It’s FiKmas time! The 60th edition of Albania’s premier song contest gets underway on Monday, December 27, 2021, and we at ESC United are, as always, excited to watch this seasonal treat.

Festivali i Këngës 60 will present 20 hopefuls trying out to represent Albania at Eurovision 2022. There will be plenty of drama – a pre-selection favorite who bombs live, an act the fans stan and is ultimately sacrificed by a judge who prefers a more traditional ballad, some dodgy fashion – but before we begin, we at ESC United will give our thoughts on the assembled artists.

A panel of unprofessional reviewers will give their judgments and their scores out of 10. Judging the land of the double-headed eagle is the six-headed angry badger of ESC United, composed of the following ESC United “talent”:

  • Sean Tarbuck, editor-in-chief and co-founder of ESC United. Don’t mention Derby County.
  • Boris Meersman, our resident Discord spectre from that rest stop between France and The Netherlands called Belgium.
  • James Maude, our California correspondent who is the first Son of the American Revolution ESC fan.
  • Roy Postema, our Dutch correspondent and YouTube commentator and patron saint of lost causes at ESC.
  • Tyler Griffith, our far flung Alaska correspondent who can see Tirana from his house.
  • William Carter, our Texas correspondent who can see Southfork Ranch from his front porch.

In Part One, we reviewed seven acts. And in Part Two, we reviewed seven more. The order is alphabetical by first letter of the act’s name. That’s how Wikipedia does it, and as it’s FiKmas, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

And now, we review the last six!

Ronela Hajati – “Sekret”

Sean – 9 – “I wasn’t expecting this one to go anywhere until a minute in. I can see Eurovision fans going crazy for this one, and for good reason! Ronela nails the difficult ethno-banger genre with this richly-produced track, and could be Albania’s answer to Efendi in Turin if chosen. Albania would certainly be making a considered choice if they pick this outlandish track to represent them, and I could see this being a Euroclub favourite. The length of the song is my only concern as I’m not sure how they could cut it down and not lose any of its effect.”

Boris – 9 – “Ronela just raised the bar for “Weird but Good” songs into the stratosphere with “Sekret”. At first you think you’re into the usual bombastic folk ballad about the end of a relationship (the sort FiK is littered with), before it suddenly pivots into a pure unfiltered ethnodreck bop, including eagle screech?? and then it transitions *again*, this time into a military march as spurned lover Ronela goes on a vindictive crusade against the boytoy who left her in the cold. The EPICNESS. I can’t wait to see this live.”

James – 7.5 – “The eagle shriek heralds the arrival of a sure to be cult classic, even if the only real open secret is that this is “Cleopatra” by way of Albania. I see the more emotionally unstable of the fan base have clamped their hopes to this, so I will try not to laugh too hard when they throw their dummies out the pram when this is inevitably bested at FiK by a ballad. Anyway, can’t blame Ronela for attracting the unhinged, but I will say this is a fun club track that does the ethnobop tropes really well.”

Roy – 9 – “Now THIS is how you do this type of song. It shows off her vocals, is unique, sounds modern and stands out sonically. Besides that, the singing is really cool and I just picture this boss of a woman completely owning the stage. The part where it sounds like she is shouting is probably my favourite part of the song. What might even be better about the song is how it starts. If this were to go to Eurovision, you can capture the attention of watchers and listeners very easily with the nice pretty vocals and the choir. BUT THEN. BOOM! Plot twist, it’s a unique banger with loads of swagger instead! Loads of staging potential as well. I would 100% pick this if I were the one in charge! Slight minus-point, I’m not sure how replayable it is and it mostly relies on that initial wow-factor.”

Tyler – 9.5 – “”Sekret” has a lot of potential to become the “Me tana” that flew onto the Eurovision stage. “Sekret” could fit onto the radio easily with its modern tones, the dynamic levels the song has, and just how fun the song is. Ronela should be very proud of this entry, and if there’s one song that I think has the most realistic chance of winning FiK, it’s this one. Reserving judgment until we see the staging, but this has potential to be one of the greats.”

William – 8 – “This is definitely … chaotic, but in a good way, I think. Love her attitude. Love the edged out, ethnic instrumentation. I often find that artists struggle to stage songs like this at FiK. There’s not enough space or resources or venue flexibility? Not sure. Having to perform outside last year allowed Era Rusi to really go for it with “Zjarri Im” in a way I hope Ronela manages to do in studio.  I remain curious how this will do, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Total: 52 points (Average = 8.667)

Sajmir Çili – “Nën maskë”

Sean – 6 – “More of a classical rock song here, again with an Italian Sanremo-ish feel. This is another song I really need to see and feel live to grasp I think. In studio, it’s an enjoyable classic rock song with another solid vocal, but those are unfortunately ten-a-penny in Festivali i Kenges.”

Boris – 5 – “Vibes “Holden Caulfield takes his imaginary girlfriend for a stroll in the local graveyard and rambles about the fakeness of society and mask policies” a bit too much for my liking, but it might do better than expected for reasons that defy comprehension. (as do most decisions in FiK).”

James – 5 – “Some nice instrumentation going on, including a quick little guitar solo that works. Problem is it’s really the only highlight of a run of the mill Balkan rock ballad. Like his daughter’s entry at Junior Eurovision 2019 entry, I don’t think this one will do too well in the wilds outside Albania.”

Roy – 2 – “This has no business for being in the running for Eurovision. It does have business being in FiK this year. This is just that type of song sang by a good artist who just wants to show himself on a prestigious national festival. You can only applaud that really, but song-wise, this is just dated and only has the guitar-solo that makes it interesting”

Tyler – 5.5 – “This is the sort of song that while I can appreciate Sajmir’s musicality and how he sings the lyrics, it just doesn’t grab me at all. The instrumentation could be nicer, the singing could be nicer, the hook could be nicer, there could have been some nicer things about the song. “Nën maskë” is the example for me of a song that while it feels technically good, it doesn’t really speak to me at all. While others may like it, I only feel meh about it and wish it spoke better for me.”

William – 7.5 – “I’m very much prepared to be alone here, but this ethnic, old-world-ballad-meets-electric-guitar vibe really speaks to me. The song has a lot of life to it, if that makes sense. I have a better chance of winning FiK than this does, but songs like this are why I look forward to Fikmas every year.”

Total: 31 points (Average = 5.167)

Shega – “Një”

Sean – 7 – “Shega are certainly a breath of fresh air in this year’s festival, giving us what seems to be a very twee, casual acoustic pop song with what I imagine will be a suitably low-key performance (watch me be wrong now!). I must say though, this song really works! It would be unlike anything we’ve seen from Albania in Eurovision before and has a radio-airplay quality to it that could see it win many unlikely fans if selected.”

Boris – 5.5 – “For all its whistling and clapping and attempts to become interesting, “Një” never quite becomes interesting, nor justifies its three minute runtime. Sad.”

James – 6.5 – “A jolly, twee lil’ acoustic song that promises a lot with some interesting ideas (the whistling, the second vocalist coming in for the final verse), but at a contest that loves bombast, spectacle and shouty folk, this may get lost in the shuffle at FiK.”

Roy – 7 – “This little piece actually puts a smile on my face. It makes me want to sit on some random fence and just swing my legs back and forth to the beat. This is a type of vocal that we don’t see very often in Albania. It isn’t necessarily powerful, but the song is perfectly orchestrated for that. Of course, the singer does reach bigger notes in the song, but the overall feeling is just jolly and a little less serious. The whistling definitely helps a lot with that as well. Yeah, fun little song this is!”

Tyler – 7 – “”Një” stands out to me as a sort of folk indie darling that doesn’t get annoying for me to listen to. Whistling can be a hit or miss for me, but I think it works for this song. I’m curious if the staging for this song will be more than Shega just performing on stage with their instruments, but maybe that’s all they’ll need to get points. Who knows? This is a cute song next to a decent selection of gorgeous songs though, so while I do like this, “Një” also falls by the wayside.”

William – 6.5 – “I like this more in theory than I do in practice. I’m happy, and a bit shocked, to see a lowkey indie pop song like this competing at FiK. But there’s something about the vocal mix on the studio version that sounds a little … off. Hopefully that problem will be fixed at the live show, because this is otherwise a pretty cool, different song for Albania that I want to get onboard with.”

Total: 39.5 points (Average = 6.583)

Urban Band – “Padrejtësi”

Sean – 6 – “Urban Band’s entry is probably one of the ‘rockier’ of the million different rocky songs in FiK 60, so at least that’s a plus point in their favour. This might come alive at a more traditional festival such as this, so fingers crossed that the live performance gives this the oomph it needs to stand out.”

Boris – 5.5 – “It wouldn’t be FiK if it didn’t feature some tepid midtempo dad rock, I guess :shrugs:”

James – 7 – “Seattle by way of Tirana? Sounds out of date, even a bit grungey, especially with the tone of the lead guitar and the vocals. If you see some stoned long-haired guys in flannel and Mudhoney T-shirts at FiK, we now know who they’ve come to cheer on. I don’t mind it, though, even if it doesn’t quite have too much of a hook to sink in and make memorable. But dare I say it is better than a certain even more dated chunk of dad rock from a group of smart musicians from another Balkan country? Yes, I would. And I suspect these guys may be the ones most likely to improve live.”

Roy – 5 – “This is definitely a cool addition to the line-up. It is a nice rock-piece that flows nicely from the verses to the chorus. The biggest issue is that it is a bit on the dated side and that it really lacks something unique instrumentally. I do really like his vocals and the way they introduce the guitar-solo. It starts playing and when it is about to kick into the next gear, they just do a simple, yet cool, ‘Guurhh’. It are little details like that, that are easily forgotten. Without them, the song would have been fine, but just adding that small detail just adds to the experience so much.”

Tyler – 5.5 – “”Padrejtësi” sounds like a fun song after hearing it all the way through, but not necessarily something that sticks out to me. The song is poprock in a very light way that doesn’t make me want to add this to a playlist. It’s a nice song from Urban Band, but I can’t help but feel there’s something bigger and better from them to really wow the audience. This song isn’t enough of a clone of “Zitti e buoni” to make me dislike it, but enough for me to give it more of a meh score for not being more dynamic.”

William – 8 – “You can always count on FiK to bring us a couple really solid rock entries. Love the energy of this one. It’s more-or-less a classic rock song, but it manages to sound current. I’m pumped to see this performed live. I have a feeling it’s going to HIT.”

Total: 37 points (Average = 6.167)

Viola Xhemali – “Eja si erë”

Sean – 8 – “This is a difficult one to try and judge – realistically it goes nowhere and won’t stand out too much here, but it just… works? Like, REALLY works for me. It has some early 00s nostalgic pop vibes for me and would be perfect for vibing on a crisp spring day in the sunshine. A great, enjoyably track that probably isn’t made for this competition…”

Boris – 7 – “”Eja si erë” is a very lightweight “Kui Tuule Pöörduvad” and vibes quite pleasantly. I like it and am curious to whether it will hold up in the liveshow.”

James – 5.5 – “A Yoplait Whip of a song that almost threatens to go full adult contemporary, though there is a large amount of superfluous instrumentation dropped in to prevent that. It’s rare you get a light and fluffy track that has the kitchen sink thrown at its first release, with a saxophone solo and constant whooshing of what sounds like an air mattress deflating standing out. It’s like listening to Nelly Furtado while playing Doom.

Roy – 1.5 – “Her voice is good, but the song starts with this odd mosquito-esque sound added on top. The verse for the rest is okay. Then the chorus is just a really unimaginative repetition of the song title without any interesting instrumental. Halfway through they add the annoying mosquito again. Yeah, I really enjoy this song.”

Tyler – 6 – “”Eja si erë” is a light and airy song for me, and the chorus is pretty catchy and easy to get stuck in your head, but it’s also the only thing I remember about it. Well, the saxophone is another, so just those two things. It feels like the hook drags on for the second half of the song though, so while I want to like “Eja si erë” more, I just can’t bring myself to do so when comparing it to the first part of the song. Viola sings the song well, but the song could have been better for me, even if I mildly like it.”

William – 5 – “There’s a relaxed, breezy quality to Viola’s singing that I really respond to. She’s not pushing her vocals. You can hear the power in her voice, but she’s reining it in. I just wish there was a little more to this song. It gets repetitive fast, and its low-key quality is going to make it easy to overlook.”

Total: 33 points (Average = 5.500)

Xhuli Pjetraj – “Baladë”

Sean – 5 – “A serene ballad, quite nice to listen to. Not really much more that I can add other than that I really like the traditional elements in the music, particular in the final thirty seconds. It’s not really enough to make this one of my ones to watch personally, and unfortunately.”

Boris – 6 – “A quirky balkan fado that doesn’t go anywhere.”

James – 5.5 – “A ballad called “Ballad” and a Vespa on the thumbnail don’t bode well before the first lesson. There’s some great Balkan acoustic guitar flair, but otherwise I feel like I got drunk in Madeira and woke up in Tirana with the locals trying to continue the same vibe but with a hangover and feeling discombobulated.”

Roy – 7.5 – “I don’t know where this song was recorded, but it sounds a bit bathroom-like… If you ignore that and actually pay attention to the instrumentals and to Xhuli’s voice, this is actually a really good and enjoyable song that it likely to do well. The harp-like guitar play makes it really intriguing. The chorus is perhaps a tad simple and if you were to send it to Eurovision, it would probably stand out as being a bit dated, but I quite like this one!”

Tyler – 6.5 – “”Baladë” is a nice and breezy song that makes me appreciate the guitar that plays throughout the song. The lyrics are decent sounding, and I don’t feel necessarily wowed by Xhuli’s vocals, but the song itself is a bit slower and doesn’t need a massive key change or anything. The song itself doesn’t have that much of a range to it, but I still quite like it and I think there’s some promise to Xhuli! Glad to hear this kind of song in the selection, but expected a little more from it.”

William – 5.5 – “In this song’s favor, the vocals and instrumentation are really gorgeous. I just wish it built to something more. The chorus becomes repetitive pretty quickly. Her live performance might be the missing ingredient for me, but we shall see.”

Total: 36 points (Average = 6.000)

And hey, what a surprise, we at ESC United agree with the stans of social media that Ronela Hajati’s “Sekret” should win FiK 60 and represent Albania at Eurovision 2022.

1.) Ronela Hajati – “Sekret” – 52 points (Average = 8.667)

2.) Alban Ramosaj – “Theje”- 48.5 points (Average = 8.083)

3.) Janex – “Deluzional” – 46 points (Average = 7.667)

4.) Mirud – “Për dreq” – 43.5 points (Average = 7.250)

5.) Evi Reçi – “Më duaj” – 42 points (Average = 7.000)*

6.) Rezarta Smaja – “E jemja nuse” – 42 points (Average = 7.000)*

7.) Endri and Stefi Prifti – “Triumfi i jetës” – 41 points (Average = 6.830)

8.) Shega – “Një” – 39.5 points (Average = 6.583)

9.) Kastro Zizo – “Kujë” – 38.5 points (Average = 6.417)

10.) Kejsi Rustja – “Vallëzoj me ty” – 38 points (Average = 6.333)

11.) Urban Band – “Padrejtësi” – 37 points (Average = 6.167)

12.) Xhuli Pjetraj – “Baladë” – 36 points (Average = 6.000)

13.) Gjergj Kaçinari – “Në ëndërr mbete ti” – 35 points (Average = 5.833)

14.) Ester Zahiri – “Hiena” – 33.5 points (Average = 5.583)

15.) Viola Xhemali – “Eja si erë” – 33 points (Average = 5.500)

16.) Eldis Arrnjeti – “Refuzoj” – 31.5 points (Average = 5.250)

17.) Sajmir Çili – “Nën maskë” – 31 points (Average = 5.167)

18.) Olimpia Smajlaj – “Dua” – 29.5 points (Average = 4.917)

19.) Kelly – “Meteor” – 27.5 points (Average = 4.583)

20.) Denis Skura – “Pse nuk flet, mama?”- 25.5 points (Average = 4.250)

  • Note: Tie-breaker in effect – song with smaller high-low spread earns higher placement due to its average being more of a consensus.

Who do #YOU think has what it takes to win FiK and represent Albania at Eurovision 2022? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, and in our forum.

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