Are songs in English more likely to be successful? According to the organisers of the Eurovision song contest, yes, they are. The Eurovision song contest is an annual international music competition which has attracted an impressive total of 52 participating countries to date, ranging from Ireland to Azerbaijan, to even, amazingly, Australia. But despite the contest’s pan-European (and now pan-global) calling, its official website tells us that in the years since 1999, there have been 17 winning acts singing in English compared to only 4 winners in any other language. Does this prove the common preconception that writing songs in English is a condition for success?
In many ways, we can argue that music is increasingly international now. Two of the biggest hits of the 2010s, Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and, more recently, Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’, were both written in languages other than English and subsequently became global sensations. The increasing popularity of international music genres such as K-Pop among both Western and non-Western audiences is remarkable, and it’s not confined to Asia: many artists from Europe (or writing in European languages) have also done remarkably well in the last decade, as we’ve seen with hits like Willy William’s ‘Ego’, Álvaro Soler’s ‘El mismo sol’, Michel Teló’s ‘Ai se eu te pego’, and so, so many others.
At the same time, it has also often seemed to be that many of the last decade’s most famous international performers only truly broke into the global superstar category when they started releasing music in English. Shakira had a strong following in Spanish-speaking countries from the nineties, but she only became a huge name internationally when she released her English-language album ‘Laundry Service’, and she is arguably still much more famous internationally for the songs that she has released in English. Céline Dion originally wrote songs in French, yet her most widely-recognised (and successful) songs are in English, such as ‘My heart will go on’. Have things changed since the 1990s and 2000s, or do songs written in English still have something of an advantage in creating mainstream success?
Music and language are very interconnected concepts, and as translators, it stands to reason that many of us should also be huge fans of music. What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think it’s still true that songs in English are more successful, or are people’s attitudes changing in this sense? Do you know any songs that were originally written in another language?
Let us know your thoughts (and song recommendations) below!