‘En Un Mundo Nuevo’ were the words sung by the Spanish representative Karina at the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. 40 years later, is it time to think of a new era for Spain’s protected and co-official languages, and give them their moment in the spotlight at Eurovision? 99% of Spaniards speak Castellano (Castillian for non-Spanish speakers, Castillian is also widely known as “Spanish”. For this reason, I will be referring to Spanish songs as “Castillian” in this article).
Castillian is the language most non-Spainards are familiar with, as it has dominated Spain’s history for more than a millennium. Castillian has even earned status as the official language of Spain, but there are more languages spoken in the country, such as Basque, Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, Occitan, and Asturleonese. These languages either have co-official or protected language status. There is another language: Fala, but this is not considered a co-official language, nor is it a protected language in Spain.
In terms of Eurovision, Spain’s songs have all been in Castillian, despite its entrants coming from all parts of Spain such as Catalonia (Beth, Eurovision 2003; Miki, Eurovision 2019), Galicia (Lucía Pérez, Eurovision 2011) and Murcia (Ruth Lorenzo, Eurovision 2014). These are just a few examples. Spain’s history with the co-official and protected languages is very complex. This contrasts with Andorra, Spain’s close neighbour whose official language is Catalan, even singing in it when they participated in Eurovision. They felt the need to do this to show that their language was being ostracised by a powerful neighbour and show the beauty of the Catalan language. Either way, it is still important to learn why Castillian is so prominent at Eurovision, as this has put the other co-official or protected languages at huge disadvantages.
Castillian, and only Castillian, is the way forward
Spain has never sent a song in a protected or co-official language to Eurovision – ever! If you look at it at face value, you might think “well, Castillian is the official language so that is not a shock,” but the reasons for this are much deeper. From 1939 to 1975, Spain was under a military dictatorship headed by Francisco Franco. Franco was a conservative who believed that protected and co-official languages had no place in Spain. To prove his point, Franco went on to ban any symbols that represented autonomous communities in Spain. He banned the Ikurriña (Basque flag), and Senyera (Catalan flag) amongst others he felt did not fit the idea of the ‘Spanish/Castillian’ identity. He also banned Catalan names, surnames, road signs and promoted Castilian over all the official protected languages and co-official languages.
In 1968, the Francoist regime made its way to Eurovision. Massiel won with the song ‘La La La’ in London, pipping Sir Cliff Richard’s ‘Congratulations’ into 2nd place. Massiel was a last-minute replacement for Joan Manuel Serrat. Serrat has now become one of Spain’s most iconic musicians, both in Castillian and Catalan, but in 1968, Serrat was chosen to represent Spain and wanted to sing in Catalan. Franco was furious, ‘how dare he choose to sing in Catalan?!’ Franco’s government insisted to Serrat that he sing in Castillian, or he wouldn’t be permitted to go to the Royal Albert Hall in London. Serrat refused to change his mind, and Massiel went on to represent Spain, becoming the eventual winner. Serrat also said that by singing in Catalan, he would represent all the co-official and protected languages that were repressed under Franco.
Eurovision 1969 in Spain was a huge affair. The Francoist government stopped the state of emergency that had been put in place after university students began holding public protests. RTVE commissioned Salvador Dalí (from Barcelona) to design the poster, and sets of Eurovision 1969, held in Madrid. RTVE spent so much money on Eurovision 1969 that they had to cut back costs on new programmes. Following the awkward preparations of Eurovision 1968, Franco’s government was determined to show Europe that Spain was indeed a forward-thinking country that was tolerant and welcoming towards Spaniards outside of Madrid. Eurovision 1969 was perfect for Franco’s government because ‘Vivo Cantando‘, a song in Castillian, won just as ‘La La La’ did the year before. Castilian was still dominant, and continued being influential in Spain (Catalan did make its way to Eurovision, but we’ll talk about that a bit later!).
Things began to change when the dictatorship collapsed, leading to more attention and pride towards the co-official and protected languages of Spain.
Following the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Spain’s autonomous regions gained more power. Basque nationalism and Catalan nationalism grew, and people suddenly felt free to speak their native language protected or co-official language, but some were already nostalgic for a Francoist Spain. In 1959, ETA, a Basque nationalist and separatist group was formed. Their ultimate aim was to achieve Basque independence, but from the late 60s to the late 90s, many people fell victim to ETA. Although their acts should never be supported, ETA symbolised a group of Spaniards who wanted to get revenge against a dominant Castillan society. Moderate Catalans, Asturians, Galicians, Aragonese and Occitan people may not have wanted outward revenge, but they were angry at their languages being suppressed to fit in with an idea of cultural purity that eventually collapsed. Although Castillian was the boss, many other languages and people wanted to have their voices heard, but sadly, Spain did not elect to send a Eurovision song in its protected or co-official languages following the collapse of the Franco regime. It took 36 years for one of them, Catalan, to make the Eurovision stage.
Do You Even Care Anymore?
Before the 2000s, Spain achieved many top-20 finishes. Some songs that did this included ‘Bandido‘ by Azúcar Moreno (Eurovision 1990), “Vuelve Conmigo” by Anabel Conde (Eurovision 1995) and ‘Sin Rencor’ by Marcos Llunas (Eurovision 1997). However, as the years progressed, Spain found itself between 21st to 25th place 12 times between 2005 to 2021. With the internet becoming a commonly used platform to express opinions, many Spanish Eurofans were disappointed with the way they were performing at Eurovision. 2002 saw the creation of Operación Triunfo (OT), and it chose Spain’s representative, Rosa, with the song ‘Europe’s a Living Celebration‘ for Tallinn 2002. Rosa was tipped to win for Spain, with television audience views climbing to a peak of 12.7 million in anticipation of another Spanish victory, but ‘Europe’s a Living Celebration‘ only achieved 7th, a disappointment for Spainards who expected a win.
OT then chose ‘Dime‘ by Beth, which finished 8th in Riga 2003, another disappointment, as Spain was the favourite to win. In 2004, OT chose Ramon with ‘Para Llenarme De Ti’ to represent Spain at Eurovision, this time held in Istanbul, where they achieved 10th place. These are examples of Castillian songs that could have achieved so much more, but then again, Castillian songs achieved huge success before the 2000s. These huge negative changes in fortune meant that something was not right, leading some to question if RTVE even cared about Eurovision.
Other Castillian songs that did not fare well include D*Nash’s ‘I Love You Mi Vida’ (21st at Eurovision 2007), ‘La Noche es Para Mi’ by Soraya Arnelas (24th at Eurovision 2009) and ‘Un Blodymary’ by Las Ketchup (21st at Eurovision 2006). OT, and the rest of Spain’s entries in this era, all favoured Castilian songs immensely. Castillian was a language familiar to many people at home, so sending songs in a protected or co-official language was completely out of the question. Even now, sending a song other than Castillian is seen as revolutionary, daring, and bold. In an ideal world, Spain would be sending songs in Castillian, and in the co-official and protected languages, but OT became a part of daily life, along with other media that was dominated by Castillian, such as songs featured within mainstream Spanish society. However, life was a bit different in a microstate situated north of Catalonia…
Catalan Enters the Chat
Andorra is currently the only country in the world that solely has Catalan as its official language. Although Catalan is the official language, Spanish (Castillian), Portuguese and French are all widely spoken. Despite this, throughout Andorra’s short time in Eurovision from 2004 to 2009, all the songs sent were in Catalan, with some having English lyrics. Andorra has been a part of the EBU since 2002 via RTVA, its state and radio broadcaster. Andorra first became interested in Eurovision in 2003 when Marc Forné i Molné, the former Prime Minister of the principality thought it would be a good idea to raise the profile of the country. Andorra Televisió broadcasted Eurovision 2003 with the hope that they would participate in 2004. The Andorran government-supported Andorra being in Eurovision because they wanted to also raise the profile of the Catalan language throughout the rest of Europe.
Televisió de Catalunya and RTVA both came together to organise the first-ever Andorran national final in 2004. Andorrans and Catalans in Catalonia were eligible to vote, but why other Catalan communities were never invited to is a mystery. The reason this was so unusual was that Catalan is also spoken in the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands, and is also a recognised minority language in the Pyrénées-Orientales (France), Aragón (Northern Spain), and Alghero (Sardinia, Italy), so, not all people with ties to the Catalan language were represented. If Televisió de Catalunya and RTVA could allow Catalonia to have a say, why could they not do the same for those in the Pyrénées-Orientales and Alghero? Especially for those in the Valencia Community, Aragón and the Balearic Islands, as they are in Spain like Catalonia. However, it could be interpreted that Televisió de Catalunya was involved to represent the interests of Catalonia, and not that of the other places listed above.
The 2004 Andorran National Final was the event that preceded unfortunate future events. The winner, Marta Roure, represented Andorra with ‘Jugarem a Estimar-Nos‘. The entry became the first-ever Catalan song at Eurovision, and was a source of pride for Andorrans. However, it only got 12 points in the semi-final, placing 18th, so Andorra failed to qualify for the final. In the same year, Spain won Junior Eurovision with ‘Antes Muerta Que Sencilla’ by Maria Isabel, a Castilian song. Castillian triumphed over Catalan, and the other protected and co-official languages, just like it did when Franco was in power. Eurovision and Junior Eurovision are two separate music contests, but the symbolism is there.
Televisió de Catalunya and RTVA saw what happened, and debated the effectiveness of a national final. They nearly went for an internal selection, but then settled on another national final for Eurovision 2005. Marian Van De Wal was the winner of the national final with the song ‘La Mirada Interior’, but like the year before, Andorra did not qualify for the grand final, gaining 27 points and coming 23rd out of 25th in the semi-final.
2006, 2007, and 2008 were just the same for the Catalan-speaking country. Even though they opted for an internal selection this time, it was not enough to change Andorra’s fortunes in showcasing the Catalan language. in 2006, Jenny was chosen to represent Andorra with ‘Sense Tu’, but it only gained 8 points, once again failing to qualify. “Sense Tu” became the worst result Andorra ever had at Eurovision, and it sadly became the worst result for a Catalan song at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Anonymous and Gisela soon followed in 2007 and 2008 respectively, but neither of them qualified for the final. Anonymous were a punk-rock band, and sang ‘Salvem El Món’ which was chosen out of 82 available songs by RTVA. It came 12th in the semi-final with 80 points. If they got 11 more, they would have qualified. ‘Salvem El Món’ became a fan-favourite at the time, and still remains well-loved today. Anonymous achieved Andorra’s best position at Eurovision to date! It might have helped that the song also had English lyrics, therefore increasing people’s understanding of the song. However, Lordi had won the year before with a rock song, so maybe that is why Anonymous did well: because it was in the rock genre which people loved the year before. Gisela then came 16th in 2008, only gaining 22 points. This time, the English language did not help her when she sang ‘Casanova’. The song had one line of Catalan, and became a huge hit in Spain.
The last representative Andorra sent to Eurovision was Susanna Georgi. She sang the song ‘La Teva Decisió (Get a Life)‘ for Andorra at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest in Russia. The Catalan and English song finished 15th, amassing 8 points (though she did not finish last, as Jenny did). After this, Andorra began to say that they could not afford the cost of Eurovision, and withdrew in 2010. They still have not returned. Maybe Andorra did have financial problems, but they also said that their mission was to show Europe the Catalan language on the continental stage. Maybe RTVA and Televisió de Catalunya felt that their mission had failed; all of their Catalan songs made little to no impact on the Eurovision stage. Maybe it was because the songs were low in quality compared to the rest of the field.
Another argument for Andorra’s failure is probably the unfamiliarity of the Catalan language to non-Spaniards and Andorrans. Castillian is widely understood and well-known but Catalan did not have the same international recognition that Castillian has. However, at the same time, the Castillian songs were not faring any better, but a big difference between Andorra and Spain was that Spain automatically reached the final through the Big 4 (at the time), and Andorra could not. There is still an Andorran interest in Eurovision, and many wish that they’d return one day. Returning would give them another opportunity to showcase the Catalan language, but for now, Catalan had left the chat.
Sadly, Basque, Galician, Aragonese, Occitan, and Asturleonese have still not made their way to the Eurovision stage as of 2021.
Spain in their Spanglish Era
Between 2010 to 2019, Spain finished outside the top 15 8 times. Spain only got two top-10 finishes, in 2012 and 2014 (finishing 10th in both contests), and you guessed it, Castillian was used once again, many times! Not only this, but the selection show Operación Triunfo made a comeback! The protected, and co-official languages were still not being used, but English began to appear in more of Spain’s songs. Spain first used English in ‘Europe’s a Living Celebration’ in 2002. To show the extent of how much Spain continued to sing in both Castillian and English, here is a table for you:
Only ‘Quédate Conmigo’ and ‘Dancing in the Rain’ did well amongst all these songs on the list. However, Spain in 2013, 2015, and 2017 did particularly badly. This is interesting because Dancing in the Rain’ is both in English and Castillian and did very well. Whereas ‘Do It for Your Lover‘, a song in both English and Castillian, did not do so well. ‘Dancing in the Rain’ has remained well-liked amongst Eurofans, and non-Eurofan Spaniards alike, and is seen as being in the same vein as ‘Quédate Conmigo‘; both songs feature strong women with powerful voices who poured their hearts and soul into their songs. For audiences, it did not matter if the song was in Castillian, English, or even both. The song quality mattered. Both ‘Dancing in the Rain’ and ‘Quédate Conmigo’ are both shining examples of RTVE being seen to do something right for once.
After obtaining a mere 15 points in 2015, a new selection show: Objetivo Eurovisión was created for the 2016 contest, which included Loreen and Edurne as jurors. Barei, the victor, won with “Say Yay”, a song completely in English. But even Barei singing in English could not help Spain Eurovision’s chances, though “Say Yay” did become a fan-favourite. Away from the stage, the EBU made the decision to ban Eurofans from waving the Basque flag in 2016. Now, not only did Basque have zero representation in Eurovision songs, but their flag also wasn’t allowed to be waved. It is even more shocking that the EBU put the Basque flag in the same category as the ISIS flag. The Spanish government were furious at the EBU for this:
“It is a constitutional, legal and legitimate flag and the Spanish government will defend it whenever needed”Soraya Saenz de Santamaria – deputy Prime Minister at the time
Like Barei in 2016, Manel Navarro won Objetivo Eurovisión with a song containing English lyrics. The only difference was ‘Do It for Your Lover‘ contained Castillian lyrics as well. The first edition of Objetivo Eurovisión was not problematic but the 2017 edition was.
Manuel Navarro won Objetivo Eurovisión in 2017 amid allegations that the final was rigged because the national final apparently had ties to Navarro’s manager. As well as this, the favourite, ‘Contigo‘ by Mir finished in second place. This angered a lot of Eurofans in and out of Spain: they felt ‘Do It for Your Lover’ was ‘uninspired, dull and bland.’ Manuel Navarro actually said that the first six months before Eurovision were filled with excitement for the contest, but during and afterwards, his enthusiasm decreased increasingly as he was sent hateful messages and death threats. The hate increased when his voice broke whilst singing ‘Do It for Your Lover’ at the final, leading him to be called a gallo (rooster).
Navarro initially found the gallo incident funny, but some people took it too far. RTVE were so disappointed with what happened that they indirectly blamed Navarro’s voice break. They also took zero responsibility for Spain’s performance in general and Federico Llano, Spain’s former Head of Delegation, resigned over allegations he bribed the jury to make Navarro win. A mess. Back on the stage, the failure of “Say Yay” and “Do It for Your Lover” were probably not really down to the language; it was more to with the quality and execution of the songs in the grand final, but, even so, there are many debates, proposed answers, and theories about why those songs failed to set Europe alight.
Operación Triunfo Today, Operación Triunfo Gone Tomorrow
The Operación Triunfo Eurovision Gala (OT) had two editions in between 2017 to 2018. RTVE were so embarrassed by what happened to Manel Navarro in 2017 that they decided to bring back Operación Triunfo to both choose the winner of the OT side of the show and the OT Eurovision Gala. Alfred and Amaia were the first winners of the 2017 edition of OT Eurovision Gala. They sang ‘Tu Canción‘ on the show, and at the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal. The song was completely in Castillian, and was a ballad strongly inspired by Alfred and Amaia’s love story (if you think they were a real couple). Sadly, ‘Tu Canción‘ came 23rd with 61 points. After the song, many felt it aged badly because it was “dull” and that ‘Lo Malo’ by Ana Guerra and Aitana, two other OT contestants, should have been sent to represent Spain in 2018. Eleni Foureira was one of those people:
“Spain should have sent ‘Lo Malo’ to Eurovision 2018″Eleni Foureira
Following Alfred and Amaia’s failure, Miki won the second OT Eurovision Gala. The second of the OT Eurovision Gala caused some controversy among Eurofans because it became very apparent that some of the contestants did not want to do Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv. One of them, María, even sang ‘La Venda’, Miki’s song, to her fans instead of her own. She was also accused of deliberately performing badly in the final to not go to Israel. But she was not the only one who had these accusations thrown at her.
At first, people were not sure what to make of Miki, but, as time went on, he became very well-liked. He was a proud Catalan and he became the first person ever in the history of OT to sing a song completely in Catalan. ‘La Venda’, along with Miki’s Catalan music, symbolised both aspects of his identity. He was applauded by many Spaniards for deciding to perform in Catalan on prime-time Spanish television, choosing Txarango’s ‘Una Lluna A L’Aigua’.
Miki was praised for bringing Catalan music to the OT stage, and it became a moment many savoured. Miki’s OT performance of ‘La Venda’ was also well-loved, as many felt it authentically represented the vibrant atmosphere of Spanish carnivals. This led to it winning the OT Eurovision Gala with 34% of the vote.
Before Miki’s victory at the OT Eurovision Gala, some Spaniards had begun to wonder why there was very little representation of songs in protected or co-official languages. It made some consider that it would be a good idea to maybe send a song either in one of these languages, or along with Castillian.
However, ‘La Venda’ went through a revamp where the song sounded completely different to the original. The staging at the final of Eurovision 2019 did not help either. Sadly, Miki landed in 22nd place with 54 points. On this occasion once again, Castillian took a backseat as people debated the quality of the song, and its staging. The original ‘La Venda’ was a joyful celebration of the movement of people living their best lives. However, the Eurovision version felt safe, and the staging looked like it wanted to be the complete opposite of what the song should have been. Paco the robot, who featured in the Eurovision performance of ‘La Venda’ was heavily criticised, as many felt there was no need for it to be there. Once again, RTVE was accused of being completely clueless about contemporary music that audiences liked. For that reason, RTVE decided that OT would no longer choose Spain’s Eurovision entrant.
More Disastrous Results to Come for the Castillian language
Following the cancellation of Eurovision 2020, Blas Cantó was chosen again to represent Spain at Eurovision 2021. Cantó was unable to sing his 2020 entry, ‘Universo’, because of Eurovision rules that meant 2020 songs were ineligible to compete in the 2021 edition. Due to this, he sang ‘Voy a Quedarme‘, dedicated to his grandmother. Blas Cantó was part of Auryn, Spain’s answer to One Direction, and announced he was a self-confessed Eurofan. He even participated in EuroJunior, the national final that chose Spain’s Junior Eurovision contestant in 2004. Participating in Eurovision was one of his life goals, and he finally completed it on 22nd May 2021, but things quickly turned sour when Spain received nil points from the televote. In total, Blas Cantó got six points.
‘Universo’ and ‘Voy a Quedarme’ were similar songs; they were both Castillian ballads that discussed themes of love, loss, and forgiveness. Again, the language did not matter, and, instead, the song was the main focus. We will never know how ‘Universo’ would have done at Eurovision, but ‘Voy a Quedarme’ became yet another of RTVE’s many poor results at Eurovision. This caused the head of delegation at the time, Anna María Bordas, to resign. Bordas was responsible for the entries between 2017 to 2021, the Spanish songs that had performed the worst at Eurovision. This resignation appeared to open RTVE’s eyes when they appointed Eva Mora. Mora and her colleagues have promised that they will take Eurovision seriously, and go in a direction that will represent the Spanish music industry in the best way. Mora also did the Eurovision commentary for RTVE from 2012 to 2016, so she is very well known to RTVE. She will be responsible for the Festival de la Canción de Benidorm (BenidormFest) in 2022.
Hopes for the Benidorm Fest
BenidormFest was inspired by the Benidorm International Song Festival, which was inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival. The original Benidorm International Song Festival was held from 1956 to 2006. In 2006, it was not shown nationally, as it had become unpopular and people lost interest. However, RTVE has revived the Benidorm International Song Festival and revamped it under the name ‘BenidormFest’ for 2022.
The BenidormFest is supported by the Generalitat Valenciana, and will be held in Benidorm, Valencian Community. It will comprise of two semi-finals, and a final, with the winner being crowned based on the public televote, and a jury. Twelve artists will participate in the 2022 BenidormFest with another six as substitutes if any of the twelve cannot perform. Soloists, duos, trios, and bands will be allowed. The performing artists will be revealed between November and December. The winner will then be chosen in January 2022.
Perhaps RTVE bringing back a historic festival for a new audience was a way of reassuring Eurofans in Spain that they were taking Eurovision seriously. Maybe BenidormFest is the tonic Spain needed the whole time? Only time will tell.
Stepping away from the method of the selection process itself, there is one wish that unites Spanish Eurofans, and that is the desire for more prominence of the protected and co-official language in the 2022 BenidormFest. Basque, Galician, Catalan, Asturleonese, Aragonese, and even Fala songs being included in BenidormFest would fulfil the wishes of so many who crave representation, and would start a new chapter in Spain’s Eurovision history. Out with the Castillian, in with the new! Spain is a country rich in history, of which much is very complex, so to have these protected and co-official languages sung at the BenidormFest would be special. It would further allow Eurofans to get to know a side of Spain that has been underrepresented for many years. Twelve songs will be performed at the BenidormFest, so there is definitely space for Basque, Galician, Catalan, Asturleonese, Aragonese, and Fala songs to be represented.
Castillian is Spain and Spain is Castillian. The Castillian language has been a part of Spain for a very long period of its history. However, as I said above, Spain is a country rich in language diversity. The sad thing is though, there is not enough language representation. Stereotypical symbols of Spain include flamenco, bullfighting, and pasión. These all represent a Castillian view of Spain, and have become what foreigners think Spain actually is. Not many non-Spaniards know that many Spaniards are against bullfighting, just like some are unaware of the prominence of the protected and co-official languages.
Andorra, Spain’s close neighbour, has sent Catalan to Eurovision before but they did not get the results they wanted. Andorra said their sole aim was to showcase the Catalan language, something Spain would have not been able to do many years ago. We must remember that from the late 1930s to the 1970s, Spain was in a dictatorship. A dictatorship that banned symbols important to communities in the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, and Asturias for example. This is probably another factor as to why they have never sent a song in a protected or co-official language. We also must remember that many people from the dictatorship years are still alive and may still hold Francoist views, while other communities, where the protected and co-official languages are most dominant, may feel closer to their regional identity than their national identity as a Spaniard.
The songs Spain have sent in the past few years have not done well. For these songs, language was not the main issue, but for some it is a factor. This is because the role of English has been questioned in Spanish Eurovision songs, as it reinforces the idea that to do well at Eurovision, you need to use English to be understood by a wider audience. Hopefully, the BenidormFest will allow the protected and co-official languages to be represented on Spanish TV, and hopefully at the Eurovision Song Contest. Spain does need to send a good song obviously, but, ultimately, if they can send songs in English, why can’t they do the same for Basque, Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, Occitan, and Asturleonese?
What do you think? Thank you so much for reading. I hope you learned something too!
Do you have any artists you like that sing in Basque, Catalan, Galician, Aragonese, Occitan, Fala and Asturleonese? If you do, let us know in the comments, along with who you would like to see at BenidormFest.
We’ll leave you some songs to listen to that are in the protected or co-official languages.