2008-07-18

Solitaire dans les autres...Pop Musique from France

Make a list of French pop songs of the last twenty years, which are not classic chansons or post-Daft Punk House and you will pobably come up with the videos below. All of them have been international hits and they sound as if they were designed exactly for this purpose.

I actually remember every moment when I heard these hits for the first time. I immediately felt amused and intrigued, slightly embarrassed to fall for the obvious commercial production and the Lolita-cliché of it all. I also knew from the first moment that there would be no escape from these songs as they had "Instant Mega Holiday Hit and Future Classic" written all over them. Well except one...

"Voyage, Voyage" by Desireless appeared in 1986 and there was no getting away from it. Boy/Girl, they did everything right! It combined Italo-Disco production, a Modern Talking-beat with French flair, ridiculous and late new-wave hair and clothes on a sexless, gender-bending singer. It was a bit like an update of Visage, catering to the secretary-set. I even saw goth-kids dancing to it. Talk about cross-over.


The same year saw a royal trainwreck crashing on the international stage. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, bored from being herself, she took the stagename Stephanie, hired expensive songwriters, stylists and Helicopters, and tried to form her image of being a just your everyday popstar.

Sadly, Stephanie could not sing one note and at times looked like an unfinished sex-change in the video of "Ouragan" ("Irresitable" for the rest of the world).

Speaking of the video: It´s fantastic! Filmed on Mauritius with a budget that was probably twice their domestic product, it throws every thinkable video-cliché at us and invented a bunch of new ones in the process! I wish it was in 3-D! You want slo-mo shots of running down stairs in a castle? Falling slo-mo glasses filled with jetons? Royal crotch-shots next to the ocean (in slo-mo)? Seedy gigolos? A princess being hunted by a Helicopter? It´s all here! The video that inspired every HipHop-promo of the 90s.


Another 1986 French export was of course the mighty Les Rita Mistsouko. Since their output was too flashy for one post, they will get their own.

The next smash from France was the great Mylene Farmer.
Her "Desenchantee" is another one of those slightly melancholic, but instantly gripping summer-hits. One thing Mylene Farmer became famous for were her ridiculously overproduced video-clips. Her promo for "Pourvu Qu'Elles Soient Douces" is a 16-minute cross between "Caligula" and "Barry Lyndon" (with equal production values and failed ambitions). It´s an overblown, totally humorless mini-drama. You don´t want to see this!
Instead take a look at the cover-version by the totally bland Kate Ryan, who would make a carreer out of "trancing-up" every single french hit of the past twenty years (and possibly every song featured in this post).

The production and the melody are perfect. You just need to know a few words of French to get the gist of it: "Je sui generation desenchantee". Watching her hang around some overlit "europe moderne"-architecture in Brussels is total science-fiction!


Another Mylene Farmer masterpiece is probably one of the best pop songs ever! Yes, EVER! Farmer and her partner wrote a song called "Moi...Lolita". This alone sounds perfect. They decided to get somebody younger to sing it (Mylene was born in 1961) so they did a casting and found Alizée. Bam! Instant goosebump inducing, timeless classic! I can listen to this for hours on end and still be amazed by it.

Released in june of 2000 "Moi...Lolita" stayed a record-breaking 73 weeks in the French charts, and became the most successful foreign language single in the UK.
"Lolita" is the sound of a million beach nightclubs. From the Cote d´azur down to Italy and Greece; to Thailand and some suburban bar in Germany. It plays early in the night, when the dancefloor is almost empty, you can hear it blasting from some jukebox after the last orders have been made. It´s euphoric and endlessly sad.

One year later saw the release of yet another of those hits which seemed to concentrate every available French cliché into a slice of 3:30 pop perfection: "Tou est Foutu" by In Grid has got it all! Cheesy accordeon, a blunt trance-beat, sexy vocals and -the creme de la creme - an insanely memorably cut-up effect. "tü tü tü di tü tü". This alone makes the whole song.


All of these hits share an equal sound, which I call the "lost-in-the-crowd-sound". While the production techniques are always up to date, there is a certain melancholy encapsuled within the melodies. The sound is always a bit removed from the typical dime-a-dozen euro-disco.

I did not include Trans-X´ "Living on Video", since they were from Canada. Although they had that sound down to perfection. Also missing is Plastic Bertrand and the instrumental band Space. Did I miss anything significant? Drop a message!

4 comments:

A.J. said...

Princess Stephanie RULES !!
Back then, just after launching her genius swimsuit designer label called "Pool Position" (which featured turtle-neck bikinis) she released that Irresistible euro-trash album... she looked so much like Matt Dillon at that time it was uncanny.

I also bought the Brigitte Nielsen album around that same time :)

StellaVista said...

A.J.: Since I am not a fashion-person I was not aware of her label (which- without doubt consisted only of stuff she designed HERSELF with no outside help from no one!), but DAMN: "Pool Position" must be the best name for this kind of endeavour EVER!

As for Ms. Nielsen, I was probably not man enough to buy "Every body tells a story". She even found some lunatics who gave her money to produce a hip-hop album in the ealry nineties.

A.J. said...

if only i still had a cassette player!

back in that day, i used to receive Musique Plus on Rogers basic cable service, even tho the channel was from Montreal. Les Rita Mitsouko's "Andy" played constant, and Musique Plus is how i got turned onto Niagara (with Muriel Laporte) ...us'dta adore Niagara!
meanwhile, Plastique Bertrand methinks were Belgian... they try harder!
i still listen to Vanessa Paradis, but she sang in english so i'm not sure she's appropriate for me mentioning here?
Mylene Farmer did an amazing version of "Slipping Away" with Moby, so she's still kickin'!

btw, your blog simply rocks! one of my true faves!

StellaVista said...

I simply don´t know how I could forget Vanessa Paradis! "Joe le Taxi" (she did sing in French) was everywhere and my best friend and desperate love interest creamed all over her (jerk!)

I even saw a clip of her singing a duet with Les Rita on their anniversary show last year.

As for Moby: can´t stand him! I was about to write a bad review for his last album, but couldn´t be bothered.

Thanks for the nice words and your continued comments! I also love your two sites and actually have a small blog/tumbler-crush on you. ;)