Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Must Eurovision Be So Monolingual?

Last night, we watched the first of this week's semifinals in the lead up to Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest. Despite our best intentions, we actually enjoyed it. What we didn't enjoy was the way in which a Europe-wide competition of music, for lack of a better description, seemed to lack any kind of linguistic diversity.

As we watched 16 countries vie for a place in the final, it was pointed out to us by the show's commentators that only two of these countries would actually be singing in a language other than English.

Copenhagen, the beautiful host city of this year's Eurovision.
The whole evening was aired live from Copenhagen, Denmark. Watching from the UK, we viewed it on BBC3, which quickly had its own commentators interrupt the three Danish hosts, despite them speaking in English, as if it would have been an atrocity for the British audience to hear near-perfect English from non-native speakers.

Performances in English

As a bit of a flag enthusiast, I did enjoy the country introductions, in which the performers made a version of their own flag out of something. After some pomp and ceremony, the first performance was Armenia's entry, "Not Alone", which as you can guess from the title is in English, rather than Armenian, the official language of the South Caucasus nation.

Though we salivated as Latvia made their flag out of cake, they didn't bother with Latvian. Their English-language song was a quirky number about cake, which I admit would have been lost on me had it not been in English. While I found the Estonian entry fairly forgettable, it would have probably been more memorable had it been in Estonian, or even the regional languages Võro and Setu, just to mess with everybody's heads.

As a big ABBA fan, I can hardly complain about Sweden's entry being in English, but after three songs in English, another language, especially Swedish, would have been nice change for the international competition. On a personal note, I loved Iceland's entry and was delighted when they made it through to the final, though I also think the performance was vibrant enough and the tune was catchy enough to have been in any language, except maybe Klingon...

I thought Albania's entry was so dull that I would have preferred it in Albanian so I could have at least researched the lyrics later, and perhaps even learn a tiny bit of the language whilst I was at it.

The Russian entry, complete with blonde twins on a see-saw, was bound to cause some controversy. Even though it wasn't in Russian or any of its 27 regional languages, it was still quite sad to see the Copenhagen crowd boo the performers. The 2012 hosts, Azerbaijan, didn't bother to promote their own language either, with their entry "Start a Fire", which made it through to the finals on Saturday.

The Ukranian entry, despite having a guy run in an over-sized hamster wheel, progressed through to the final. The song entitled "Tick-Tock" is English onomatopoeia rather than Ukranian or any of the 18 regional languages of the country, though as onomatopoeia, it is probably the most universal of the English-language semifinalists from Tuesday night.

Belgium, despite its three official languages, still picked a song in English. This is especially odd as two of Belgium's official languages, French, and German, are considered to be two of the most important languages in Europe, whilst the other official language, Dutch, is a personal favourite of mine.

Moldova's "Wild Soul" wasn't enough to get them to the final, and by this point I was pretty sick of English-language songs and would have happily welcomed a song in either Romanian, Ukranian, Russian, or even the Gagauz language, a Turkic language spoken by the Gagauz people native to parts of both Ukraine and Moldova.

While the Principality of San Marino didn't sing in Italian, they made it through to the final and their entry, "Maybe (Forse)", was performed in English, though an Italian version was also recorded.

As I have a soft spot for the Dutch language, it was a shame to hear that their entry was also in English. The Hungarian entry was sung by András-Kállay Saunders, a Hungarian American, though from the language choice and accent, you can tell he doesn't speak English as a second language, though he probably could sing in Hungarian.

In Their Own Language

The only two entrants to bother with their own languages were Portugal and Montenegro, who were both drawn to perform late in the running order. While the Portuguese entry "Quero Ser Tua" failed to make the final, the Montenegrin entry "Мој свијет", which was rendered using the Latin alphabet as "Moj svijet", made it to the final, making it the only finalist from the first semifinal to not be in the English language.

Did you watch the first semifinal? Will you be watching the second? Which of the acts were your favourite and would you prefer they sing in their own languages? Tell us in the comments below.