Finally, a first post! (better late than never, right?) Being that this is Eurovision America, with Michael and I both one of the few, the proud American Eurovision fans, I feel that this first post should be devoted to discussing an ESC issue relevant to both sides of the Atlantic.
Now as you all know, a specter is haunting Europe….the specter of English-language songs! Barring the occasional Latvian singing in Italian, or bizarre exception, most of the winning acts (22 -24, depending on how strict you are with interpretation) have been sung in English. Naturally, this phenomenon has multiplied ever since the ESC changed the rule permitting countries to sing in whatever language they liked. Crafting English lyrics has even become an unofficial rule for any lyricist seeking a “successful” Eurovision tune.
Yet, this all begs the question: on a continent where the majority of people’s first language isn’t English, must the majority of Eurovision songs be sung (or partially sung) in the native language of those whose countries don’t even reside under the European Broadcasting Union’s domain? It should be duly, though ironically, noted that ESC stands for both Eurovision Song Contest and English-speaking countries, amongst other things.
Let’s observe the following map:
With English clearly trailing behind German, Russian, and Turkish in percentage of European speakers, let’s explore some possible explanations for this seemingly perplexing conundrum:
1) English and French are the two official languages of the EBU and ESC. With that said, why aren’t more songs being sung in French? We’ve all witnessed past Eurovision hosts attempting (and, sadly, at times miserably failing) to speak both English and French. Hmm. Well, if anything, they serve to the further the fact that, like cash, English is King. Sacre bleu!
2) Which leads me to the underlying reason here: that despite the map above, English is an ‘international’ language, a lingua franca of sorts that people all over Europe – yes, even Eastern Europe! – can semi-understand. Actually, maybe we want to rethink that one about Eastern Europe (see below). Oops. Well, you can’t blame Miss ESC Belarus 2006 for trying, I suppose. Indeed, it can be argued that singing in English at the ESC gives you a platform for honing your language skills. (or at least, extra practice for the TOEFL) But, nonetheless, why this language in particular?
3) Which leads me to what is most possibly the supreme underlying reason of all: the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the USA, ubiquitous and lurking even in benign singing contests with which she has little to do because 1) she has better ways to occupy her time, 2) is not technically part of that exclusive international broadcasting conglomerate known as “Europe” (though the entry of other ESC countries is thus debatable. For the sake of continuity with the next post, perhaps I’ll save that discussion for another time…)