There Is Music in the Air

There’s music in the air, and it isn’t charming.  I don’t mean accordionists playing “La vie en rose,” though amazingly they still exist, or marauding Scots in kilts playing the pipes invading the Champs Élysées.  Those could actually be fun in small doses and at a safe distance.  What’s actually in the air isn’t music itself, but a lot of brouhaha about the Eurovision Contest. This contest has been going on since 1956, more than half a century of showcasing mediocre bands playing vanilla pop.  If studiously uninteresting music and inoffensiveness were virtues, angels long since would have carried Eurovision, or its owners and promoters, to a celestial mosh pit.  Pitié ET chagrin, they are still among us.  If you don’t know the music, but want an idea, think of (or listen to, if you must) Céline Dion who sang in French and won or Olivia Newton-John who sang in Whitebread and lost.  People who listen to alt bands on indie labels (I am not one of them) spit or begin to speak rudely when they hear this kind of music.  But the French are not foaming at the mouth and filling the air with complaints about bubblegum pop.  They are angry with a successful French musician. He is Sébastien Tellier who is going to compete for France and sing his song “Divine” at Eurovision in May and sing it in English because he wrote it in English.  All the old complaints about there being too much English in French mouths can be heard again (not afresh, because there’s nothing new about them, but again and again).  The same people who may eat un sandwich wearing blue-jean or attend un cocktail wearing un smoking are blue in the face about English words coming out of Sébastien’s throat. They don’t care about the kind of lyrics he sings because few of the people talking have ever heard him.  It may be a good thing they never have heard him or that he sings in a language they may not understand.  An American blogger can give you an idea: he writes “meticulously sleazy music that obviously is the work of someone totally dedicated to helping people mate with each other.  He is the Pied Piper of boners.”  Maybe if he sang this last sentence in French, they would be glad he sings in English because it would come out like this: “Le joueur de flûte de Hamelin qui fait bander,” which few would like for matters of aesthetics rather than propriety. It does not matter that twenty-five of this year’s forty-three contestants will sing in English, more than in any other language, and only England, Scotland, and Ireland are Anglophone among the contestants.  It does not matter that more winners have sung in English—twenty-two—than any other language ever.  It does not matter that ABBA sang in English (even though among the four of them they couldn’t speak a word of it), won Eurovision, and were popular in France—perhaps because they were Swedes, que voulez-vous?  I guess it’s the same with Björk who’s from Iceland.  And it does not matter, if you have a long memory, that Françoise Hardy sang in French, but was called la yeh-yeh girl because she had pillaged the Beatles’ “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” which did not become her or her lyrics. What seems to matter is that a Frenchman, a very popular one, is going to sing in English.  The regular quivers about debasing fresh culture have been emptied of their arrows—again.  Metaphorical arrowsmiths must be doing an astounding business in France these days.  Parisian media—the ones that count are here in Paris—are making this big news, big meaning endless.  Sébastien claims he is not bouché and promises to make an effort at compromise, and proves he is not dense by adding two lines in French.  This is not helping. Aside from the threat to French culture, it is possible to see people with straight faces talking about this as a constitutional matter, an economic matter, and probably the end of edible bread, though Sébastian believes that “the baguette will not taste any worse tomorrow morning if I sing in English,” somehow implying that baguettes don’t taste very good now and skillfully insulting the bakers along with the culturati. It seems to me the French should do everything they can to boost Sébastien’s morale and chances by applauding him.  Although a French song has won Eurovision five times, the last win was in 1977.  Those who love la gloire française, which is no less compelling to the French than their culture, should remember that he is their best chance in more than thirty years. Besides, they don’t have to watch the live broadcast if they don’t want to.  And if they do, they should remember this: they won’t understand a word Sébastien or anyone else is singing.  For all they’ll know it is in French. © Joseph Lestrange
Previous Article The French Confession
Next Article Spring Fly Drive Packages