What about the inevitable backlash, you say, that comes with all of this? Surely there must be somebody out there who is against the primacy of English-language songs in Eurovision and secretly hopes for a pre-1999 (or pre-1973, as it were) return to the good-ol’-days. Or maybe just the days when one could choose their preferred tongue and not have it be politically misconstrued.
As a matter of fact, such people do exist! If you’re in the year 2010 and living in Turkey, just head to the local branch of your country’s MHP. Though I’m sure there are other examples out there, I’d like to focus on two specific ones which caught my attention in recent years:
1) Seeing as Israel won three times previously with lyrics solely in Hebrew, there was no ostensible reason why Shiri Maimon needed to sing any part of her 2005 song in English. Nonetheless, in the “post-1999” era, pressure was placed on her to change the lyrics so that at least half the song was in English, thus guaranteeing a more “successful” entry. Shiri initially reacted against singing in English, but eventually reversed her position, saying recently in an interview that singing in English is important because “the audience watching Eurovision…wants to understand something”:
Now, I ask you, Europe: is it really so hard to just look up the lyrics themselves? (though in some cases, I’m not so sure you’d want to). It is interesting to note that, in the years since Maimon’s performance, every Israeli song has had English components and not fared any better.
2) To illustrate an opposing example of the influence of popular opinion, take the slightly more notorious case of Sebastien Tellier and his, um, preferred song choice of 2008. I’m sure some of you heard the story – Tellier himself wanted his song entirely in English, while French government officials had other ideas of what a French song should sound like, leading a few notable MP’s to demand an explanation from the Culture Minister. Like Maimon, Tellier listened to the outcry and altered his lyrics, adding a couple lines in French, (noticeably, one which stated, “love sings in French”). Interestingly enough, an entirely French song was sung the following year and landed in the Top Ten. Go figure.
Here’s a member of France’s UMP party voicing his opposition to Tellier. And of course, here’s Tellier’s memorable video. Do you feel he effectively conveyed his message en anglais? You be the judge.
Which leads me to my Eurovision pop quiz of the week: Whose verbal performance is the most incomprehensible?
a) Sebastien Tellier
b) O Julissi
So, to wrap up: what lessons can we take from all this? That, short of becoming a right-wing nationalist, there must be another way for fans of pro-language diversity in the ESC to make our preferences heard, rather than succumbing to the popular notion that users of Queen’s tongue are necessarily more “successful” at Eurovision. Though I could devote pages more to this topic, I’ll leave it at this and revisit the English-language issue on the day Eurovision is broadcast nationally in the US….should it ever occur.