top of page
  • Writer's pictureSteven Garner

French at Eurovision: The Last 25 Years

Having considered the fate and fortunes of the French language over the course of the first 40 years of the Eurovision Song Contest, it's now time to turn to the last 25 years (from 1996 to this year's cancelled 2020 edition). Do they mark a renaissance for the language? Or is there a further retreat from its use? Well, simply put, the picture is rather mixed.

Made in France

From the late 1990s to the mid-2010s, France largely remained the sole bastion of its mother tongue... with fairly limited scoreboard success.

Although the country did achieve three Top 10 placings with entries sung exclusively in French - Fanny's 'Sentiments songes' (7th in 1997), Sandrine François' 'Il faut du temps' (5th in 2002) and Patricia Kaas' 'Et s'il fallait le faire' (8th in 2009) -, France's must successful song of the period, and its most recent highest-placed entry (4th), the beautiful ballad 'Je n'ai que mon âme' by Natasha St-Pier, features a significant amount of English. In fact, the song's opening verses were the only French sung on the Copenhagen stage at all in 2001.

In addition, on two occasions, the French national broadcaster opted for the internal selection of a "French-free" entry. Perhaps motivated for the love of all things Irish in the mid-1990s, 1996 saw folk-guitarist Dan Ar Braz and LHéritage des Celtes perform 'Diwanit Bugale' in Breton, a Celtic language spoken in Brittany. Fifteen years later, Amaury Vassili carried French Eurovision hopes with 'Sognu' sung wholly in Corsican, a fitting choice given its close proximity to the language of opera: Italian.

Having languished towards the bottom of Grand Final points table between 2012 and 2015 (with Twin Twin's 'Moustache' placing last in 2014), 2016 onwards has marked a change in direction, linguistically speaking. With the exception of Madame Monsieur's lyrically-moving 'Mercy' in 2018, France's other three most recent entries and its choice for 2020 (Tom Leeb's 'Mon allié (The Best in Me)') have featured both French and English.

[Left to right, top to bottom: Amir, Alma, Bilal Hassani, Tom Leeb]

The incorporation of English, thus allowing a wider audience to understand the songs' lyrics, may well have played a part in the - at least relative - success of 'J'ai cherché' (Amir, 2016), 'Requiem' (Alma, 2017) and 'Roi' (Bilal Hassani, 2019), who ended the night in 6th, 12th and 16th place respectively. Will this trend continue in 2021?

Belgium, Switzerland... and the brief Monegasque return

The move away from the French language entries is also noticeable in Belgium and Switzerland, the other two regularly-competing French-speaking nations.

Since placing last with 'Envie de vivre' (Nathalie Sorce, 2000) and failing to qualify with 'Le grand soir' (Nuno Resende, 2005), Belgian broadcasters have mostly opted for performances in either English or an entirely made-up tongue. Whilst not a consistent guarantee of success, that decision has seen the nation achieve two fourth placings (with 'Rhythm Inside' by Loïc Nottet in 2015 and 'City Lights' by Blanche two years later) and miss out on lifting the coveted crystal trophy by just two points (thanks to 'Sanomi' performed in an imaginary language by Urban Trad in 2003).

The story is similar in Switzerland. Its last French language entry to appear on the Eurovision stage in 2010 ('Il pleut de l'or' by Michael von der Heide) failed to qualify for the Grand Final, and all the country's performances since then have been in English. Significantly however, Gjon Muharremaj, known professionally as Gjon's Tears, and his self-penned song 'Répondez-moi' were to fly the Swiss flag in 2020. Will this mean more French from Switzerland in 2021?

[Left to right, top to bottom: Maryon, Lise Darly and Séverine Ferrier]

After a 25-year absence, Monaco returned to the Contest for a brief spell in the mid-2000s. On each occasion, it ensured that French was sung on the Eurovision stage... albeit only in a semi-final as all three entries missed out on a spot in the Grand Final. Whilst Maryon ('Notre plantète', 2004) and Lise Darly ('Tout de moi', 2005) performed in French alone, 'La Coco-Dance' by Séverine Ferrier notably featured lyrics in Tahitian, the language's sole appearance at the Contest to date.

We don't speak French,... but we'll sing it

Perhaps the most interesting choice of all made over the past 25 years has been the decision to perform partly or wholly in French by countries in which French is not an official language.

[Left to right, top to bottom: Dino and Béatrice, Evridiki, Teapacks, Todomondo, Dustin the Turkey, Malena Ernman, Zoë, Leonara]

Dino and Béatrice representing Bosnia & Herzegovina were the first to do so in this period, opting for a mixture of Bosnian and French in their folk-rap (!) song 'Putnici' in 1999. It placed 7th, making it the most successful entry considered here.

In 2007, the French language featured in three entries from non-Francophone countries: whilst Teapacks' 'Push the Button' - the first Israel entry to feature French - and Evridiki's fully-French 'Comme ci, comme ça' for Cyprus fell at the semi-final hurdle, 'Liubi, Liubi, I Love You' by Todomondo secured a creditable 13th place in the Grand Final with its six-language offering.

Four other Eurovision stalwarts have said 'oui' to French in subsequent years.

Ireland's 2008 turkey 'Irelande Douze Points', appropriately performed by Dustin the Turkey, was a non-qualifier for the Grand Final in Belgrade, but the "poperatic" vocal acrobatics of Malena Ernman in Sweden's entry 'La Voix' (2009), the anthemic lyrics of Zoë's 'Loin d'ici' for Austria (2016) and the multi-lingual schmaltz-fest that was Leonara's entry 'Love Is Forever' for Denmark (2019) all made it to the Saturday night, coming in 21st, 13th and 12th respectively once the votes had been counted.

That wraps up our review of French and Eurovision. Which is your favourite Eurovision entry to feature French? And do you hope to hear more of the language in the future?


bottom of page