Editorials & Opinion

Are Non-English Language Songs Making a Powerful Comeback in Eurovision?

This year, Portugal’s non-English language song, ‘Amar Pelos Dois’, won the Eurovision Song Contest, and as we previously reported, was an even more popular winner than Alexander Rybak. Last year, Ukraine’s song featuring Crimean Tatar also won the contest. This is after many years of only English language songs winning. Are non-English language songs making a powerful comeback to the contest, and are they more likely to do well than only English language songs? We took a look at the statistics to find out!

How often do non-English language songs qualify?

The chart below shows the percentage of songs featuring a language other than English that qualified each year for the last 10 years (the solid red line), and a trend line to show how this percentage has increased over time (the dotted red line).

We can see that before 2014, the percentage of qualifying non-English songs was usually well below 50% (the actual average percentage for 2008-2013 is 43%). However, in the last four years, the percentage of qualifying non-English songs has consistently been at least 50%, the average is 65%! This is an increase of 22%, suggesting that non-English language songs have developed a clear advantage over English language songs.

Why has that happened?

It isn’t 100% clear, but we noticed that for 2008-2013, there were a LOT more songs in the semi-finals featuring a language other than English than there were for 2014-2017. From 2008-2013, the average number of non-English language songs was 15, whereas from 2014-2017, the number is only 5.
Perhaps during the semi-finals, if there are many non-English language songs, they put themselves at a disadvantage. But, if there are only a few non-English language songs, these songs are able to stand out and have an increased chance to qualify.
Our advice to countries in the semi-finals: if there are lots of English language songs, send one in a different language. If there are lots of non-English language songs, send one in English!

How do non-English language songs do in the final?

The chart below shows the average final ranking for all songs featuring a non-English language over the last 10 years (solid yellow line), and the trend line for those numbers (dotted yellow line), and then the same for songs featuring no English at all (solid/dotted blue line).

This chart shows that songs featuring no English whatsoever tend to do no better or worse than songs that do feature some English, and vice versa. You can see from the trend lines that there is a tiny difference, but this isn’t likely to be significant.
The trend lines show that the average final ranking for non-English language songs hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years. The rankings tend to average at around 12th or 13th, the middle of the leaderboard, apart from in 2014 when non-English language songs underperformed.
I know what you’re wondering now: “Well, perhaps 2014 is just a weird anomaly? What if we remove 2014?” The chart below shows how that looks!

There isn’t really too much of a difference from the original chart. It looks like non-English language songs could be getting a little more popular, and that is only if 2014 was a strange year. So, it’s probably not a good idea to accept this conclusion!

So, what can we conclude?

To put everything simply: non-English language songs are not at a distinct advantage in the final over English language songs.
Fully non-English language songs don’t do any better in the final than songs that are only partially sung in a language other than English, or vice versa.
The above 2 conclusions haven’t changed in the last 10 years; non-English language songs are doing as well as they always have in the final.
In the semi-finals, non-English language songs are becoming more popular with the voters.
This has happened because the number of songs featuring a non-English language has decreased, so those songs are now able to stand out more.
Therefore, it is better for the non-English language songs if there are fewer of them in the semi-finals. So, if broadcasters see that non-English language songs are now doing better than ever in the semi-finals, and begin sending many non-English language songs, they will mostly do badly.
But, of course, the key to doing well in the contest is sending an excellent performer with an excellent song!
Do you want to see more non-English language songs in Eurovision? What’s your favourite non-English language song ever to participate? Get involved in the comments below!

Luke Malam

I've watched Eurovision for as long as I can remember, but my interest really built in 2008, after I decided to watch the semifinals online, out of boredom, before the final...I was blown away by the quality of the show and have been hooked ever since! I'm a competitive trampolinist and I love baking. I've also just completed a master's degree in Research Methods in Psychology at University College London.

Comments on Are Non-English Language Songs Making a Powerful Comeback in Eurovision?

  • http://escsongreviews.com The Anders

    I really like it when the singers perform in their own language. It often adds something extra to the song, perhaps making it sound a bit more honest. But of course there have been some really great songs in English too. This year f.e. from Belgium 🙂

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