Data visualization exposes success by language at Eurovision

By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James

We know that the English language has permeated, if not now dominated, many aspects of modern pop culture. So is it a disadvantage to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest in a language other than English? Let’s use data visualization and Business Intelligence to unearth some insights.

Winning song by language at Eurovision (1956 – 2014)


Insights

  • Of the 62 Eurovision victors (1969 was a four-way tie), 45% (28) have performed their winning song in one language – English
  • ‘Foreign’ songs – those performed in a language other than English – have narrowly claimed the majority (55%) of Eurovision crowns, with 34 wins

Songs performed in English have dominated the Eurovision history books
Considering the number of different languages that have performed at Eurovision in its 59 years history (56), and that the 55% of Eurovision titles won by ‘foreign’ songs are split between 12 different languages, it’s clear that English is the dominantly successful language of choice at Eurovision.

So which other languages, other than English, have tasted Eurovision success?

Winning songs in a language other than English at Eurovision (1956 – 2014)


Insights

  • Songs performed in French have claimed 14 of the 62 Eurovision titles to date (22.5%), making it the second most prolific language behind English (45%)
  • Songs sung in Hebrew and Dutch tie for second place on the all-time Eurovision ‘foreign’ languages winners table, with three victories apiece
  • Songs sung in Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and Norwegian have all claimed two Eurovision crowns each

French gets its fair share of Eurovision fanfare (and favoritism?)
Whilst songs sung in English have clearly been judged favorably at Eurovision with 28 victories – accounting for 45% of all Eurovision titles, French-based songs have secured their fair share of Eurovision glory with 14 wins (or 22.5% of all Eurovision-winning songs). Perhaps it’s the romantic connotations of the French language that have wooed voters?

Despite being the second most successful language at Eurovision, French songs have only claimed half the titles of English-based performances. But, the gap widens further from there.

Songs sung in Hebrew and Dutch tie for second place on the all-time Eurovision-winning ‘foreign’ languages table, with three victories apiece – accounting for just 4.8% of Eurovision wins each.

From there, the only other languages to have claimed multiple Eurovision titles are Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and Norwegian.

To put this in greater perspective still, only 13 of the 56 languages sung at Eurovision have won the competition, meaning that 43 of the languages utilized have remained winless.

But, has English always been the dominant language at Eurovision? How have language-based trends changed over time?

Eurovision winning languages over time (1956 – 2014)

Note: Changes to Eurovision rules over time may have impacted the success of different languages.
*From 1956 to 1965, participants could perform in a language of their choice.
*From 1966 to 1973, performers had to deliver their song in one of the official languages of the country they were representing.
*From 1973 to 1976, participants could again perform songs in any language.
*From 1977 to 1998, performers had to deliver their chosen song in their recognized national language (Germany and Belgium were given special consideration, allowing them to perform in English too).
*From 1999, participants were again permitted to sing in any language, irrespective of the national language of the country they represented.

Insights

  • Languages other than English (‘foreign’) dominated Eurovision in the early days, winning the first eleven titles
  • From 1967 to 1981, English and ‘foreign’ languages experienced similar amounts of Eurovision success
  • From 1982 – 1992, languages other than English experienced a resurgence, winning nine out of 11 Eurovision competitions
  • Since 1999 (when participants were again free to sing in a language of their choice), 15 of the last 16 Eurovision titles have been won by English-based songs

Entering the age of English language domination?
Languages other than English (‘foreign’) dominated Eurovision in the early days, winning the first eleven titles. What’s particularly interesting about this, is that this also coincided with the inaugural rules around language, which stated that competitors could perform in any language.

Consistent rule changes – dictating that performers had to sing in their native tongue, then swapping it back to a ‘language of choice’ policy, and then reintroducing restrictions – saw the number of English and non-English Eurovision-winning songs fluctuate, experiencing similar amounts of success between 1967 and 1981.

Between 1982 and 1992, languages other than English experienced a resurgence, winning nine out of 11 Eurovision competitions. This coincided with the policy-of-the-day, which decreed performers had to deliver their chosen song in their recognized national language. Intriguingly, this seems counterintuitive to the trend identified in the early days of competition (1956 – 1966), which allowed participants to perform in any language and saw songs sung in ‘foreign’ languages claim 11 straight Eurovision crowns. But, with fewer nations participating in the early days of the competition (see our blog post, Data Visualization reveals advantage of hosting Eurovision), combined with sweeping changes to popular culture and technology, perhaps these contradictory correlations are not entirely unexpected or unexplainable.

Whatever the case, since participants were again permitted to sing in any language (from 1999 onwards), English-based songs have won 15 of the last 16 Eurovision titles. When you take this into account – in combination with the early domination of songs other than English, when Eurovision first began – only 23 non-English songs have won Eurovision since 1966!

The dominance of English language songs at Eurovision is also noticeable when analyzing Eurovision’s biggest winning margins.

Biggest winning margins at Eurovision by language (1956 – 2014)


Insights

  • Nine of the 10 biggest winning margins ever recorded at Eurovision have been English-based songs
    • Alexander Rybak holds the largest winning margin at Eurovision, claiming victory in 2009 with his performance of “Fairytale” by 169 points
    • The next biggest margin was produced by Loreen, who won Eurovision 2012 with a margin of 113 points for “Euphoria
    • Nicole Seibert’s 1982 performance, of “Ein Bisschen Frieden”, was the only song sung in a language other than English to make the list of top 10 biggest winning margins

English the most successful Eurovision language: By a big margin
So the data seems pretty clear. Not only is English the most successful language – especially nowadays – of Eurovision, it’s also clear that songs sung in English have the biggest chance of producing a runaway victory.

Where to next?

Sadly, Yellowfin’s Eurovision journey has come to an end for 2015. But, we hope you enjoyed the data-based highs and lows, as we explored the trends, patterns and unique elements of this inimitable event.

Join us again next year, for Eurovision 2016. But, before then, let us know who you think will claim the 2015 Eurovision crown by tweeting @YellowfinBI

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