Feature: Never mind Eurovision – France offers a rich heritage of LGBT-empowering music
The high camp and kitsch, the dubious voting, make Eurovision – whether you love it or hate it – irresistible.
While it’s a lot of fun, I fear the decades-long hysteria around this event has tarnished the reputation of European music in general. And as a result of this, a rich heritage of music – particularly from France – has sadly passed the British record-buying public by.
If you are planning a Eurovision party this evening, here are a few ideas for your warm-up playlist:
One of France’s most successful artists of all-time, Mylène Farmer has sold over 30 million records worldwide across her decade-spanning career, and she’s built up a strong LGBT following.
The dystopian ‘Désenchantée’, which topped the chart for nine weeks in 1991, propelled her to international success; her No. 2 hit, arguably one of the finest trans anthems, ‘Sans Contrefaçon’ (1987), touches on adolescent doubts about her gender-identity, and a determination not to conform.
Thanks to the genius of Laurent Boutonnat, she is notable for her feature-length videos.
In the early years she courted controversy with graphic sexual scenes and violence in her first hit Libertine (1986; the first video in France to feature full-frontal nudity) and the 17-minute ‘Pourvu Qu’elles Soient Douces’ (1988), while Je Te Rends Ton Amour (1999) was denounced as blasphemous.
Eurovision fans will recognise Patricia Kaas as a contestant in the 2009 edition, coming 9th with ‘Et s’il fallait le faire’. But her mix of cabaret and jazz, inspired by Edif Piaf and Marlene Dietrich, with a Franco-German character resulting from her upbringing in the Moselle region, has resulted in a massive following across Europe and Asia. The first of her nine albums, Mademoiselle Chante… (1988) provides the infectious ‘Elle Voulait Jouer Cabaret’ and ‘Mon Mec à Moi’.
New wave band Indochine put sexuality and gender issues on the agenda in 1985 with 3ème Sexe. The recent mobilisation of anti-gay hatred as a result of movements such as the Manif Pour Tous, has led them to highlight homophobic bullying in their 2013 track ‘College Boy’.
For something rockier, try Pascal Obispo (an anagram of Pablo Picasso), ‘Fan’, or Jean-Jacques Goldman ‘Je Marche Seul’. Or for a bit of feminist power, how about Jeanne Mas ‘Johnny, Johnny’ and the upbeat ‘En Rouge Et Noir’, or Amel Bent’s ‘Ma Philosophie’?
Of course, the French have excelled at Eurodisco, too, making it big on our side of the Channel because of the holiday season or because Pete Waterman raved about it.
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Desireless‘s 1986 million-seller ‘Voyage, Voyage’ is a case in point. Alizée – a protégé of Myléne Farmer – registered a top 10 hit here with ‘Moi Lolita,’ in 2002. It’s a shame we missed out on Princess Stéphanie’s ‘Ouragan’ and ‘Flash’, or more recently, Nadjoua Belyzel’s ‘Gabriel’.
I single out France because it’s the most accessible foreign language. But I’d hazard a guess that its rich literary and artistic heritage has given us a vibrant music scene too.
Perhaps the price of English being a dominant global language is that it’s discouraged a willingness to experiment much beyond home-grown or US music.
One could argue that getting to know and love music in another language is that it forces you to seek out the meaning, to break away from the familiar, to understand different cultures.
And if voting intentions for the upcoming Euro-elections are anything to go by, we could do with more of that. But there’s a more basic, subjective point: there’s a whole library of gems cheaply available on popular download stores, and you’re missing out.
Expand your mind: there really is more to European music than this crazy festival each May.