Language has had a tough time at the Eurovision Song Contest. Songs could be in any language until the language rule was adopted in 1966; from that point on, songs had to be in an official language of the participating country. The rule was abolished from 1973-1977, but re-implemented from 1978. As the breadth of countries increased, the EBU saw a need to allow more freedom for participants. Starting in 1999, countries have since been able to compete in any language they wish. Almost immediately, English became the predominant language of the Contest, with a few holdouts (namely France and Portugal) generally sending entries in their own languages. Many choose to sing in English to broaden the appeal of their song; additionally, many argue that the language rule favors countries with English as an official language (the UK, Ireland, and Malta) and cite the unprecedented success of both Ireland and the UK in the 90s as examples. Interestingly enough, the only year that televoting and the language rule overlap, 1998, a non-English song (Diva, which was in Hebrew) won; however, all three English entries finished in the Top Ten.
Whether you long for the days of national languages appearing in full force or you just enjoy the breadth of diversity of the Contest, this week’s playlist is for you! It features 20 fan favorite (and personal favorite) entries of the Televoting-era (1998 onwards) that do not contain a single word in English. Enjoy!
Spain 2001 – Dile Que la Quiero performed by David Civera
One of Spain’s most popular and successful entries, this song decisively won Spain’s national selection and came in 6th place in Copenhagen. The song is a declaration of love and loyalty.
Slovenia 2002 – Samo Ljubezen performed by Sestre
As discussed in last week’s playlist, Dana International’s victory opened for more LGBTQ culture on the ESC stage. Sestre was a musical group comprised of three of Slovenia’s top drag queens. The title translates to “Only Love” and the song calls for everyone to love everyone else.
Belgium 2003 – Sanomi performed by Urban Trad
The infamous imaginary language entry, Sanomi came second to Turkey by two points in one of the closest Contests in history. There have been one and a half other entries in constructed languages. The Netherlands sent Amambanda in 2006, which was sung partially in Dutch and partially in a fictional language. Belgium again sent an imaginary language entry in 2008, O Julissi, but it failed to get out of its semi-final.
Russia 2003 – Ne Ver’, Ne Boisia performed by t.A.T.u.
The infamous t.A.T.u. took to the stage for Russia, one of the few artists to compete at the height of their popularity. Coming in third, a mere three points from first place Turkey, there’s a lot that can be said about this entry. Focusing on the language, it’s worth noting that was only in Russian due to an error made by the delegation. This song, like much of t.A.T.u’s work, talks about standing out and against a society trying to tear you down.
Serbia & Montenegro 2004 – Lane Moje performed by Željko Joksimović
Winning the semi-final, but ultimately coming second in 2004, Lane Moje was the song that introduced the Contest (and the continent) to one of its most popular and successful stars: Željko Joksimović. He went on to compose three other Top Ten entries (BiH2006, SER2008, SER2012), Montenegro’s second qualifying and best placing entry (2015), and co-hosted the Contest in 2008, the first year with two semi-finals. Like every song composed by Jooksimović for the Contest, Lane Moje is about heartbreak and longing for a lost love.
Andorra 2006 – Sense Tu performed by Jennifer
My favorite Andorran entry, this song is sultry, its performance was sexy, and its lyrics tell a good story. Unfortunately, it finished last in the semi-final. This entry is a song of empowerment, as Jennifer sings about moving on from a bad relationship.
Cyprus 2007 – Comme Çi, Comme Ça performed by Evridiki
Rarely does a country submit a song in a language that is neither its own nor English. 2007 saw three such entries – Romania (which contained six languages), Latvia (sung in Italian), and Cyprus’ French language rock song. Despite not qualifying for the Final, this entry is one of the most popular from the 2007 ESC and from Cyprus, winning several fan awards after the Contest. The song describes a so-so (bland) relationship that has grown stale and Evridiki’s intentions of leaving because of it.
Bulgaria 2007 – Voda performed by Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov
The one and only entry from Bulgaria to qualify for the Grand Final, Voda features two of the most prominent percussionist in the country. The song stands out for its trance composition and the traditional folk style of the singing. It finished fourth in Helsinki. The song, written in a folk tradition, is about s search for life’s meaning using thirsting after water as a metaphor.
Portugal 2008 – Senhora do Mar (Negras Águas) performed by Vânia Fernandes
The first time that Portugal ever qualified from a semi-final, this haunting song sparked a three year run of qualifications for the much maligned country. The song captures the painful sorrow of a woman waiting for her husband to return from going out to sea – much appropriate for Fernandes, who is from an island off the coast of Portugal.
Spain 2008 – Baila Chiki Chiki performed by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
One of the most pronounced gimmick entries to take the ESC stage, Baila Chiki Chiki is fun song crafted by its comedian artist. It teaches a four part dance to the audience.
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2009 – Bistra Voda performed by Regina
The second Bosnian song to the Macel Bezençon Composer Award, this rock entry is perhaps the biggest fan favorite from the country. Despite lyrics that may or may not harken back to the days of Communism, the song remains a Contest classic.
France 2009 – S’Il Fallait le Faire performed by Patricia Kaas
One of the most popular and well-known singers from France, Patricia Kaas performed the song that most recently landed France in the Top Ten. The tale of all-consuming love was a major favorite among the juries.
Greece 2010 – Opa! performed by Giorgos Alkaios & Friends
The first Greek entry in Greek since the language rule was lifted, maintained the nation’s streak of Top Ten placings. Interestingly enough, Giorgos Alkaios, who is much better known for his ballads, wrote this song of overcoming the past with the hopes of finding a new young artist to sing it. Not finding a suitable performer, he took the song to Oslo, himself.
Finland 2010 – Tyolla Elää performed by Kuunkuiskaajat
A fun song, this is the most recent entry to take the stage in Finnish. Despite having a large fan following, the song failed to make the Grand Final.
Albania 2012 – Suus performed by Rona Nishliu
The only song with a title in Latin in ESC history, this song shattered perceptions about what “a ESC song” should sound like. Nishliu’s unique voice conveys heartache like few others.
Macedonia 2012 – Crno i Belo performed by Kaliopi
One of the few qualifications for Macedonia, Crno i Belo marks the return of Kaliopi who was the singer of the Macedonian song in the 1996 preselection, Samo Ti. This song was written by her ex-husband and is, understandably, about a fracturing relationship.
Italy 2013 – L’Essenziale performed by Marco Mengoni
A epic song of love, this entry was third consecutive Top Ten finish for Italy. Mengoni insisted that the song remain wholly in Italian, making it the first to do so since Italy’s return in 2011.
Hungary 2013 – Kedvedsem (Zoohacker Remix) performed by Bye.Alex
Only Hungary’s third Top Ten song, Kedvedsem was wildly popular for its catchy melody and easy to sing-along to lyrics. The title translates to “Sweetheart” and is a love song to the unique girl that captured Bye.Alex’s heart.
Montenegro 2014 – Moj Svijet performed by Sergej Ćetković
The first-ever Montenegrin to qualify for the Grand Final. This gentle song talks of a world of peace, understanding, and love. The performance also features a dancer on rollerblades made to look like an ice skater.
France 2014 – Moustache performed by TWIN TWIN
The first time ever that France finished in last place, this rap song tells the story of man who has everything but the one thing he wants: a mustache.
Honorable Mention: Italy 2015, Portugal 2014, France 2013, Finland 2012, Estonia 2012, Austria 2012, Estonia 2009, Russia 2009, Albania 2008, Latvia 2007, Slovenia 2007
The United Kingdom, despite having a vast array of languages represented within its population has never submitted a song that was not in English.
Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan are the only countries to never submit a song that was not at least partially in a national language.
Ireland and Malta have only strayed from English once.
Sweden and Denmark have clauses where winning songs must be translated into English regardless of the original language of the entry.
Finland’s most recent non-English song was När Jag Blundar, which was sung in Swedish!
What are your favorite non-English language songs?