Globalization…


Hello all!

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.

The exception. (source: commons.wikipedia.org)

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:

(source: bab.la)

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…)

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  1. #1 by Michael Gordon on March 26, 2010 - 3:03 AM

    As to Natalya Vodyanova, what's sad is that she was worse in rehearsal. In fact, if I remember right, they swapped who was speaking some of the lines in French because Natalya simply couldn't do it. The worst was the “Show us your mobiles” part. Nobody wanted to do that, and nobody did. It looked really pathetic on international television. I think that's where the “Give us lights” line by Andrei came from in that video.

    While this probably deserves its own post, this year's Bosnian song contains completely nonsensical English lyrics. Here's the chorus:

    This is the time to melt the ice
    Off our lips and off our hearts
    Thunder and lightning holding hands
    Let's overcome the past

    Yeah. That makes sense. And the Slavic countries are the worst offenders. Consider Russia's 2007 entry, “Song #1″ by Serebro:

    Oh, don't call me funny bunny
    I'll blow your money, money
    I'll get you to my bad ass spinnin' for you
    Oh, I'll make it easy, honey
    I'll take your money, yummy
    I've got my bitches standin' up next to me

    I'm pretty sure they just threw English words in there that rhyme for no reason. Also, they rhymed “money” with “money.”

    And don't think that America is immune from song contests. American Idol is consistently one of the top rated songs on television.

    • #2 by Daniela on March 26, 2010 - 6:42 PM

      From my own impartial perspective, it seems only fitting that the Russians rhyme “money” with “money”. The sad part is, I’ve heard some of the worst lyrics in American songs…or at least the strangest.

      And speaking of American Idol, I wonder what ever happened to Americavision?

  2. #3 by Daniela on March 27, 2010 - 5:20 PM

    From my own impartial perspective, it seems only fitting that the Russians rhyme “money” with “money”. The sad part is, I’ve heard some of the worst lyrics in American songs…or at least the strangest.

    And speaking of American Idol, I wonder what ever happened to Americavision?

  3. #4 by listigraev on May 2, 2011 - 12:55 PM

    I think Shiri Maimon's comments are the most pervasive across most European broadcasters – how else would you explain SVT (Sweden), DR (Denmark), and several others demanding that their artists change their lyrics to English. What makes it worse is when the original song's meaning is lost in the translation (Iceland is notorious for this). When I was in Denmark, I actually heard people saying that a song in Danish didn't stand a chance of winning ESC which is why Danish language songs routinely fare poorly at DMGP.

    I like YLE's answer, they close caption the entire show in Finnish so that the viewers can understand what's going on. If this was a requirement (obviously, in a country's language – not Finnish!) for participating countries, then maybe more people would feel free to sing in their own language. I think it would be fun for the UK to send something in not English, like Welsh, Scots, or Irish – oh, heck, or even Russian just for kicks!

    Oh, and Cyprus tried singing in French instead of English back in 2007, but it didn't work out too well for Evridiki – though, to be fair, nothing works out too well for Cyprus.

    It's awesome to find other American Eurovision fans with blogs, especially when those Americans are also Carolina alumni!

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