abilities.

Other well-known Maltese composers, such as Paul Giordimaina, Elton Zarb and Cyprian Cassar, have issued similar concerns.

And they are not the only ones. Singer Brooke Borg, who participated in the MESC several times, recently said to newspaper The Malta Independent:

I think it’s good to try something different, there is no harm in that. My only question mark is, if I was to be an up and coming songwriter or producer, how will I be able to showcase my style or my music?

Possibly a positive innovation

However, using a talent show such as The X Factor may also prove to be a successful way of selecting the Eurovision candidate: for example, Israel has used The Next Star for choosing the eventual Eurovision representative, and with positive results: since applying this method, the country has reached the Grand Final of Eurovision consistantly, ultimately winning Eurovision 2018 with Toy by Netta Barzilai.

X Factor Malta will start in October 2018 and will be hosted by Ben Camille. The expert jury will be presented in due time.

At the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal, Malta was represented by Christabelle and her song Taboo, a call to raise social awareness about mental health. Despite a riveting performance, the artist unfortunately did not proceed to the Grand Final, placing 13th with 101 points in Semi-Final 2.