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One thing that strikes a lot of non-European viewers of the Eurovision Song Contest is that many of the songs are sung in English.

Outside of the ESC, are most modern songs produced in Europe typically produced in the native language of the singers, or in English? I assumed the former, but the mockumentary Get Ready to be Boyzvoiced was in Norwegian, except for the singing, which is in English. If it's common for modern songs to be in English, then maybe there's nothing aberrant about the ESC at all.

If the ESC has an unusually high proportion of English-language songs, is it because the lyrics are more likely to be understood by a large number of voters, or is English seen as a "cool" language, or is it something else?

I checked List of languages in the Eurovision Song Contest, but it only listed when people used English, not why.

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    It might be a good idea to study if songs in English are more likely to win than others. – Édouard Mar 10 '14 at 10:58
  • For the same reason why most contestants sung in Latin during Eurovisionum of 1580 – Mischa Arefiev Mar 10 '14 at 16:13
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    @MischaArefiev Man, Terry Wogan looked so young back then – Alexander Troup Mar 11 '14 at 13:44
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    I have another possible explanation: since computers are programmed in English (see any programming language, all keywords are English) and most of the music for Eurovision is composed on a computer, the lyrics are naturally also in English, because this way they are easier to program – Mischa Arefiev Mar 12 '14 at 8:05
  • @MischaArefiev youtube.com/watch?v=3FsVeMz1F5c – Alexander Troup Mar 12 '14 at 10:01
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Besides what is said above (English is understood by most people and thus sounds more familiar), there is also another aspect.

In Europe there are very many languages, each with their own characters and thus pronounciations. Some languages are considered less 'attractive' by hearing than others, although this differs between each two languages.

English is considered a neutral language by most other language (speakers), while others sound harsh or at least 'strange'.

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Having read earlier answers (all have a point!), I'm thinking .. surely pop history has a part to play here ?

American (sung in English) Rock 'n Roll burst onto the scene and made a global impact in the 50's - the massive influnce of those early rockers : the likes of the Bill Haley / Buddy Holly (bless his chops) and latterly The Beatles / Rolling Stones etc etc would have an influence that has affected pop ever since.

I was talking to a French girl in the mid 80's asking what French pop music was like. Answer : English ! Some was in French of course but at that time (at least) she said, "We have our own pop, of course, but for many Britain is the first country for music".

Being English and a musician, I was elated to hear this. It didn't help though - she had a boyfriend.

Anyways my point is I think there's a historical reason regarding how pop has emerged, as well as the others cited here.

  • I should point out I'm squirming when I wrote this post - although I think it's true, it does feel massively arrogant to say "because great music was invented in English". ugh. – user2808054 Mar 12 '14 at 18:09
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    Well, it ain't bragging if it's true. Of course there has been and there is important musical scenes in other countries, namely France (let's not forget Daft Punk or that My Way as actually written by the Claude François :-), Italy (remember Giorgio Moroder), Germany (the Kraut Rock scene) etc. But Anglo-Saxon culture dominates the international European pop scene, that's undeniable. Even Asian pop (Japan, Korea), despite local acculturation is musically highly influenced by Anglo-Saxon pop (Indian popular music not so much so, I think). – José David May 8 '16 at 0:32
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I believe the presentation of the songs in English has to do with the attempt at catching the opportunity to sell in an international market, as much as a strategy directly aimed at winning the contest.

If the song is catchy and is presented with a good marketing package (good looking artists, etc.), Eurovision provides a unique opportunity for international exposure and to reach otherwise inaccessible markets. If it wins the contest, it won't hurt of course (as Abba have shown many years ago).

But it's a fact that songs in English have won the contest approximately half the time, as much as all other languages combined. Official English countries UK and Ireland have won 5 and 7 times respectively. Ireland has the record for winning most times, followed by Sweden, 6 times, but 4 of them with songs in English.

France and Luxembourg have also won 5 times each, with songs in French.

So yes, statistically, language seems to be a major factor in winning probability, which of course adds to the marketing strategy motivation.

However, each individual yearly result of the Eurovision song context is the result of the social and political inter-relations between countries, at least as much, if not more, as of the intrinsic quality of the songs and artists. Countries use their voting power to support or penalize other countries, so just singing in English is by no means a guaranty of a good result.

Source for statistics: Eurovision Song Contest Statistics

  • To me, this is the best answer. A hypothesis with real support and evidence to boot. – user45266 Oct 7 at 17:29
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I doubt anyone can give a definitive answer to that question lest they do a impressive amount of study.

So here are my completely ungrounded two cents. I think this is due to a variety of factors. I doubt the fact that english lyrics are understood by more people is at stake here (because I doubt that the proportion of people whose English is good enough to understand a song lyrics on the fly is very high). However, I think most people are used to songs in English. Songs in Swedish? Out of Sweden and, perhaps, the rest of Scandinavia, they’re mostly unheard of. And I don’t know if I ever heard a single bit of Latvian. Songs in various European language would thus sound foreign to most European ears… and that’s bad if you’re trying to grab as many 12 points as you can.

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I'm pretty sure it's just because English is a common language that most European countries speak. It gives voters something to understand and judge.

It means you can relate to what the singers are on about, which compels you to vote for that country. If it were in 90% languages that other countries don't speak, then all you'd have to go on would be the musical content, then no-one would win :O

As far as why most European countries speak English, well it's probably because of the British Empire colonizing everywhere, but you might want to get a historian on that one.

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The reason must be the same as the experience I have made in my own career as singer and also as teacher hundreds of singing pupils:

Singing in English is cool! (and also speaking of course, s. all the anglicisms in German, French, Italian ... in all European languages) from a certain age cooler than the mother language. (Except Yodelling, traditionalists and patriots will prefer the mother language.

My psychological interpretation is: the expression of feelings in another language is less intimating than the mother language. e.g. a prayer in English is more transzendent and less ordinary as in Swiss German (I can see there parallels to the the sermon in Latin).

Another assumption of mine is: In another language people will less realize the simplicity and triviality of the lyrics.

Why English and not French:

The winner of the 2nd World War have been the USA and Rock'Roll maybe the winner of the 3rd war. I'm learning Chinese to win the next ESC.

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Because Occitan as the international language of troubadours has grown out of fashion? For better or worse, English is the international language of pop. That's what many national pop singers use for reaching the larger international market. It's not like people pay a lot of attention to lyrics, anyway. A few countries have their own traditional and untraditional styles, like Fado, Deutschrock, Chanson, various Latin styles and similar, but even singers like Shakira with a "native" market as large as the Spanish speaking one produce lots of English titles.

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