A Multilingual Eurovision Roundup

It’s finally May and you know what that means… The Eurovision Song Contest is here!

The most eccentric singing competition returns to our screens and the Coffee Break Languages team could not be more excited. If you’re subscribed to our YouTube channel, you’ll know that music and languages are our greatest passions and Eurovision combines both in a spectacular three-night show. 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?, you might ask. It’s a celebration of music, language and culture throughout Europe. It was established in 1956 with “a desire to unite European countries through cross-border television broadcasts following World War 2”. Nowadays, many countries further afield participate in the show (we’re looking at you, Australia), making it a worldwide sensation. The show attracts around 180 million viewers from all over the world and many enjoy taking on the colours of a nation they have selected in their family sweepstake or even wearing costumes reminiscent of previous entrants. The more interaction with the TV event, the more fun you’ll have! Every year, spectators discover new foreign artists and get to understand how people make music in different parts of the world. Whether you’re a fan of pop music, rock and roll, techno or even metal, Eurovision will not disappoint you.

Although most of the entries are in English these days, the Eurovision Song Contest has a long history of promoting national languages and music genres. In my normal role here at Coffee Break, I work with the Italian team producing content and recording audio, but for one week only I’ve been designated the Coffee Break Eurovision coordinator! One of my tasks has been to compile a list of the best songs in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish and – boy, oh boy! – that was a challenge.

I’ve counted the points and double-checked the scores so put your headphones on, get the wind machine going and wear your sparkliest outfit because we’re embarking on a Eurovision journey!

“Poupée de cire, poupée de son” – France Gall (Luxembourg) 

“Poupée de cire, poupée de son” by France Gall is the Luxembourgish winning entry of 1965. With its swinging and catchy rhythm, the song is an example of the Yé-yé genre, a countercultural type of pop music that drew inspiration from British and American rock and roll as well as from la chanson française.

If at first glance the song may seem simple, a careful analysis of the lyrics reveals a much deeper meaning. In the first line of the song, the singer describes herself as a wax doll (poupée de cire) or a rag doll (poupée de son) who wears her heart on her sleeve through her music. The song tells the story of a teenage girl who wants to fall in love yet feels unprepared to experience love. She channels her emotions through her songs hoping that one day she’ll be able to live love in real life. 

Seule, parfois je soupire
Je me dis “à quoi bon ?”
Chanter ainsi l’amour sans raison
Sans rien connaître des garçons
Je ne suis qu’une poupée de cire
Qu’une poupée de son
Sous le soleil de mes cheveux blonds
Poupée de cire, poupée de son

No wonder this song managed to win the contest! The music makes you want to dance and the lyrics provide us with some introspective teenage dilemma. Qu’en pensez-vous ?

“Swiss Lady” – Pepe Lienhard Band (Switzerland)

This is a weird one, in such a perfect Eurovision way. If you think this song is about a beautiful woman from the Swiss Alps, you’d be wrong. It’s actually about ein Alphorn, nicknamed “Swiss Lady”.

Er spielte Rock’n Roll, er spielte Dixieland
Und war bekannt als die “One-Man-Mountain Band”
Er sagte: “Durch sie allein ist die Welt voll Musik”
Sie gibt mir alles und vergisst mich nie
Sie ist meine Swiss Lady
Und ich ein Mann aus den Bergen
Und wer sie einmal gehört hat
Der kann mich sicher versteh’n

For those of us who don’t know what an alphorn is, it’s a wind instrument consisting of a wooden horn used by mountaineers in Switzerland and elsewhere in that region. It features in the song and it actually opens the performance. Other interesting musical elements include: die Piccoloflöte and, of course, Jodeln. What more could you want from a Swiss song? The staging and the red-and-white 70s outfits of the band make the song even more iconic. Nicht war?

Unfortunately, “Swiss Lady” only placed 6th in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1977 but it won the hearts of German-speaking and non-German-speaking people across Europe (the band in fact released an English version too). So much so that it remained the only Swiss entry to have reached number 1 in the Swiss charts until 2019. Trust me, it’s worth a listen!

“Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” – Domenico Modugno (Italy)

I’m sure many of you will have heard this song before. It’s arguably the most famous Italian song worldwide. It won the Sanremo Festival in 1958, but it came third at the Eurovision Song Contest of that same year. Da non credere! 

As the first lines of the song reveal, “Nel blu, dipinto di blu” talks about a dream in which the singer is enchanted by the colour of the sky, which reminds him of the eyes of his beloved woman, and in a leap of euphoria and bliss he flies away.

Volare oh, oh
Cantare oh, oh
Nel blu degli occhi tuoi blu
Felice di stare quaggiù
E continuo a volare felice più in alto del sole
Ed ancora più su
Mentre il mondo pian piano scompare negli occhi tuoi blu
La tua voce è una musica dolce che suona per me

Many have covered the song throughout the years (among which Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and Paul McCartney), but Domenico Modugno’s performance has never been topped. His facial expressions and the way he opens his arms reaching for the sky as he sings about flying … assolutamente inimitabile! 

When Modugno first performed the song at the Sanremo Festival, he felt so elated by the music that he dared to open his arms. Since most Italian singers stayed completely still for the entirety of their act back then, this was perceived as a revolutionary moment in musical performance. So much so that the statue dedicated to Modugno in his hometown depicts him in this pose. 

“Vivo cantando” – Salomé (Spain)

Four countries won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969: France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. However, the Spanish entry, “Vivo cantando” by Salomé, wins the crown in my opinion.

The song is a rhythmic anthem to happiness and carefreeness. It’s an up-tempo love song from the perspective of a woman, who sings about the positive changes her relationship with her lover had on her. Now she’s so happy that she lives her life singing.

Desde que llegaste ya no vivo llorando
Vivo cantando, vivo soñando
Sólo quiero que me diga qué está pasando
Que estoy temblando de estar junto a ti

Apart from the catchy rhythm and chorus, the performance of the song is made even more memorable thanks to Salomé’s costume: a baby blue jumpsuit with beaded fringes. ¡Impresionante!

The singer decided to dance on the spot for certain parts of her song and, although dancing was prohibited by the contest rules at the time, she wasn’t penalised since the performers from Ireland and the UK had done the same on stage. Could you imagine a Eurovision performance with no choreography nowadays? ¡No me atrevo ni a imaginarlo!

“Fångad av en stormvind” – Carola (Sweden) 

When it comes to Sweden in Eurovision, we think of winning songs such as “Waterloo” by ABBA, “Euphoria” by Loreen or “Heroes” by Måns Zelmerlöw. The Swedes really outdo themselves with every new winner. However, for this list I’ve turned to a song på svenska.

I’ve chosen “Fångad av en stormvind” by Carola, a 90s up-beat song about a love affair that overwhelms the singer like a storm at sea. It won the Eurovision Song Contest of 1991, held in Rome. Carola also recorded an English version of the song titled “Captured by a Lovestorm”.

The lyrics are brimming with poetic images in which passion is compared to gales as the singer is blown out of her safe harbour to join her lover on the high seas. Nothing can stop her on her journey into her lover’s arms. 

Utan saknad lämnar jag min trygga hamn
Fri men ändå bunden till en öppen famn
Jag är fångad av en stormvind
Fast för dig
Ingenting kan hindra mig
När det blåser i mitt hjärta
Fångad av en stormvind
Natt och dag
Här finns bara du och jag
Och det ljus som himlen lämnat kvar

“Fångad av en stormvind” makes me want to get up and dance! Carola’s performance is incredible: she doesn’t miss a note with her powerful vocals and, on top of that, she dances with energy and enthusiasm. She takes every opportunity to look at the camera and connect with the viewers with her ever so enchanting eyes. Håller du inte med?

What do you think of our list? Do I get douze points from you?

I know, I could have included “Ne partez pas sans moi” by Celine Dion, or maybe “Soldi” by Mahmood, the Herreys with “Diggiloo Diggiley” but decisions had to be made. 

If you have the opportunity, we hope you embrace the fun and joy that the Eurovision Song Contest embodies. When you hear the event’s theme tune (Charpentier’s Te Deum) strike up, sit back with your carefully prepared Eurovision treats, scorecard at the ready and let yourself be swept along. Watch the glamorous, multilingual hosts effortlessly cope with hours of live TV and the inevitable technical hitches of contacting 39 countries across the continent.

Which songs would you have picked for your own multilingual list? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading and enjoy this year’s Eurovision Song Contest!

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