One everlasting ESC discussion concerns the question whether or not the contestants should sing in their mother tongue. Since 1999 there is no official restriction anymore that says that the entries have to be performed in one of the county’s official languages like it was the case from 1966 to 1972 and again from 1977 to 1998. This has lead more and more to the contestants participating with songs written in English. This year in Vienna, only six entries were sung entirely in the country’s language: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Montenegro and Finland. The Romanian entry was also mostly sung in Romanian, just the last verse was held in English.
It might be of common belief that songs written in English are more successful in Eurovision, because everyone can understand their message. This is rooted in the assumption, though, that you automatically understand the meaning of a song just because it is sung in English. This might not always be the case. The last verse of “De la capăt”, for instance, was hardly helping to understand the meaning of the song as it was difficult even to realize that there actually was a change to the English language. The message of the song, however, was rather delivered by the video in the background and the setting on stage. This shows that you don’t even need the meaning of the lyrics to understand a song. Sometimes, though, we might not even want to understand the meaning of a song – thinking of lines like “You put my mind in a dirty zone” by Russia’s slimy representative Alexej Vorobjov in 2011…
It mostly also feels more natural if singers sing in their own language – especially, when they are not that comfortable with using the English language. Just look at the young Sammarinese (yes, that is what the people of San Marino are called, at least according to Wikipedia) Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini. It would have saved a lot of Ralph Siegel’s precious time if he didn’t have to rewrite the song “Chain of Lights” in order to save them the trouble of pronouncing the English ‘th’ right and just let them sing in Italian instead.
Maybe there should be a rule again for the contestants to sing in their own language to preserve the diversity that Eurovision is all about. Even though this might (but not necessarily has to) lead to an advantage for English speaking countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland. With regards to their – let’s just say – not that successful entries in the last couple of years a little advantage might not do any harm, however.
But it is not at all said that a song can’t be successful if it is not sung in English even without such a rule. Just look at Italy placing third this year and seventh in 2013 with Marco Mengoli’s “L’essenziale”. Also in 2013, Hungary participated with the beautiful Hungarian song “Kedvesem” and didn’t end up too badly, either, at place ten. Not to forget Serbia winning in 2007 with “Molitva”.
The language alone never decides whether a song is going to be successful or not in the contest. There are so many other factors that contribute to that. And winning should not be the main motivation to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest, anyway. After all, it is all about connecting with other nationalities and embracing differences – building bridges between countries, people, cultures, and languages. In the end, it is one of the many charms of Eurovision that it brings together a large variety of cultures – so why not embrace that by keeping up and supporting the beautiful variety of languages?