This year, if you were reading my comments during national finals season, you probably saw me going crazy for anything not in English. Karma must’ve bit me, because this year was one of the most English-heavy years yet. Since the somewhat-infamous language rule was done away with in 1999, countless artists have translated their songs to English in order for more of Europe to understand it. Sure, it’s great sometimes (especially when you have a message to share), but if you’re just going to sing a standard club song that we’ve all heard before, is it worth the effort? Will switching from your native language to English hurt you or help you?
The founders of Eurovision created it to showcase national pride and culture through song. Doing that usually involves using one’s native language. That hasn’t happened in recent years. If you represent a country whilst singing in another country’s language and copying another country’s style of music, are you actually representing them and the history they carry? Let’s look at some statistics.
First off, we’ll take a look at which countries have sent the most entries in their native language since the semi-final era began in 2004. The anglophone countries of Ireland, Malta, and the United Kingdom are not counted in the following statistics. In the case of songs with multiple languages, the native language is counted as .5 points.
1. Portugal and France – 9.5
2. Spain – 9
3. Croatia – 7.5
4. Serbia – 7
5. Israel – 6.5
I guess it’s safe to say that the countries who have participated longer are more apt to sing in their native language. Being a part of the Big 5 might be a factor as well, since they can send any entry they want in whatever language they wish and not have to worry about qualifying for the final.
While most of these countries have competed for forty or fifty years, we have two relatively new countries on the list: Croatia and Serbia. They probably sing in their native language because it’s used in several countries. Serbo-Croatian, spoken in four countries, is closely related to Macedonian, Bulgarian and Slovene. By singing in Serbo-Croatian, you target six entire countries, plus their diasporas.
Switch of the tongue
Next, let’s look at the countries that have been least faithful to Eurovision tradition and shied away from their own language.
1. Georgia – 0.5
2. Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, and Romania – 1
This mostly consists of Eurovision classic countries (Belgium, Germany, Iceland, and Norway), but their geographic location might give us a clue. While France, Spain, and Portugal are in the south of Europe, these countries are more northward.
We will never go native
Finally, the countries who have not bothered to sing in their own language even once since 2004:
Even more remarkable is the fact that Bulgaria is the first country to sing part of their song in Azerbaijani, rather than Azerbaijan itself. I would love to hear more of the Scandinavian languages in the contest as well, although Sweden is usually spot-on in English full-time.
I like your tongue
However, some countries give a shoutout to another country by singing in their language. Since 2004, some of these borrowed languages have included Romani, Italian, Finnish, German, and Russian. But the two most common are Spanish and French.
Zaleilah, the Romanian entry in 2012, was sung almost entirely in Spanish. Mandinga did this to honor their Cuban musical roots. It placed 12th.
Comme ci, comme ça, the Cypriot entry in 2007, was sung in French. This is the only time Cyprus has sung an entire song in a language other than Greek or English. Unfortunately, it only placed 15th in the semi-final.
Do you think that the language rule should be reinstated? Or is it too restricting? What language needs to be heard more in the contest? Nos conte abaixo nos comments! (Tell us in the comments!)
Photo: Eurovision.tv (EBU)
I think the song of each country should be sung in its nationally recognised languages. The festival has now become an X Factor competition, with only France and Italy sounding like their cultural reality. The reason for the change was that the Scandinavian and Dutch speaking countries were scoring low scores, since their languages were considered harsher to the ear than the others, the reason the Scandinavians in their frustration resorted to bloc voting and demanded to sing in whatever language they chose..(there really is no reason for their bloc voting now other than they hear each other’s songs before… Read more »
So like France 2007, maybe? ;0)
A half-half song has never won, unless you count 2004 (where the lyrics were not particularly relevant, or intelligible). The last-chorus switch to English, which is not uncommon, will usually detract from the integrity of what might otherwise be a very decent, or even excellent, non-English song: Israel 2005 comes to mind.
Maybe half of the song in the native language and the other half in English?
Great post, Charles. Excellent insights, and fine sentiments. (BTW, are you secretly the same person as David, and just like having occasional cat-fights with yourself?) But wait … what’s this? Some breaking news?? … *****STOP PRESS**** “GERMANY DISQUALIFIED! CROATIA TAKES 2000 PRIZE!” In the first controversy of the newly inaugurated “Let’s-get-native” aka “Molitva” awards, the provisional awarding of the 2000 prize to Germany has been OVERTURNED by the third referee, as Germany has been DISQUALIFIED for breach of the rules of the prize. The offending words were not Stefan Raab’s “Watch this!”, which is permitted under the poetic/stylistic rule, but… Read more »
@David: Wish you lots of luck during your growing up process or rebuilding the Victorian empire back! Whatever floats your boat … Moving on: Although it’s not a very wise thing to express certain opinions that might be regarded as pure generalizations, all I can say and share with everyone here comes from personal knowledge and on the stop of my understanding of how we Europeans regards ourselves in terms of how we protect and defend our language and how we perceive the usage of English as a lingua franca in Eurovision. We do have a very divided Europe between… Read more »
Hm. “If you want something done, you have to do it yourself.” Ranting Ruby, I love your passionate rants on this topic, and you’re on the money too about the joys of native/minority languages, but yours is a slightly different currency to mine (and I’m not just talking Sterling v. AUD). We can’t punish UK/Eire/Malta just because they have English as one of their native languages. It’s not their fault English is the current lingua franca. So, anyway, I’ve done a bit of homework and can now announce the provisional winners of the “Let’s-Get-Native”/Molitva Eurovision Awards 1998-2014. (I say provisional… Read more »
Ali Nella Houd, you are on the money! Extra points for using a non-English language! Let’s face it, the use of English in ESC songs is more of an American invasion than a love of all things British (As if! – By the way, I’m allowed to say that, I’m British myself). ESC is supposed to be a celebration of Eurovision diversity and camaraderie, not an attempt to rhyme “fire” with “desire” 37 times over. Walloon! Flemish! Azeri! BRING IT ON and let each country post its own subtitles!
@David: The fact that you did not understand me, not only explains how desperate is your need for everybody to boringly sing in English about birds and bees, apples and bananas, penises and vaginas with an Russian accent (to be maybe in sync with the delights of so many fans) as if that was world shattering … but also means you have a problem with reading between the lines …. even if those lines are in your mother tongue. Quite disappointing… what did Gina G said back in 1996 … ah yes “ooh .. aah” .. Shakespeare must be dancing… Read more »
Sofi Marinova was not singing in Azerbeijani but Armenian!
What about Finland? They have had 2 entrys in finnish and 1 in swedish (what is their secondary language) since 2004.
2008 – finnish
2010 – finnish
2012 – swedish
It’s useful to note that since 2010 Greece is the one exception to the must-sing-in -english rule: all its entries with greek lyrics have entered the top10 (2010, 2011 and 2013) while both its entries with english lyrics have failed to achieve that (2012 and 2014). In fact, “Opa” by Alkeos and “Watch my dance” by Loukas were the only songs without an english chorus inside the top-10 the year they competed and “Alcohol is free” by Koza Nostra the only non-english entry in the top10 in 2013 along with Italy’s Marco Mengoni. Of course “Watch my dance” had a… Read more »
Um, @Renske – Norwegian is ugly to sing in? In which song, for example? Alla mine tankar (’93, in New Norwegian), Nocturne (’95 winner), Alvedansen (’06)? If so, let’s have more of that kind of ugliness, please!
But a reintroduced mandatory native language rule is not the way.
Perhaps have some sort of subtle carrot, rather than a stick … E.g. A separate official ‘Molitva’ award for best native-language song each year? (Can someone do a retrospective post-98 year-by-year Molitva-award list for us? Thanks in anticipation! …) Ali
I don’t mind countries singing in English, as long as it is proper grammar (Ahem* undo my sad?*) as English is the language of translation and usually the second language of a country anyway.
But what I hate is when another country sings in a language that isn’t even an official language. Such as Cyprus singing in French, Romania singing in Spanish and Bulgaria singing in Azerbaijani.
To me, it just seems like a desperate bid for votes from a country that speaks this particular language imo.
What about Urban Trad’s “Sanomi” (from Belgium) in 2003, which was sung in a completely made-up language and STILL came second??? When I become Emperor of the World, the use of English at ESC will be banned – UK can sing in Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Cornish or Manx and Ireland can sing in Gaelic! I LOVE hearing songs in other languages, (e.g. – “Eg a lif” from Iceland and “Kedveshem” from Hungary last year) – and I love looking at the “foreign” lyrics on the ESC website, just to appreciate them and try and learn something. Bring back the language… Read more »
I know, I agree with Deban (Hey, we have almost the same names. 😀 ), Norway was very brave to send a song in Swahili. If only they didn’t send the Norwegian Nicki Minaj.
Sopon, excellent article. You write so well. And a big shout out to Norway 2011, for bringing Swahili to the contest.
Corinne, Don’t even go NEAR Czech Republic. Their songs scarred Jon Ola and Svante for life.
I think part of the reason that Serbia continue to send songs that aren’t in English also has to do with the fact that they won, on their very first time out, singing a song in their native language. Perhaps they are attempting to recapture the formula of their most successful outing (although style-wise, most of their entries have been quite different from Molitva). The last time Israel won was also in their native language. You could probably say the same holds true for countries who have done very well whilst singing in English (Latvia, Germany, Norway have all won… Read more »
I think, that at least 30% of all song in the national selection should have to be in the native language.
Im not trying to say that the UK are disadvantaged in Eurovision, because with automatic qualification we arnet. But in a way we are. One of the reasons that we dont do so well anymore is that many countries sing in English, which makes our entry stand out less. But songs in their native language stand out sometimes such as Molitva. But we dont have that option of singing in a different language, we technically do but it would just be considered weird like were stealing someones language and we wouldn’t do well. I think it should be like the… Read more »
I would love for countries singing in their native languages, I feel like that makes the contest more authentic. However, I don’t think a new language rule will ever be imposed and it’s unlikely countries like Azerbaijan, Georgia, or any of the Scandinavians would want to sing in their native languages again. Sure, Norway sent a Norwegian-language song in 2006 but I don’t think that’ll happen again. I’m Swedish and normally I like a lot of the Swedish-language songs in Melodifestivalen but they will never win since Sweden and the rest of the Scandinavians are highly influenced by America and… Read more »
Easy answer to the question, the goal of all esc artists is to win and have a hit with the song they entered with and that will only happen singing in English which can be done understood by the majority of people. IMO sending a bi-lingual song ain’t no good either , just think of it this way how many bi-lingual songs chart in the UK or across Europe (unless the song is in English and the native language of the country it’s charting in)? and if you look at the charts across Europe which is the most dominant language?… Read more »
When you have a national selection and a nativ song wins you should not trranslate it. It becomes a different song and as such you should consider replacing the artist too…
I think it’s because some languages sound more beautiful when you sing them, f.e.: Estonian, Montenegrin, Italian, Serbian etc. and others like Dutch, German, Norwegian are ‘ugly’ to sing in, because of the harsh pronounciation, like the “G” in Dutch.
@David While Ireland has produced 4 phenomenal shows in the 90’s, brought Eurovision into the modern era and has the capability of going above and beyond in 2016 if we win in Austria. I do think the contest gets boring if the same country/countries win year after year. That is why I want Ireland to win soon and then not for another 10 years after that.
If the language rule is put back in place either next year or in the next few years, the contest will go back to being all between the UK, Ireland and Malta and while I think that would be great because of my Irishry, it would be totally unfair to the rest of Europe. Just like how all of Western Europe (including Scandinavia) never had a hope when it was all televoting. Eurovision needs to be a fair contest.
Well, I fell in love with French and Swedish by listening Comme ci, comme ça (french) and Håll om mig (swedish, from MF 2005).
So, @George , you MIGHT be wrong 😉
“I strongly believe that every country should have the right to sing in any language they want”, I agree with that, but it would nice to hear song in swedish(for example :P) in ESC.
They shouldn’t have to sing in their native language but I’d love to see more different languages again next year.
If the language rule was to be reinstated, the Eurovision could easily turn back into a big dog’s game between the UK, Ireland and Malta. Just like with the televoting era, only the Eastern countries.won’t have a chance if a language rule is put back in place.
I strongly believe that every country should have the right to sing in any language they want. And ChArleSSHOLE believe it or not nobody learns a foreign language by listening to a three minutes song once a year.
Yeah, think about it. Montenegro will always sing in Montenegrin since 2013, Israel will always sing in Hebrew since 1973, and the other countries… well, why don’t Belarus try submit an entry in Russian next year. They’ll go to the final.
NO!! That “language rule” was too restricting.
I think Ireland should try an Irish language song again.
Get that group from the Irish-language school who post their covers of modern up-tempo pop songs on youtube.
Ireland only ever had one entry in Gaelige…”Ceol an Ghra” – Music of love.
Maybe they can do it like JESC……..they can sing a part in English but mainly in their native language. Say for example Germany…… they can sing the chorus or a verse in English and the rest in German.
Soo true.I think that they should bring back the rule that allows songs to be only in native languages.
@David: Do you really find it refreshing or … more comfortable …. that other countries sing in your mother tongue? What does that say about your interest in other languages … or lack of interest? Plus: the UK won 5 fives and Ireland 7 … fine but … Luxembourg and France both also won 5 times each singing in French. So .. do you really think that in the old days Ireland and the UK were always the winners, or were you too affected and tormented by the excessive Irish winnings that draw Eurovision into a puddle of boredom? There… Read more »
Everyone should be able to sing in the language whatever they want. It is the decision of artists.
The Big 5 should be made to sing at least half in their native language which each country does except Germany which hasn’t sung in German in years.
The EBU should also ask broadcasters to alter their songs to have a few native lines but it shouldn’t be forced on them like before 1999.
Azerbaijan gets bad results in JESC because they have to sing in Azerbaijani there. But Belarus keeps getting great results there with Russian. So why not at ESC?!
Here was my take on this in my blog last year:
I think that Azerbaijan and Belarus (the only countries never to have sung in one of their official languages) should try their native tongue at least one year, just to see how well they do!
Great article, btw 🙂