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Culture

Eurovision Goes English

English has become the pop music world's chosen language -- a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by a majority of contestants in Europe's campy Eurovision Song Contest, which takes place on Saturday.

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Estonia's Tanel Padar won with "Everbody" in 2001

What do Sertab Erener from Turkey, Marie N from Latvia and Tanel Padar from Estonia have in common? They each won a Eurovision Song Contest over the past three years. They also all sang themselves to victory in English.

The last one to take home the Grand Prix d'Eurovision de la Chanson, as the competition was previously known, with a song in their native language was Israel's Dana International in 1998 with "Diva." Her successors all deserted their mother tongue.

That tradition is likely to be continued this year: In Istanbul, where the 2004 contest is taking place, only five out of 24 finalists will stick to their native language. It's not a surprising but rather a logical development, according to Eurovision expert Jan Feddersen.

"They all sing in English because they want to win," Feddersen, who writes for the Berlin daily tageszeitung, told DW-WORLD. Anyone looking for success has to cater to the audience -- and the audience considers songs in English to be young and hip.

However, the language of Shakespeare hasn't taken over everywhere on the continent. While Scandinavians don't mind communicating in English, people in Spain and Portugal still aren't quite as comfortable using ingles. And Turkey will probably long have joined the European Union by the time France decides to go anglais.

English with a personal touch

Setab Erener gewinnt Grand Chanson d'Eurovision

Turkey's Setab Erener the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, celebrates her victory.

But singing in English is even controversial in countries that have had Anglophile entries in the past. While Turkey's Erener (photo) may have won with "Everywhere That I Can" last year, many of her countrymen didn't approve of dropping Turkish lyrics.

Just like in Turkey, people in other countries also worry that songs sung in English might speed along a loss of cultural identity. It's a fear not shared by Feddersen. While many of the Eurovision songs are sounding more and more alike and lack local flavor, he believes that each country has still managed to preserve its identity.

"Of course there are still differences, despite the common language," he said. "I think it's wrong to say that it all comes down to lyrics."

Kiddie-techno from the Balkans

Truly successful bands such as Scandinavian groups Roxette and The Cardigans managed to preserve a taste of their roots, Feddersen said. "Turkish entries still sound different most of the time. They are often more physical than Scandinavian songs."

Max mit seinem Song Can't Wait Until Tonight, Eurovision, Istanbul

Max during a rehearsal in Istanbul.

Contestants from the Balkans are another case in point, according to the expert. "They're kind of kiddie-techno-like, with a little dancefloor thrown in."

Even Max (photo), who is representing Germany in Istanbul with a song called "Can't Wait Until Tonight," is typically German, albeit in a very modern way, Feddersen said.

Of shock-frozen Finns and hysterical Italians

Besides, a song contest dominated by English should be seen as a victory for international understanding rather than a loss of identity, the journalist said. Back in the multi-lingual days, a Finnish singer would sometimes raise eyebrows in Europe's south. "The Italians would go: 'Have they all been shock-frozen up there?'"

In turn, the Finns would see a bit of Italian dolce vita as somewhat hysterical. Now, Europeans are slowly coming to terms with the fact that there can be a bit of Greece in Germany and or a bit of Spain in Slovenia.

"English is the mode of transportation," Feddersen said. "It's making sure that Europe, and not the nation state, takes center stage at the contest."

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