Fantasy Eurovision Idea: What If Countries Sang in Each Other’s Languages?

This article is in partnership with Day Translations.

Eurovision: an international music festival representing almost forty countries (and, since 2015, Australia) with a dedicated following and its fair share of detractors.

The venue for the festival changes each year, as the host country is the winner from the previous edition.

While most countries send their representatives to the competition singing in their native tongue, many singers choose English as their gateway to a wider audience and, potentially, more votes in the final.

Singing in a Different Language?

The idea that countries’ representatives could choose a language from another contestant came to me when Angelina Mango won Sanremo 2024 and went on to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest, with Sweden as the host country.

Her winning song, heavily influenced by Spanish music, particularly the cumbia, might as well have been sung in Spanish.

What if, in the future, a French singer chose Finnish for their song’s lyrics? Or if a Polish singer chose to sing in Portuguese? Or a Greek performer singing in Gaelic?

For example, I saw on TikTok that a lady, sitting in her car and filming herself singing in Italian and speaking to her viewers in English. It turned out to be Moldovan singer Lidia Isac, who represented Moldova at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. She sang ‘Falling Stars’ in English and after that she also performed in the French and Romanian versions of ‘The Voice’. Lidia is fluent in English and French. In one of her TikToks she also said she admired the fact that Italian singers choose their native language for Eurovision instead of English, basically disregarding the fact that the majority of the public won’t be able to understand the lyrics without a translation.

How Many Eurovision Songs Were Not in English?

Statista looked at the number of non-English songs competing at the Eurovision Song Contest and in an article from 2021 analysed the percentages of songs sang in languages other than English.

Over time, the percentage of non-English language songs has grown, getting to an average of about 1 in 3. There was a peak in 2008 with 51% of competing songs not being in English; that year the winning song was performed in Serbian.

Languages such as Portuguese and French have been associated with winning Eurovision songs, with a few instances of Italian and Spanish entries being successful in the competition, too. For example, Portugal won in 2017 with a song by Salvador Sobral entitled ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, which translates as “to love for the both of us”, a ballad with a streamlines orchestra arrangement. His voice sounds remarkably similar to Caetano Veloso’s. Veloso is one of his many musical influences that also include Chico Buarque and Chet Baker. Sobral is passionate about languages and has learned 7 at various levels of proficiency: Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, English and some Swedish and Italian. He has sung in Portuguese, Spanish, English and French and often interacts with international audiences speaking excellent English.

Rules about which languages are allowed in Eurovision have been changing over time, with some years only allowing to sing in one of the official languages of the participating countries, while in other years the same rule was scrapped to allow countries to select a language of their choice (with many countries choosing English when given the option).

Going back to the question about Eurovision songs that are not in English, notable mentions also include Icelandic, Albanian, Serbian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Estonian, Moldovan, Montenegrin and Romanian.

Talking of Romanian, in 2012 the competition entry from Romania was a band who mixed singing in their native tongue with Spanish in their song ‘Zaleilah’.

In 2019 Mahmood represented Italy with the song ‘Soldi’ (money), sung in Italian with one sentence in Arabic. Two years later Italy won with Måneskin and their song ‘Zitti e Buoni’ (shut up and be good).

Finally, in 2003 Belgium attempted something completely different and created a made-up language for their competition entry entitled ‘Sanomi’.

There’s Space for More Cultural Diversity

Looking at how the Eurovision Song Contest has evolved over time, it is interesting to see how more diverse it has become, from including more countries that are not necessarily in the European continent, to relaxing the rules about allowing only a limited number of languages.