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. 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 seven more!

Janex – “Deluzional”

Sean – 8 – “Now we’re talking! Musically this is one of the more interesting songs in this selection, and I can vividly see this one having quite a mysterious, iconic staging if it went all the way to Turin. In a year when one of the many rock songs could probably be drowned out in Turin, why not opt for this sleek piece of power pop? One Albanian revamp later and this could be a sleeper hit next year.”

Boris – 6 – “Even before the tone hit, the pop art card and song title were enough for me to know Janex stands ZERO chance in FiK. Then I heard her actual song… and, well, the potential for a strong poprock song is there, but potential means nothing if you don’t do anything with it. “Deluzional” doesn’t go nearly far enough when it needs to, making it another victim of the midtempo trap. 🙁 ”

James – 7 – “Reminiscent of those mid ’90s trip hop and IDM tracks that art house folks got stoned to. I’d take an album’s worth of this, but I don’t know if I want it at a song contest where something more uptempo and less subtle is what I’d crave in that context.”

Roy – 8 – “This is sinister from start to finish. It captures you from the first second and Janex’ voice has something very captivating about it. Especially after the first minute when a higher register is being opened and mixed with the lower vocals. Instrumentally, there could have been some more diversity, but I really like this one a lot. I feel like this is the performance that I am looking forward to the most. I think it will be such a massive highlight of the night when I will be watching the festival!”

Tyler – 8 – “”Deluzional” is the kind of song that grabs me on first listen. It’s got a good blend of jazz and techno in it that immediately captures my interest, and Janex does a good job of creating mystique into the vocals as well. I wish “Deluzional” would go even crazier with the music, but it’s overall a very nice composition for me. Am I delusional into thinking this can do well in FiK? Maybe! But it’s still one of my unique favorites of this and stands out for all the right reasons.”

William – 9 – “Yes, ma’am! This song right here is right up my alley. It’s giving, like, industrial Janelle Monáe? If such a thing exists, this is it. This won’t be an easy song to perform live. JANEX is serving a very particular vocal, and it’s the kind of vocal that can easily go very wrong. Fingers crossed she can carry it on the night. I dig this. I dig this a lot.”

Total: 46 points (Average = 7.667)

Kastro Zizo – “Kujë

Sean – 8 – “If this wasn’t in Albanian this really wouldn’t sound too out of place in Sanremo, in my opinion! Kastro returns to take a risk with this sultry pop-meets-rap-meets-rock number, and it really works. Can’t wait to see how this one pans out live as it could be a real eye-catcher. It’s a thumbs up from me!”

Boris – 7.5 – “Yasss, Zizo serving one of his Kastro Klassics: “Kujë” is a bizarro wash of orchestral rock with vocals that are like taking a fistful of gravel to the face. Totally unappealing for every non-Albanian except for James and me <3 ”

James – 10 – “Zizo is one of those artists whose name you read and you go, “oh oh, what are we going to get?” However, “Kujë” is one of his good ‘uns. For this one, Zizo is channeling Korn’s Jonathan Davis from his solo work on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack, and with the orchestral and industrial elements in the track it totally works. This song is mad as badgers, Zizo in a duel with the female backing singers who torment him in his own head in the second verse. And contrary to usual Eurovision form, this song has a come down, as if Zizo found release. Zizo wrestles with his internal demons for three minutes and wins, and the rest of Europe deserves to see this battle (even though it’s unlikely to win FiK).”

Roy – 2.5 – “Okay, Yes and No! I love Kastro’s vocals as per usual. The starting verse is super captivating and makes you excited for what’s about to come in the chorus. The chorus on itself might not be the pay-off that you were looking for, but in the back of your mind you are curious for how it will explode next. And there is where this piece falls apart. The second chorus is started and mostly sung by some random choir. Which to me, totally doesn’t fit the vibe that this song was trying to go for.”

Tyler – 4.5 – “I know Kastro is a perennial fave for some people (looking at you, Boris!), but “Kujë” just isn’t my cup of tea. I find the melody off-putting and the last minute quite repetitive and uninteresting. That people said, “Kujë” is at least an entry that stands out and isn’t boring. I like this a bit less than “Vallja e jetës” though, but Kastro can definitely put on a show. I’ll be tuned in for his performance even if it’s for a song I don’t care for.”

William – 6 – “God bless FiK for including a couple of the in-house weirdos every year. What can you even say about this? It’s … bizarre, but, once you get on the song’s wavelength, there’s a certain charm to Kastro’s delivery? This shouldn’t win, and won’t, but I’m not mad at it, either.”

Total: 38.5 points (Average = 6.417)

Kejsi Rustja – “Vallëzoj me ty”

Sean – 5 – “Kejsi’s brand of soulful pop-rock may be popular with a certain demographic but it’s not really pushing my buttons. She has great vocals and this could be a grower but on initial reactions, this doesn’t go anywhere for me and gets lost in the mix.”

Boris – 8.5 – “”Vallëzoj me ty” sounds like it would make for a great JESC entry – specifically a Polish JESC song: fun, upbeat pop with loads of potential – “Vallëzoj me ty” has good tempo, a catchy beat, an uplifting tone. The ‘hit potential’ is there, fingers crossed the stageshow lives up, because this could make for a great Albanian Eurovision entrant with the right adjustments.”

James – 4 – “This is a mess. The horn elements don’t work, there’s an irritating buzz that pops in and out, and the strings seem to be imported from a much faster song. The vocal parts are fine, so keep the baby and toss out the bathwater, as they say. But how much reworking do you encourage when there’s much better songs in more ESC battle ready shape out there?”

Roy – 4.5 – “This song starts oddly familiar. It reminds me of a song, but I can’t quite pinpoint what song I am looking for. Then the chorus starts and it just sounds a bit amateurish. It feels like they didn’t really tried to write a good song, but rather just wanted to put an instrumental to her voice to try and make it sound good. Which it does, her voice is quite unique, but there isn’t really a song to go along with that right now.”

Tyler – 8.5 – “”Vallëzoj me ty” has a lot of elements that work for me, as I think musically it’s quite interesting and I like the beats throughout the song. This song is definitely a toe tapper, and it’s another great debut for FiK. That being said, while I think Kejsi does a good job for what she’s given, the lyrics and song itself feels repetitive and feels like it’s just being repeated three times to fit the quota. I do enjoy this song though, but that aspect of me gives me pause on wanting it to win.”

William – 7.5 – “My initial reaction to this song was a pretty definitive ‘no,’ but, as I relisten to it, I have no idea why. This is fun! This is current! Were this to win, I’d like to see it slowed down a bit in a revamp. Give it more ebbs and flows. As it is, it does sound like it’s playing at 1.5x speed in parts. But that’s fixable! I’m always looking for potential at FiK, and this has it.”

Total: 38 points (Average = 6.333)

Kelly – “Meteor”

Sean – 5 – “The final third of this song saves it somewhat, and this does end being a passable uptempo ballad (if that is even a thing), but it just feels very middle of the road. Not sure this song’s going to have what it takes for to stand out in a crowd of 20 acts.”

Boris – 6.5 – “It wouldn’t be FiK if it didn’t feature some corny antiquated poprock, I guess. :shrugs:”

James – 3 – “Sounds like one of many of those adult contemporary pop rock songs that made it big in the early 2000s, like Five for Fighting, Matchbox 20, Vertical Horizon, etc. To use the parlance of that era, this is weak sauce. Who wants this bland lite-rock with generic metaphors in 2021?”

Roy – 4 – “This song reminds me a lot of the song from The Netherlands in 2011. 3Js with ‘Never Alone’. The chorus just really sounds like that. The same issue kind of applies here. It is very lacklustre. It just misses that little bit of memorability. This is that typical song that you really enjoy listening to while it is playing or performing, but two songs later and you already have completely forgotten about it.”

Tyler – 5 – “Meteor” feels like it wants to be a song that’s grander than it is. One might say, astronomically grander than it is? Celestial even? “Meteor” doesn’t pull me into its orbit like I feel like it wants to, and feels sort of middling instead of taking in the vastness of the song. The instrumentation is nice, albeit kind of bland at points too. A 5/10 feels about right for this entry, and hopefully Kelly will have a song next time that’s more down to Earth?”

William – 4 – “How odd that FiK has a song called “Meteor” competing two years in a row. This one is solid; it’s slightly better than last year’s attempt. But it still isn’t the one. It’s dated, and it doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the field.”

Total: 27.5 points (Average = 4.583)

Mirud – “Për dreq

Sean – 7 – “Could this be Mirud’s year? His voice is heavenly although I’m a little bit disappointed this song doesn’t showcase it too much (Nënë was still robbed). Nonetheless, this has fantastic production and some real interesting musical elements topped off with a sense of the song building towards a crescendo that always helps in a Eurovision sense. Mirud deserves a chance at Eurovision and I wouldn’t be disappointed in seeing him do it this time around.”

Boris – 7 – “I love how Mirud, after showing the world that he has about as much rhythm as a block of pumice, has now entered FiK with a song that offers zero opportunities for dance choreographies. KING OF LEARNING <3 Pity the song – which is quite decent- is rather uncompetitive, but oh well.”

James – 7 – “This song builds quite nicely, even if it takes a bit of time to get going. The acoustic guitar and the percussion work well to propel the song along at key junctures, but I am not sure if this is a strong enough composition to carry Mirud across the finish line first and on to Turin.”

Roy – 7.5 – “I think that this perfectly balances what Mirud is good at. I really enjoyed ‘Nëne’ personally, but I do get that the jury’s might have thought that it wasn’t unique enough. This song does show off his great vocal capabilities while also offering something that isn’t run-of-the-mill. I think this song has definitely got the potential to bring him the win in FiK this year and it sounds like it would also easily be revampable to make it a bit more modern. Great effort from Mirud and I can’t wait to see it being performed live!”

Tyler – 7 – “Part of what makes me hopeful for “Për dreq” is how this will look staging-wise. “Nëse vdes” was a great NF song with cool staging, and I’m very curious what’s in store for us with this entry. The potential is what makes me like this song, even if I feel like the song is sort of a big tease. There isn’t really a big epic moment for me to point to that wows me, but I do solidly like the song for what it is. I think Mirud sings this song well, so maybe just those vocals could wow in FiK.”

William – 8 – “Very happy to see Mirud back after, obviously, last year didn’t go as planned. His vocals on the studio track are gorgeous and, importantly, distinct and recognizable. I very much enjoy the featured guitar riffs, though I do wonder what he is planning on doing on stage while they’re happening. Considering his choreography struggles last year, that does make me nervous. But, still, I have hope Mirud can do us, and himself, proud this go-round.”

Total: 43.5 points (Average = 7.250)

Olimpia Smajlaj – “Dua”

Sean – 8 – “This is certainly a stand-out! That may just be enough for it in this year’s very mid-tempo line-up, and hopefully Olimpia can bring the energy needed to carry this fiery RnB number. The production feels a little basic so hopefully a sprinkling of RTSH’s fairy dust would be in order to make this stage ready for Turin if it won. This is very enjoyable all the same!”

Boris – 7.5 – “Olimpia serves one of two “Weird But Good” songs, and hers is (sadly) the lesser one. I still really like “Dua” though. It like a musical mindfuck gone disastrously right – it starts off like a jam session, teases “R&B bop” enough to make you think that’s the direction it’s headed and then swerves HARD into electric rock… only to abandon each of these genres completely and go back to heavy percussion + incoherent vocals and nothing else lol. What a ride. Bless your soul, Olimpia.”

James – 1 – “”Dua” is like throwing a kitchen sink into an already overfilled dumpster fire. It’s like someone took a track from Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” did a budget cover, then added noises from a Barnum & Bailey circus soundtrack onto it at random points. It is cheap and cacophonous, and whatever the Albanian words for “Do One” are, I hope the jurors utter it at this amateurish waste of our time.”

Roy – 2 – “What happens if you want too much of everything? This song happens! Look, a listener finds enjoyment in the predictability and the ability to guess what is going to come next. Having some expected happening in a song is often a very good thing, but with this song the listener can never get into any sort of flow or rhythm to actual be able to predict what’s coming next. So instead of it having unexpected and unpredictable elements, it is actually just a hot mess. Her vocals are great though!”

Tyler – 9 – “”Dua” blends a lot of different music styles together, and I just love it. I really like the blend of the brass with the electric guitar, and it gives me soul but also jazz at the same time. Olimpia delivers a song that leaves me moving my body to the rhythm with ease, and I’m really excited to see if she has another song up her sleeves next year if she doesn’t win this year. It captures my imagination and is grand, but I’m unsure how this will sound live as she could get drowned out by the instruments. Still very hopeful for this entry.”

William – 2 – “This sounds like 3 songs, all composed with the preset beats on a Casio keyboard, played at the same time. It’s not music; it’s a migraine. This is VERY demo-y, so I can imagine this could be revamped into something better, but I’m not sure it could be revamped into something GOOD.”

Total: 29.5 points (Average = 4.917)

Rezarta Smaja – “E jemja nuse”

Sean – 8 – “Wonderful music interludes, Rezarta! This has great vibes and accelerates through its various gears very well indeed. It might not be the most modern song but I certainly enjoyed listening to this and it has major potential to impress live. It’s definitely one of my front-runners.”

Boris – 8 – “Rezarta serves some scorching “murder at the peasant wedding” realness with her song. For a song starting with such a cheerful accordion sound, “E jemja nuse” quickly yanks up the drama to 11 and I’m hooked into (what I imagine is) a murder mystery about who stabbed the groom with a cake knife (pet theory: it was Ronela Hajati). “Highly Enjoyable Ethnobop” is where Rezarta clocks in at, and that’s far from a bad thing in this tepid edition of FiK.”

James – 7.5 – “Rezarta may rhyme with disaster (or it might not – my Albanian is quite naff), but despite a lot of things going against it, this song works. From the foreigner perspective, this wins the “Most Albanian” award at FiK 60. Unlike some of its rivals, this song’s cheapness works for it, not against it. I imagine this song is a soundtrack to a harvest festival where booze not legal in the European Union due to its psychotropic qualities (and high quantities of engine coolant) is consumed en masse. This is messy, and after a few twirls with it you may vomit, but it’s an enjoyable three minutes.”

Roy – 5.5 – “I really like Rezarta’s voice in the verse when her voice sounds a bit deeper. It gives a very mysterious feeling to the piece. The little breakdown after the first verse is a bit puzzling especially since it feels like you never really had a chorus. Her going back to another verse is a bit of a surprise, but then she starts with the word-repeating-part again after which we get a bit of chorus and it all starts to make sense. It all beat to this quite epic and uplifting repetition of the name of the song. I totally picture this on stage and I think that this will be a great addition to the show no matter where you put it in the running order.”

Tyler – 10 – “My personal winner for FiK, even if I don’t think this has a good chance at all at winning, I don’t care! “E jemja nuse” is dynamic, it’s folky, it’s upbeat, and it’s just interesting. This song feels like it’s a battle theme in the “Persona” series, and has my ears perked and ready to take this song in. This song captured my imagination and heart from first listen and after multiple listens, hasn’t lost its magic or spark. I adore this entry, and I hope Rezarta will do a great job with staging this song.”

William – 3 – “It’s kind of impossible to judge this song in its current form, because this is a demo with a capital D. I’m talking full Casio keyboard presets and replacement-level vocals that seem disconnected from the instrumentation. Basically, the mixing is not great. It sounds like a mess to me at the moment, but there’s a sliver of potential here. Hope they can dig it up before for the live shows.”

Total: 42 points (Average = 7.000)

Fourteen songs in, Alban Ramosaj maintains the lead in the ESC United rankings. But we still have six more songs to go, including a pre-festival stan favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14.) 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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