As always, the Eurovision Lemurs kicked off the holiday season with Festivali i Këngës. The 58th edition was a compelling event in part due to Albania’s continued recovery from the deadly earthquake on November 26. A touching dance routine during the Festivali final paid tribute to the earthquake’s victims.
Even if the mood in Albania is somber, the 2019 final was one of the more entertaining Festivalis we’ve watched. The 12 songs on offer were generally quite good, and guest performances by “Fuego” sensation Eleni Foureira and Italian pop star Giusy Ferreri kept the show moving.
At the end of the night, the jury (which included Sweden head of delegation and Song Contest producer Christer Björkman and Eurovision songwriting mainstay Dimitris Kontopoulos) gave Arilena Ara’s “Shaj” the win.
Arilena Ara won the second edition of Albania’s X Factor and followed up that win with the hit single “Aeroplan.” This was the start of her professional relationship with songwriter Darko Dimitrov, who has co-written a number of her other songs, including “Shaj.” Dimitrov also co-wrote last year’s actual winner of the actual jury vote, “Proud.”
As it stands right now, “Shaj” is a gripping ballad that earned the enthusiastic crowd response that it received. It’s full of haunting melodies that Ara can sell for all they are worth and has enough theatricality that it should practically stage itself.
My only problem with the song is that I have trouble sleeping when it gets stuck in my head. It’s not an insult to describe a song that is trying to win a music competition as an earworm. But I am concerned for my own sanity if “Shaj” is echoing around my brain from now until the next Eurovision entry is unveiled.