Eurovision 2021 may be over but I’m not done talking about it!
Here in Britain, we rarely hear music that isn’t sung in English. Unless it’s “Despacito”, songs in other languages are seldom played on the radio. There’s a reason why, when Christine and the Queens re-released her debut album, many of the songs were reworked to have English lyrics. It’s a way to expand your audience, to break into the UK and US charts.
But then, each year Eurovision comes along – it is truly one of the only times music from abroad, sung in foreign languages, has a real chance of being heard in Britain. Which is why I was thrilled that, following Eurovision 2021, out of the eight competition songs that topped the UK charts, four were sung in Italian, Ukrainian and French (“Zitti E Buoni” by Måneskin at #17, “Shum” by Go_A at #56, “Voilà” by Barbara Pravi at #62 and “Tout l’univers” by Gjon’s Tears at #93) (source)!
In celebration, I have trawled through all my past Eurovision faves sung in other languages and come up with a top 10 list!
Note: Some of the songs listed do contain English. It’s not uncommon for Eurovision songs to include a first verse in English, and/or maybe a chorus in English, whilst the rest of the song is sung in their native language (number 4, I’m looking at you!). I have chosen songs that, if they are not completely sung in English, at least contain a significant amount of non-English.
Now… without further ado, let’s “take it away!”
10. Hurricane – Loco Loco (Serbia, 2021)
Kicking off the list with high energy and sparkly bodysuits is “Loco Loco” by Hurricane.
Hurricane are a pop trio that represent the best in modern Balkan pop. It’s fun, it’s catchy, it’s absolutely a dance anthem.
What’s more, their energy is infectious, not only in their singing, which is confident and makes you want to join in, but also in their stage presence. They have hair extensions for days and give hairography throughout the entire performance. They just never stop moving. They also reek of professionalism. You can just tell how much dedication has gone into this. It’s truly impressive that they manage to dance throughout the entire number whilst maintaining their vocals.
When I saw their semi-final performance, I messaged my friend and fellow Eurofan James (who runs a great music blog you can find here) and told him: “They seem like the kind of women I’d make friends with in a club bathroom. They’d give you a spare pad, pass you a wad of tissue paper to cry into, or compliment you on your outfit.” And I stand by those words.
9. Miki – La Venda (Spain, 2019)
Another high energy song, this time from Spain. So infectious, in fact, that when Miki performed at the final, a conga line formed in the green room (source). You can also hear how wild the crowd’s going in the final’s recording; singing, clapping and jumping along.
The lyrics call on people to leave prejudice behind and to embrace a life of love – “La venda ya cayó y solo quedó la alegría / The blindfold has fallen and only joy remains”.
This is a Latin pop song, fusing Spanish guitar and mainstream pop. I usually find the use of clapping sounds in the place of percussion frustrating and overdone, but “La Venda” is so fun, and with lyrics about embracing and celebrating people’s differences, the clapping sounds are actually really fitting. They seem to say, “come join us!” and add even more energy to the song.
The staging is super fun too. Taking place in a fake house, Miki goes room to room, recruiting the members of the house to join in with his dancing. There’s also a giant light-up mannequin that looks like it’s escaped from Burning Man. I’m not sure what he represents, if he represents anything, but… he’s pretty cool?
8. Jamala – 1944 (Ukraine, 2016)
This is the song on this list with the most amount of English – Jamala sings the verses in English and the choruses in Crimean Tatar. I have decided to include it however, not only because it is entirely different to anything else on this list (because Jamala really does just stand alone stylistically), but also because of its cultural significance.
The lyrics lament the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union, an act of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. Officially, this deportation was collective punishment for their alleged collaboration with Nazis. Whilst some Crimean Tatars hoped the Germans would free them from Stalinism, historians estimate that less than 5% fought for Germany (and many of these people are thought to have helped whilst at gunpoint, not voluntarily) whilst 80 thousand fought in the Soviet Army (source).
The deportation lasted 45 years, the exile only lifting in 1989. No reparations or compensation have ever been given.
Jamala, who won the contest with this song, was inspired by the story of her great-grandparents, who lived through the tragedy. Her great-grandmother was deported to Central Asia along with her five children. Meanwhile, her great-grandfather was fighting in the Red Army, for the very country that forced his wife and family to flee, unable to protect them. (source)
It comes as no surprise that Jamala’s singing is incredibly emotional. She is sharing something deeply personal, about generational trauma, and her vocals reflect this. The tree used in her performance is, according to Jamala, a symbol: “This tree explains where we came from, that we should know about our roots, that all people in the world are a part of something. We [are] all just roots in this planet, but we have to find our tree.” (source)
7. Mahmood – Soldi (Italy, 2019)
Another autobiographical song, this time about monetary and family struggles. In this song, whose title means “Money”, Mahmood reflects on his lack of father figure and how money can negatively affect relationships.
Mahmood has said that his childhood memories of his father are “not very clear” (source), his father having left the family when Mahmood was still young. In the song, his father is depicted as being motivated by money, focusing his attention on this instead of spending time with his family.
The song fuses hip hop, trap music and has some Arabic influences too, with one line sung in Arabic. This line, “Waladi waladi habibi ta’aleena” (meaning “My son, my son, darling, come over here”) is a memory of his father (who is Egyptian) speaking to him (source).
Although the song is dark and moody, it remains catchy and enjoyable. And, like Miki’s “La Venda”, has very well-placed claps that are about as hard to resist joining in with as the ones used in the Friends opening theme.
6. Barbara Pravi – Voilà (France, 2021)
I’ve seen many people describing this song as things like “The Frenchest song that ever did French” – and they’re not entirely wrong. It does have a distinctly French sound: the impactful, unashamedly emotional style of singing, and the jazz and cabaret influences are key characteristics. However, it’s not so simple: this truly is nouvelle chanson at its best. Modern, updated, but without missing references to predecessors.
I am perhaps biased, being a French-speaker myself, as I can understand the lyrics and so perhaps the song has more impact on me than others. However, you cannot deny the emotional energy Pravi injects into this. She remains rooted to the spot for the entirety of her performance, but she commands the stage with her presence, spreading her arms wide and gesturing in ways that emphasise the lyrics and the song’s crescendo, where the strings take on a mad circus effect. This is a performance.
It’s a song about chasing your dreams, presenting yourself as you, not changing yourself for the sake of fame or success. It’s about throwing yourself into high-pressure situations and believing in yourself. If you stuck your finger in your mouth and wretched at those last sentences, I do understand. It does all sound quite sickly. But Pravi is such an emotive performer, I think you’ll understand why I rave about this song so much when you hear it.
5. Tulia – Fire of Love (Pali się) (Poland, 2019)
I will forever be disappointed that this absolute gem of a song did not get to the finals. I do think it’s because the performance was somewhat lacklustre – the singers mostly stand on the spot and the graphics behind them are quite uninspiring. With better staging, I think this song would have done much better.
It’s a shame because their outfits are gorgeous. They wear traditional Opoczno region dresses (source) and sing in a folk vocal style known as biały głos (meaning “white voice”), characterised by its clarity, its intensity, and its open throat technique. The singing sometimes sounds close to “controlled screaming or simply calling” (source). It’s all very impressive. It’s no wonder they won a Fryderyk award (the Polish equivalent of the Grammys) for their debut album (source).
What’s more, the singers all sing together throughout the whole song – there are no solos. You get a real sense of unity, of togetherness, of shared struggles. This is reflected in the lyrics, detailing the act of putting together a fire, a continued image used throughout the song as a metaphor on how to build love. It takes time, it needs constant attention, and it can be fickle.
If you’re interested, they also have an absolutely fab cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” which you can find here.
4. Inga & Anush – Jan Jan (Armenia, 2009)
Inga & Anush are a sister duo from Armenia. The pair have music school backgrounds, both having attended the Yerevan State Conservatory for jazz vocal classes (source). “Jan Jan” (meaning “My dear”) is performed in a folk style, fused with and celebrating “Armenian ethnic elements” (source), in the instruments used, their dress and their dance.
The song’s message is, simply, to take time for oneself, to lose oneself in dance and, for a moment, forget one’s troubles and be at peace. The duo said that “Jan Jan” is a “symbol of happiness, energy and friendliness towards other people” (source). It’s an incredibly fun and pretty song and, perhaps thanks to their background, they have very impressive, clear voices. I love that when one sings harshly, the other will echo the other softly. They seem like two sides of the same coin.
This idea carries also into their performance. The sisters are dressed identically, in both dress and hairstyle, and their back-up dancers are also identical. The effect is, admittedly, slightly Shining-esque, but I actually really love it. It’s very harmonious. Also, I do appreciate that whenever they sing “jumping up” in each chorus, all the back-up dancers do actually jump up!
It really is a fantastic song. Their live vocals are so rich and they seem to be loving their time on stage. It’s no wonder that Inga went on to represent Armenia again in 2015, as part of the band Genealogy.
Another tidbit – when I was about to start my last period, I put on this song and found the bridge (starting at the 2:12 minute mark) so pretty that I cried. So take that as you will.
3. Joci Pápai – Origo (Hungary, 2017)
Here’s something special. This is an absolute beauty of a song. Pápai’s vocals are breath-taking; there’s so much emotion in them. His outfit is wonderful. The staging is so simple and yet so effective. It’s perfect.
His music style stands alone, blending Romani folk music, hip hop and modern pop all in one; creating something entirely unique and truly his own. It is fitting, then, that “Origo”‘s lyrics reflect a turbulent time in his own life. He says the rap part of the song is a prayer he hopes will be answered (source).
From the joyful violinist, to the back-up dancer who moves from aloof to pained as the song’s narrative unravels, and finally to Pápai’s impassioned singing, you can’t take your eyes off this performance. It tells a story of heartbreak and hope.
The narrative is this: the singer and the dancer are in love, but are not able to be together because only one of them in Romani. Romanis, as Pápai has pointed out himself in an interview, “don’t have a country [and] are a minority everywhere [they] go. [They] are kind of rootless” (source). Incredible then, that he was able to represent his people on stage, in front of all of Europe. He is, in fact the first Romani to represent Hungary in the competition. What’s even more incredible – he represented Hungary again in 2019!
2. Gjon’s Tears – Tout l’univers (Switzerland, 2021)
Gjon’s Tears garnered popularity when he entered The Voice : la plus belle voix (France’s version of The Voice), where he sang on Mika’s team and reached the semi-finals.
I absolutely love this performance. Gjon’s vocals start so delicate and soft yet they rise in power as the song unfurls. The staging is spectacular – Gjon stands and dances on a detachable and moving platform that looks like a giant puzzle piece. He is so wrapped up in this puzzle that he literally stands within it (source). The swirling black and white background reflects this sense of confusion.
His dancing is one of a kind too – it mimics the chaos in his life and the passion he feels. I adore performers who make the stage their own by moving to music in a style that is totally their own, not caring about looking cool and focusing instead on delivering the song’s message. Though the styles are totally different, his singular way of expressing himself is reminiscent of Loreen dancing in her winning song, “Euphoria”, back in 2012.
It all makes for a beautiful, unforgettable performance. Both me and my mum were actually moved to (Gjon’s) tears when we watched the final.
1. Måneskin – Zitti E Buoni (Italy, 2021)
Finally we arrive at number one! And it just so happens that my number one is the current reigning champion.
Måneskin are a four-piece rock band who came to fame by coming 2nd in Italy’s X Factor. Their song is so catchy. The second it starts, you can hear the audience clapping in anticipation. Lead singer Damiano is a brilliant vocalist, each note is so sharp and clear, cutting through the heavy guitars and drums.
Everything about this performance is pure art. From the 70s-era purple leather outfits to the camerawork. The act begins with the camera entering the stage via the back. It is like we have stepped into Måneskin’s world, and we are invited to be their guests here. You’re almost tricked into thinking this is the opening song at one of their concerts, taking you out of the competition entirely so you focus solely on them.
What is so special about this performance is how inclusive it is. Damiano takes time giving each member centre-stage, pushing the attention away from himself and sharing it with each member. In a year that’s been so difficult, this sense of friendship and camaraderie is wonderful to see. It’s something you don’t always see in rock. Oftentimes, the lead singer and lead guitarist get all the attention, and all the other band members are side-lined.
That’s not the case here, and their performance matches the lyrics beautifully. The song is about embracing differences, and cherishing what makes you and your friends unique. They tell us not to pay heed to those who would bring us down.
And, like Gjon’s Tears, this is an act that completely understands how they look on stage; how to move and emphasise the song’s meaning with their movements. When we follow Damiano sauntering centre-stage at the start, he is aloof and casual; he’s welcoming us in. When he’s presenting his bandmates, he is intense – showcasing how much he cares for them. The song ends with crashing drums and a death drop – he has set out what he came to do – his task is done!
Featured image credit: (source)