As we near the Eurovision Grand Final for 2021, there is a good chance we may see a winning entry performed in the French language. This would be for the first time since Céline Dion sang for Switzerland in 1988. Two entries from France and Switzerland are strongly backed for a high placing this year and could change the fortunes of a language that has struggled at Eurovision in recent times, writes Joshua Mayne.
History of Francophone winners
The Eurovision Song Contest has a rich history of entries sung in the French language, with classics including Refrain, Poupée de cire, poupée de son, and L’oiseau et l’enfant all winning the contest. The early years of Eurovision were dominated by Francophone songs. In fact, six out of the first ten editions of the Eurovision Song Contest saw French-language songs win. Céline Dion’s entry for Switzerland in 1988, Ne partez pas sans moi, is the last time a Francophone entry came out on top.
Notably, successful Francophone entries have been few and far between in recent years. Only one French-language song has made the top ten in the past decade. That was Amir, who represented France in 2016 with his song J’ai Cherché and finished in sixth place. 2021, however, presents a very real opportunity for two Francophone songs to finish in the top ten, which would be unprecedented based on recent history.
Voilà – Barbara Pravi
After their 2020 entrant, Tom Leeb, declined to participate in this year’s contest, France is being represented this year by singer and songwriter Barbara Pravi. Her song Voilà is distinctly French but is still very accessible to a broader European audience.
There is a certain cinematic feel to France’s staging this year, and the simplicity of it matches the song. Barbara Pravi fills the stage, and you never feel as if the performance misses backing vocals or any other supporting features. She nails the vocals and delivers a flawless and dramatic performance.
Performing in 20th position, running order will not be an excuse for France. They follow a popular entry from Ukraine, but the French entry has enough substance to stand out on its own. Voilà should appeal to both the juries and televoters, which puts it in a very promising position to win. It is hard to find any major faults in the entry and will certainly be one of the favourites for Saturday night’s Grand Final.
Tout l’univers – Gjon’s Tears
Gjon’s Tears entered the contest in 2020 with his song Répondez-moi, which was arguably in contention to win, prior to the contest’s cancellation due to COVID-19. His entry this year has maintained many of the qualities that made him a fan-favourite in 2020. Tout l’univers harnesses Gjon’s delicate yet powerful vocals, in a song that builds up to a memorable crescendo.
The staging is dark, moody, and dramatic, which suits the entry perfectly. There is certainly an intention to create a ‘moment’ with this staging, and it undoubtedly delivers when Gjon delivers his powerful high note at the end. The song is simultaneously haunting and beautiful, which sets it apart from most of the competition.
Assuming he perfects his vocals like he did in the semi-final, Tout l’univers should be well-supported by the juries. With a significant number of jury votes a fairly safe prediction, televoters will be particularly key for Switzerland this year. 11th spot in the running order is a solid position, and there is a good chance the song receives attention between upbeat entries from Greece and Iceland.
Who might spoil la fête?
Italy is currently the odds-on favourite this year, with rock band Måneskin performing Zitti E Buoni. This would be Italy’s first win since 1990, but it will not come easily. Bookmakers also have Malta as another likely challenger. Destiny is representing Malta with her pop song Je me casse and has been a favourite to take out the contest since the release of the song. Despite the French title of the entry, it is sung mostly in English, so cannot be considered a francophone entry.
Countries such as Ukraine and Iceland are also other possible contenders for the victory. With both semi-finals now complete, it appears as if this year’s contest is still relatively open. Regardless of if Switzerland or France wins, it is still clear that Francophone entries are growing from strength to strength, and it may just be a matter of time before that 33-year-long wait for a French-language winner is over.