The Eurovision Song Contest is the longest-running annual song competition in the world. Since 1956 when it was founded, there have been 36 winners with lyrics in languages other than English, while 31 songs won with lyrics fully or partially in English. The very first winner was Lys Assia from Switzerland, who performed in French. Despite allowing participating countries to sing in any language, the first contestants from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland sang in their national language. The first time someone sang in English wasn’t until 1965, when Ingar Wixell represented Sweden, singing his entry Absent Friend in English.
One year later, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) set very strict rules on the language in which the songs could be performed. National languages had to be used in all lyrics. This meant that from 1966 only Ireland and the United Kingdom were allowed to perform in English. In 1973, the rule changed back again and in the next Eurovision, six out of the seventeen countries that participated in the contest sang in English. The free choice lasted until 1977 when it yet again became obligatory for performers to present songs in one of their country’s official languages.
22 years later, before the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest, the rule was reversed and it has been the same until this day. Interestingly enough, some songs have even been performed in imaginary languages. The Dutch song in 2006, Amambanda, was performed predominantly in an imaginary language but with some words in English. Although the most recent Eurovision Song Contest has the majority of songs presented in English, those who questioned if it would still be possible to win the contest with a non-English language song were proven wrong; Marija Šerifović won the competition in 2008 with Molitva, a song in Serbian, and more recently, Salvador Sobral won the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest with the Portuguese song Amar Pelos Dois.
In the Eurovision Song Contest 2019, 32 entries will be singing English and 17 other languages which will be heard in the songs this year: Albanian, Croatian, French, Danish, German, Georgian, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Arabic, Sami, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Slovene, Spanish and Turkish. Some Arabic will be heard in Mahmood’s Italian entry Soldi and there is Sami in Norway’s Spirit In The Sky, as performed by KEiiNO. Both languages had been heard before in the Eurovision Song Contest, remarkably so in the same year: 1980. Additionally, Danish will be heard at the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time since 1997.