This editorial is written from the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of the other editors, the EBU or escYOUnited as a whole.
After reaching their best result since 2002 with Amir and “J’ai cherché” in Stockholm, France have certainly found an entry which looks likely to challenge for another top 10 placing in May with Alma and her song “Requiem”. Originally released just in French, it didn’t take long for rumours to start coming that she was considering including some English lyrics as well. This was confirmed to be the case earlier this week when Alma revealed that the song would feature half a dozen lines in English. Ever since the relaxation of the language rule forcing countries to only enter songs sung in their native language in 1999, it seems that more and more entries have either been wholly or partly in English. Indeed, we only need to look at the winners of the contest to see the influence of English since 1999, with only one winner, Serbia’s “Molitva” in 2007, not featuring any English. Indeed, Jamala’s winning “1944” entry is the only other song since 1999 to feature a significant section in a language other than English. So it seems that to win the contest in the 21st Century, you need to dip into the Anglo-Saxon tongue.
But there’s a difference between a song designed to work in English, or in English and another language, and a song which is originally written for one language then has bits translated into English. A sort of “occasional English” if you will. Look at “J’ai cherché” for a brilliant example of a bilingual song. The verses build wonderfully in French and then the chorus bursts on you in a flash of English. There is a clear divide between the two languages and they complement each other in the different sections of the song (with the now infamous “yooooooooooou” connecting the two sections!) The song was written in two languages and it shows in its slick and smooth transitions between the two. A slightly different approach was taken by Italy last year with “No Degree Of Separation”, where the shorter section in English was used more as a crescendo with it appearing only for one short section in the song. Here we have a song originally in Italian slightly rewritten for the Eurovision stage, and whilst it feels clunkier, the use of the language change helps the song flow; almost like a linguistic key change for the grand finale.
Of course, some countries go the whole way and get rid of their native language entirely once the song has been selected. Albania is particularly noteworthy for doing this, as the show they use for their selection, Festivali i Këngës, is entirely in Albanian but since 2014 they have translated the whole of the winning song into English. Sometimes this works (2015’s “I’m Alive” made the final in in a respectable 17th place), and sometimes it doesn’t (2016’s “Fairytale” failed to qualify and was generally regarded as having been ruined by the revamp and translation). But here, it’s not just the lyrics being changed; but also the song style and instrumentals at times as well. It allows the country more flexibility with the translation as well.
So back to “Requiem” and Alma’s “occasional English”. Alma announced via a live chat on Facebook what the lyrics were going to be and, well it was an interesting choice. For starters, only the six lines which form the second half of the chorus have been changed to English. It’s not a translation either, although this is generally the case due to the difficulties of getting the scansion to work well. It’s also an odd choice to go for a bilingual chorus. It is not clear yet whether this will apply to both instances of the chorus in the song, but the language change is not reflected in a change of mood or feel in the music of the song, unlike either France or Italy’s entries last year. Whilst it is somewhat difficult to judge given the lack of a full version with the English lyrics (at the time of writing!), the section just feels out of place. It almost seems that someone said “we need some English in here” and just found a section which they could change, as opposed to improving the song through the addition of a second language. Possibly they were taking their inspiration from the number of English winners of the contest, or maybe just trying to make the song more accessible across the continent given the prevalence of English as a second language, but it doesn’t feel as if it was done to make the song itself a better song. It feels forced upon it. Maybe with a full bilingual version it will fit in more seamlessly, but for now, it seems that it’s damaging the song itself in an attempt to make it easier to understand. For now though, it seems that the fans are divided with some happy that the majority of Europeans will understand at least part of the song, but with others feeling that the translation is unnecessary and spoils it.
Vive le français, or keep the English coming? What do #YOU think? Share your thoughts with us below or on our forum!
Featured image credit: Renaud Corlou