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French songs at Eurovision 2021

by Bernard O'Shea

“Excuse My French,” sings Malta’s Destiny in her Eurovision 2021 song contest entry, Je Me Casse. Judging by that title, you’d think her song is in French – je me casse means I’m out of here, I’m off, I’m going or I’m leaving – but it’s not: the rest is in English. Still, it shows that even in snippets, Eurovision is a good place to pick up vocabulary and expressions in other languages. In more common usage, casser means to break.

Lovers of the French language, though, have two good songs to look forward to. Not surprisingly, one is from France – ‘ only once in the country’s 63 appearances at the Eurovision song contest has the French entry been in English, and that was in 2008. The other? Well, it would have to be Belgium or Switzerland, right?

Switzerland has four official national languages – French, German, Italian and Romansh – so you can never be sure which one will make it to the Eurovision final. For the past nine years, though, its entries have all been in English. For Eurovision 2021, though, it’s back to French. Bonne chance to them.

Not so with Belgium. Traditionally, its entries used to be in French or in Dutch, but you have to go back to 2005 for the country’s last French entry, and 1996 for Dutch. Since 2006 it has been English all the way except for 2008, when its entry was “sung entirely in a Ukrainian-influenced imaginary language”. In 2021, Hooverphonic will sing in English on behalf of the Belgians. Good luck to them.

The French and Swiss entries are considered strong contenders. Let’s take a closer look.

1) Switzerland

Swiss born 22-year-old Gjon’s Tears (whose real name is Gjon Muharremaj – his parents are of Albanian heritage) will represent his country with the song Tout l’Univers (The Whole Universe). He is used to singing competitions, having appear on both Albania’s and Switzerland’s ‘Got Talent‘ shows, as well as France’s equivalent of The Voice. He has a lovely voice, and the song is haunting.

It’s a song about picking up the pieces after disappointment, hurt and trauma (a definite theme of 2021) and of the importance of love.  There’s a good French to English translation and a fuller interpretation of the lyrics here.

Incidentally, Gjon’s Tears (the name comes from the fact that his singing could move his grandfather to tears) would have represented Switzerland at the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, if it had gone ahead, with this song, Répondez-moi (Answer Me).

2) France

France’s representative, singer, songwriter and actress Barbara Pravi, 28, will perform one of her own compositions, Voilá. It’s packed with emotional intensity, and you can see why she has been likened to a modern-day Edith Piaf. It’s a song about making your presence felt, presenting yourself, demanding attention, but not in an egotistical way. It’s a song for anyone who feels ignored or overlooked …

The lyrics to Voilà

Écoutez-moi, moi la chanteuse à demi 
Parlez de moi, à vos amours, à vos amis
Parlez-leur de cette fille aux yeux noirs et de son rêve fou
Moi c’que j’veux c’est écrire des histoires qui arrivent jusqu’à vous
C’est tout
Voilà, voilà, voilà, voilà qui je suis
Me voilà même si mise à nue j’ai peur, oui
Me voilà dans le bruit et dans le silence
Regardez-moi, ou du moins ce qu’il en reste
Regardez-moi, avant que je me déteste
Quoi vous dire que les lèvres d’une autre ne vous diront pas
C’est peu de choses mais moi tout ce que j’ai, je le dépose là
Voilà, voilà, voilà, voilà, voilà qui je suis
Me voilà même si mise à nue c’est fini
C’est ma gueule, c’est mon cri, me voilà tant pis
Voilà, voilà, voilà, voilà juste ici
Moi mon rêve, mon envie, comme j’en crève, comme j’en ris
Me voilà dans le bruit et dans le silence
Ne partez pas, j’vous en supplie restez longtemps
Ça m’sauvera peut-être pas, non
Mais faire sans vous j’sais pas comment
imez-moi comme on aime un ami qui s’en va pour toujours
J’veux qu’on m’aime, parce que moi je sais pas bien aimer mes contours
Voilà, voilà, voilà, voilà qui je suis
Me voilà même si mise à nue c’est fini
Me voilà dans le bruit et dans la fureur aussi
Regardez-moi enfin et mes yeux et mes mains
Tout c’que j’ai est ici, c’est ma gueule, c’est mon cri
Me voilà, me voilà, me voilà
Voilà, voilà voilà, voilà

Pravi has already had some Eurovision success, but from behind the scenes – she composed the song “J’imagine” by Valentina, which won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020. But now – Voilà! – here she is stepping out into the limelight.

The meaning of voilà

Voilà has been adopted in English, so it should be reasonably familiar, but it’s used in a limited way – an exclamation along the lines of “here you are! here (or there) it is!” – as is something has appeared by magic or though lucky coincidence. In French, though, it has many different uses and meanings. There is a good summary on the Languages section of the ThoughtCo. website here. M5R

Barbara Pravi photograph: FTV/Joêl Saget

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