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  • Writer's pictureSteven Garner

French at Eurovision: 1999 to 2021 ... and its absence from Turin

Following Aussievision's review of French-language entries over the Contest's first forty years, and looking forward to Turin, this article considers more recent Contests (since the last language rule change) and how unusual it is that no French will be sung at the 66th edition of Eurovision this week.

Au revoir to the "national language" rule

Over a 22-year period from the 22nd edition of the Contest (London 1977) to the 43rd (Birmingham 1998), the resurrected "national language" rule meant that participating countries were required to sing in one of their officially recognised languages.

However, for the 1999 Contest in Jerusalem, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) again dropped that requirement giving countries, including the current and future competing Francophone countries of Belgium, Switzerland, Monaco and - bien sûr - France, free choice as to the language(s) in which their entries would be performed.

Inevitably this led to an upsurge in English lyrics, but how did French fare?

The first five years: 1999 to 2003

Four of France's five entries in this period were entirely in French, including Sandrine François' 5th-placing song 'Il faut du temps' from 2002.

The country's best result in the 21st century prior to the 2021 Contest came 20 years earlier courtesy of Natasha St-Pier's 4th place with 'Je n'ai que mon âme', a power ballad sung mostly in French before segueing into English.

However, over those same five years, only one Belgian song (Nathalie Sorce's last-placed 'Envie de vivre' in 2000) and one Swiss song (Francine Jordi's 'Dans le jardin de mon âme', which came 22nd out of 24 Grand Final entries in 2002) were in French.

The language's only other appearance was Bosnia and Herzegovina's 1999 Bosnian-French entry 'Putnici' by Dino and Béatrice, with the duetting artists each singing in their mother tongue.

"Welcome back, Monaco" and French from elsewhere: 2004 to 2008

For the three years from 2004 to 2006, Monaco joined France in ensuring that at least two entries at each Contest would include French. However, none of the Monagesque songs progressed beyond the semi-final stage, meaning that France was the language's sole representative on the Saturday night.

The following two years marked the high and low for French, with four nations incorporating the language into their entry in 2007, whereas even France barely included its mother tongue in 2008.

Somewhat unusually, 2007 Eurovision alumni Evridiki for Cyprus ('Comme ci, comme ça') and Teapacks for Israel ('Push The Button') opted, respectively, to sing entirely or partly, in French; however, both would fall at the semi-final hurdle.

'Liubi, Liubi, I Love You' by Romanian group Todomondo and 'L'amour à la française' by French rockers Les Fatals Picards did, however, ensure that the language would appear in the Grand Final.

By contrast, the only French included the following year - a mere two sentences - was sung by golf cart-driving, globe-carrying Sébastien Tellier in his "unique" song 'Divine' (see above). Mon Dieu!

French "popera" and a Corsican dream: 2009 to 2013

Over the following five years, France again favoured French-language songs, opting for four entries including Patricia Kaas' emotional 'Et s'il fallait le faire' in 2009 and Jessy Matador's bop - and French soccer World Cup song - 'Allez Ola Olé' the following year.

Sweden also joined the French party in 2009 when opera singer (and mother to Greta Thunberg) Malena Ernman combined English-language pop with French operatic stylings for 'La Voix'.

In 2011, France opted to send Amaury Vassili to Düsseldorf with his song 'Sognu', which was sung entirely in Corsican, and the only other two French-speaking nations competing, Belgium and Switzerland, selected entries in English. So was any French sung at the Esprit Arena?

Well, yes, somewhat contrary to popular belief, there was. French-titled 'C'est ma vie' by Lithuania's Evelina Sašenko contained two full phrases in the language (as many as Monsieur Tellier three years before!).

2014 to 2021: something of a renaissance?

The past eight years have seen something of a revival of the French language. Every entry from France has been exclusively or mostly in French; in 2016, Zoë's 'Loin d'ici' for Austria was sung entirely in French; and even Denmark featured some French lyrics in its schmaltzy 2019 entry 'Love is Forever' by Leonora.

Even more significantly, Switzerland selected two entirely French entries in two consecutive years: 'Répondez-moi' for the sadly cancelled 2020 Contest and 'Tout l'univers' for the rescheduled Rotterdam edition the following year, both performed by Eurovision 2021's "bronze medallist" Gjon's Tears.

And, of course, a certain Ms Barbara Pravi, who'd only recently composed the winning 2020 Junior Eurovision song 'J'imagine', brought back the French chanson with a bang in 2021. Her self-written 'Voilà' scooped two Marcel Bezençon awards and came second, which was France's equal best result for 20 years.

And in Turin ...?

As France decided that Alvan and Ahez would represent it this year with their Breton banger 'Fulenn', Belgium and Switzerland have opted for English (with 'Miss You' and 'Boys Do Cry' respectively) and - despite the increased language diversity - no other competing entry features any French, then it is true to say that the 66th edition of Eurovision is quite unique.

Although no French will be sung (unless something unexpected happens!), we do expect to hear the language spoken on the evening, by the hosts and the French-speaking spokespersons and artists.

Number of entries featuring (some) French by year

1999 - 2 (France and Bosnia & Herzegovina)

2000 - 2 (France and Belgium)

2001 - 1 (France)

2002 - 2 (France and Switzerland)

2003 - 1 (France)

2004 - 2 (France and Monaco)

2005 - 3 (France, Belgium and Monaco)

2006 - 2 (France and Monaco)

2007 - 4 (France, Cyprus, Romania and Israel)

2008 - 1 (France)

2009 - 2 (France and Sweden)

2010 - 2 (France and Switzerland)

2011 - 1 (Lithuania)

2012 - 1 (France)

2013 - 1 (France)

2014 - 1 (France)

2015 - 1 (France)

2016 - 2 (France and Austria)

2017 - 1 (France)

2018 - 1 (France)

2019 - 2 (France and Denmark)

2020 (cancelled) - 2 (France and Switzerland)

2021 - 3 (France, Switzerland and Malta)

2022 - 0


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