Editorials & Opinion

[Censored] this: Explicit language at Eurovision

Explicit language is infiltrating the Eurovision Song Contest. With songs having to change lyrics last year and two of this year’s fan favourites containing some heavy explicit language, we had a thought on the matter of explicit language at Eurovision. Is the EBU ruling on use of explicit language old-fashioned in this modern age of contemporary pop music?

Creative freedom or a family show?

For years, the creative freedom of songwriters and artists went hand in hand with the Eurovision identity of being a family show. However, lately we’ve seen a few examples where it didn’t quite work out.

Going back to last year. Robin Bengtsson entered the Melodifestivalen stage and claimed his girl was “f*cking beautiful”. For Eurovision, he had to tone it down a notch. In Kyiv, his girl was “freakin’ beautiful”. No questions were asked, the change seemed a natural one to most of us. Mainly because of the simple reason that it’s one word with a universal solution.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor gif robin bengtsson

When it gets tougher…

This year, we’re seeing that one potential entry will have a hard time if explicit language at Eurovision is still banned. Let us take a look at some of the lines Czech Republic hopeful Mikolas Josef sings in his song “Lie To Me”, the song he hopes to bring to Lisbon if he wins the Czech national final:

Quit sweet talking me now baby I don’t give a f*ck
You should have thought about me before you f*cked him at the club
I know you ‘bop-whop-a-lu bop’ on his wood bamboo
When you were still seeing me and well he didn’t even knew…
But God damn it, come and count to three now sit down GGY I’m on fire

If we’re talking explicit language, this is your prime example this year. For “Lie To Me”, we’re not limited to a few used of the word “f*ck”. Instead, the Czech favourite to win the national final tells us in great detail what he’d like his girl to be doing. On three different spots in the song, he uses the word, as well as the word “motherf*cker”. All three words would require a different approach. It’s not like Robin Bengtsson in 2017, who could use one solution for each time he used the word.

Loss of identity?

To rewrite this is a challenge. A lot of the song’s identity revolves around the explicit language used to express the actions going on at various times during the song. Rewriting this would mean changing the identity of what this song is. You won’t eliminate the explicit character by forbidding the word ”f*ck”.

Source: Nina Hansen (Dagbladet)

And that pretty much brings us to the question we asked ourselves. Is this not a case of limiting artistic freedom to prevent offensive and/or explicit language at the Eurovision Song Contest?

In similar fashion, Ida Maria is fighting for the Norwegian ticket to Lisbon. Not quite as explicit as Mikolas Josef, but she still is rather clear in how she wants her Scandi lovers to be, suggesting all sorts of late night entertainment. Including the now famous line…

It’s f*cking freezing
Cause you’re in Scandinavia, biatch, yeah

A similar case to Mikolas Josef can be argued here. Perhaps it’s even stronger with Ida Maria. Ida Maria’s song is a manifest of Scandi attitude and a parody of many elements of its culture. Forcing Ida to remove her “biatch” scream from the song would make it lack a punch. Just imagine… “It’s freaking freezing, cause you’re in Scandinavia, girl!” It just does not have the same effect.

A common standard for explicit language at Eurovision

The EBU have always argued that the Eurovision Song Contest is a family show, which does not or cannot tolerate such explicit language at Eurovision. The rules state the following:

The lyrics and/or performance of the songs shall not bring the Shows, the ESC as such or the EBU into disrepute. No swearing or other unacceptable language shall be allowed in the lyrics or in the performances of the songs.

The rule has two elements I’d like to explore here, namely the ‘unacceptable language’, as well as the fact that lyrics cannot bring the EBU into ‘disrepute’. Both terms leave plenty of room for interpretation.

Over the past few years, the use of language throughout Europe has changed. With that also comes a shift in what one should consider ‘unacceptable’. With chart performers such as P!nk releasing songs like “F*ckin’ Perfect” and many European countries playing the uncensored version on radio, one could claim that the use of explicit language has slowly been accepted.

Cultural differences

At least, in parts of Europe. Indeed, it is true that Dutch radio stations played P!nk’s song from morning to night without ever muting it. On television, the same rule goes: Swearing is not a big deal. On the other hand, the United Kingdom are much stricter. The BBC does not allow any swearing on television before 21:00 GMT. That would mean songs would need to get muted or censored when artists use such a word, which could then affect the results.

The Eurovision Song Contest is going to need a common standard to judge language on. The current standard does not suit the current creative trend some artists are having. And in my eyes, that common standard should not be the standard of the most conservative opinion, but a comprising road down the middle for the use of explicit language at Eurovision.

It is worth arguing the case that the boundaries of what language is acceptable have changed over the past few years. With the language used across Europe sometimes, with the images children get to see and the language they sometimes even utter themselves, is it worth forbidding an artist to sing that Scandinavia is ”f*cking freezing”?

What do you think about the use of explicit language at Eurovision? Should the EBU allow the creative freedom to use such language or not? Let us know!

Nick van Lith

I'm one of the founding members of ESCXTRA.com. Eleven years after the start, I'm proud to say that I am now the Editor-in-Chief of this wonderful website. When I'm not doing Eurovision stuff, you should be able to find me teaching German to kids... And cheering on everything and everyone Greek, pretty much. Pame Ellada!

Comments on [Censored] this: Explicit language at Eurovision

  • Kenan

    Are you allowed to swear if the song is in another language?

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