Of the past twenty winners of Eurovision, 17 have sung in English. That suggests that English provides a clear advantage in what is meant to be a pan-European singing contest. But times change. London has restaurants with edible food. Germany is finally being asked to take over countries (well, financially at least). And a country called Azerbaijan had the opportunity to host Eurovision this year. Is it possible that the English-language advantage is disappearing too?
Let’s look at this year’s final results:
- The top 3 acts – 66% are not in English.
- The top 10 acts – 50% are not in English.
- All 26 acts – 38% are not in English.
What about the semi-finals – is that biased against non-English songs?
- Semi-final 1 – 28% of the acts sung in another language. 30% of the non-English songs went to the final.
- Semi-final 2 – 44% of the acts sung in another language. 40% of the non-English songs went to the final. (Although there was a tie for 10th place so 1 more vote for Bulgaria and it would have been 50% to the final).
So for the semi-finals the song’s language has no measurable impact. For the final there actually is a statistical bias. But it is against English and in favor of songs in their native language. I think this makes sense because Eurovision rewards acts that are a bit different. People want something they like, but that does not sound like the music they listen to every day. A song in another language helps provide that difference, in a good way. It also helps that people are not as parochial as they used to be.
Marija Serifovic won Eurovision 2007. She sang in Serbian.
Was 2012 an aberration or has this been going on for a while?
- 2011 – there were only 4 finalists not in English which is a very small sample set. But of those, one placed second and two finished right in the middle, so they had a pretty even distribution. So language had no impact.
- 2010 – 24% were not in English. The best finished in 8th place, but 33% placed in the top 15 (yes I’m cherry picking). So English was an advantage.
- 2009 – 36% not in English. 20% made the top 10 (barely). English was a major advantage.
- 2008 – 40% not in English. 0 in the top 3 and 40% in the top 10 (starting at 6th). So English was needed to get to the very top.
- 2007 – 42% not in English. Entries 1 & 2 not in English. 30% of the top 10. Non-English was a major advantage.
Part of the problem with the above numbers is the total number of acts is small (24 – 26). And the quality of the performance has a gigantic impact. But looking at the above it is fair to say that the language of the song does not have a significant impact.
I think we’ll see more and more countries sing in their native language as they see the success of entries like the ones this year from the Annoying Babushki to the Scream-a-thon diva from Albania. (Or for those of us with good taste, the entries from Serbia, Estonia, and Spain.)
It’s a big change from 20 years ago.