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  • Writer's pictureSteven Garner

'Parlez-vous "Eurovision"?': Language and Lyrics at Eurovision 2021

In addition to being a celebration of music from across Europe and beyond, the Eurovision Song Contest has always provided - at least from the perspective of this British-born fan and polyglot - a rare opportunity to hear foreign languages sung and spoken as part of a televised event that attracts an audience in the hundreds of millions.

Although just over half of the songs (21 out of 39) entered for the 2021 Contest in Rotterdam will be performed exclusively in English, and English is indeed the predominant language in a good many more, which other languages can we look forward to hearing on the Ahoy Arena stage? Well, it's a combination of the new, the returning and the "usual suspects". Let's take a closer look!

What's new?

First and foremost, the lyrics of Måns and Petra's 'That's Eurovision', the second semi-final opening act in Stockholm in 2016, will have to be updated as a new language will debut at this year's Contest: Sranan Tongo, a member of the English Creole language family spoken by around 50% of the population of Suriname.

In interviews the Netherlands' returning artist Jeangu Macrooy, who hails from the South American country's capital (Paramaribo), has explained that the repeated lyric 'Yu no man broko mi' (You can't break me) is a source of empowerment for him in his 2021 entry 'Birth of a New Age'. The metaphor of being a half-cent ('Mi na afu sensi'), the lowest denomination of the Surinamese dollar, is similarly powerful: neither he nor the coin can be divided.

[Top to bottom: Jeangu Macrooy (Netherlands), The Black Mamba (Portugal)]

The other big novelty of the Contest's 65th edition comes courtesy of the Portuguese entry 'Love Is On My Side' by the band The Black Mamba. For the first time in Portugal's Eurovision history, the country's entry, as determined by a combined Festival da Canção jury/public vote, will not feature a word of its native tongue. For many, an all-English debut from the Iberian nation was quite the surpresa!

What's back after a break?

The most talked about returning language set to be heard in May is unquestionably Danish, following Fyr & Flamme's victory at the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix (DMGP) national final earlier this month with their 1980s homage 'Øve os på hinanden'. Not since Kølig Kaj took to the Eurovision stage in Dublin in 1997 with 'Stemmen i mit liv' has a Danish act performed entirely in the country's mother tongue, at which time the Contest's "performance in an official language" requirement was still in force. After a more than twenty-year absence - broken only by a few lines sung by Leonora in her twee 2019 entry 'Love Is Forever' - the Scandinavian language is back!

Three Slavic languages will also make their Eurovision return this year, although only the Ukrainian entry from Go_A ('Shum'), the band's follow-up to its song for the cancelled 2020 Contest ('Solovey'), will be monolingual. The Ukrainian language's last appearance came as part of Verka Serduchka's iconic 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai', the runner-up in Helsinki in 2007.

[Clockwise from top left: Fyr & Flamme (Denmark), Go_A (Ukraine), Albina (Croatia), Manizha (Russia)]

Russia's artist for Rotterdam, Manizha, will perform 'Russian Woman', which features some English although the song is predominantly in Russian. This is a complete reversal of the previous occasion on which Russian was heard at the Contest: ten years ago, Alexey Vorobyov began his performance of 'Get You' in Russian before singing the remainder in English.

'Tick-Tock' by Croatia's artist Albina is, unsurprisingly, the entry that includes the third returning Eastern European language: Croatian. A verse towards the end of the song is belted out by the 22-year-old performer in the language, ending its absence from the Contest since Klapa s Mora's 2013 non-qualifier, the traditional Dalmatian ballad 'Mižerja'.

Finally, and although spoken rather than sung, two sentences of German will be heard in Jendrik's performance of 'I Don't Feel Hate' for Germany. Other than a sentence in 'Love Is Forever' in Tel Aviv two years ago, Jendrik's well wishes to viewers will be Germany's first entry to feature the German language since the late Roger Cicero's 'Frauen regier'n die Welt' back in 2007. Austria did, however, debut Mühlviertlerisch, a Germanic dialect, in Baku in 2012 with the "ass wiggling" 'Woki mit deim Popo' performed by Trackshittaz.

What's back again?

Two Balkan States, Albania and Serbia, will be back in 2021 with entries in their native languages, 'Karma' by Anxhela Peristeri and 'Loco Loco' by the girl group Hurricane respectively. Although last year's chosen artist Arilena Ara was to sing 'Fall from the Sky' in English, Anxhela will follow in the footsteps of Jonida Maliqi ('Ktheju tokës', 2019) and Eugent Bushpepa ('Mall', 2018) by performing in Albanian. And despite the Spanish titles of their two Contest entries - they were due to light up the Ahoy Arena with 'Hasta la vista' in May 2020 -, Hurricane have again opted for Serbian, like Nevena Božović ('Kruna', 2019) and Sanja Ilić & Balkanika ('Nova deca', 2018) before them.

[Clockwise from top left: Anxhela Peristeri (Albania), Hurricane (Serbia), Blas Cantó (Spain), Måneskin (Italy)]

Both Spain and Italy, two of the Big Five countries, will once again seek to win votes in their respective mother tongues: Blas Cantó's ballad 'Voy a quedarme' will be solely in Spanish, whilst Måneskin will no doubt get Eurovision viewers rocking to their Italian banger 'Zitti e buoni'.

The 'French Connection'

As a self-confessed Francophile, it gives me no end of joy that - as things currently stand - three of the favourites to lift the glass trophy as winner of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest have a French connection. Barbara Pravi will channel chanteurs Piaf and Brel with the exquisite 'Voilà' for France and Gjon's Tears' impressive vocal range will carry Swiss hopes in 'Tout l'univers'. The divine Ms Destiny and her English-sung but French-titled 'Je Me Casse' for Malta completes the Francophone trio. C'est super!

[Left to right: Barbara Pravi (France), Gjon's Tears (Switzerland), Destiny (Malta)]

And finally ...

But that's not all!

A smattering of other languages will also appear in other 2021 songs, namely a chant in Azerbaijani in Efendi's 'Mata Hari', a number of Hebrew phrases in Eden Alene's 'Set Me Free' and a sentence in Czech in Benny Cristo's 'Omaga'.

In short, although it won't reach the linguistic diversity heights of the 58th edition of the Contest (Malmö, 2013), this year's contest in Rotterdam will by no means be a monolingual affair.


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