In an attempt to bring a post-WWII Europe together, the Eurovision Song Contest was born in 1956, to become the longest-running annual international TV song competition.
This year’s Song Contest was held in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to see 43 countries brought together under the theme Celebrate Diversity. And while organisers promoted that the motto will be the key theme in all aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest from the communications, production and the artists themselves, there are many sceptical reactions, especially when it comes to the linguistic diversity of the song competition.
And the odds speak clearly for themselves: from the first Contest in 1956 up to today, sixty-four songs and 27 different countries have won the Eurovision Song Contest (in 1969, 4 songs were declared joint winners). Yet out of the sixty-four winning songs, 31 were sung in English, 2 in mainly English, with motives in another language, and 33 songs were performed in a language different than English. And to go further, last year, all but three out of the 36 semi-finalists had songs in English.
The Contest started with no restriction on language, to change in 1966, when songs were required to be performed in a national language of the participating country. The restrictions were lifted in 1972 to function back from 1972 up to 1998. And 1999 saw the real change of the language variety landscape, removing all language restrictions and even allowing Belgium to enter a song in an artificial language in 2003 and to finish second, proving music can overcome all language barriers.
Naturally, the lift of the infamous language rule resulted in most artists performing not in an artificial language, but rather in English, aiming to reach broadest audience.
And it is not only the songs that are dominated by English, as most national spokespersons choose to deliver their country’s votes in English as well.
Last years’ winner, Jamala’s 1944 song while mainly sung in English, contained lyrics in Crimean Tatar language as well, yet it was not the language to win the audience, but rather the tragic historical events that inspired the lyrics.
And while each Participating Broadcaster is free to decide the language in which its artists will sing, this year’s contest featured 36 semi-finalists singing three songs in Belarusian, Hungarian and Portuguese, one song was performed in both Italian and English, and the remaining 32 songs were all sung in English. The Big 5 plus the host country brought in 2 songs sung in French and Spanish and 4 – in English.
Despite the numerous evidence that Eurovision is becoming an English-dominated contest, it remains a multicultural event to promote and celebrate diversity. And this year’s winner really broke the language status quo. A song, performed in Portuguese won the votes of Europe – the first time since 2007 that the Eurovision winner took the trophy without performing in English.
EVS Translations embraces all initiatives that promote diversity awareness and as our international team consist of professionals from all the Eurovision participating countries, each year we are well-tuned for the winning lyrics, regardless of their language.