Eurovision is just around the corner, the televised event of an Olympic scale that more than 100 million people worldwide tune in to watch every year. It is a singing competition that was created with the intention of setting aside politics and squabbles for one night to enjoy a good old-fashioned singing contest.
The 64th edition of the event will take place in Tel-Aviv, Israel from 14-18th May. Israel is hosting this year since Netta led the country to a decisive victory in 2018 with her performance of the English-language song “Toy”.
English takes centre stage at Eurovision
So far this year 32 out of 41 acts competing (of which 26 will take part in the final) are singing songs with all or part of their lyrics in English. At 78%, this reflects the growing number of countries using English in Eurovision entry songs, reaching its highest point in 2017 when over 83% of the entries were sung entirely in English.
Currently there is a “free language” rule, allowing anyone to sing in whichever language they like. It wasn’t always this way, from 1966 to 1999 (with a brief pause between 1973 and 1977) each country was obliged to sing in one of its national languages. In recent years however, more than 75% of the songs have been sung in English.
Is it possible to say that the use of English has an effect on a song’s success?
It is thought that the main reason for writing songs in English is to gain more votes. Since English is widely spoken throughout Europe, using it in your song is generally considered a way to ensure the whole audience and indeed the whole viewership of Europe will be able to sing along and enjoy the song, and will thus back you with their vote.
In fact, of the recent winning songs, 17 of the last 20 have been sung in English, which either reflects the upwards trend of English usage or it may actually point to the formula for creating a winner.
That is not to say that songs sung in other languages do not earn votes. The Belgian 2003 entry “Sanomi” was performed in an imaginary language and yet placed second in the grand final, a mere two points behind the winner. Moreover, many performers choose not to sing in English since it could be considered unpatriotic whereas singing all or at least part of the song in a country’s official language evokes their true culture. This may explain why the ban on English was successfully in place for 20 years between 1977 and 1999.
It remains to be seen whether or not the top spot this year will be taken by a song sung in English, continuing the recent trend. Either way, the grand final on 18 May is set to be a spectacular show as always.