Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Foreign Language Music Week: French

I have another confession to make.

I don’t really like French.

I know it’s meant to be the language of love and make everyone all swoony, but I just don’t get it. I worked for a French family for a couple of years when I was in university, and during that time, I became acclimatised to it, but I never grew to love it. I recently spent a week in Paris, and all the French set my teeth on edge by the end of the week.

Now, I like French people. I like French food. I can’t explain my dislike of the French language in any way, but I clearly have my language priorities wrong, because the gargling of the Scandinavian tongues really get me going.


As a result, I don’t listen to much French music, but the little I do listen to should therefore be viewed as MOST EXCEPTIONAL as it was good enough to make me overcome my natural avoidance of French.

This first artist is a bit of a cliché. Camille scored a pretty big hit in Australia with Ta Douleur, and rightly so: it’s a great song, with some nice squelchy sounds in it. Here’s a live version.

I borrowed a friend’s copy of her album, Le Fil, and wasn’t really fussed. Eventually, though, I had to brush up on my Camille facts pretty quickly, as I had to interview her. My editor got confused when he was offered an interview her. I’d previously interviewed an Irish cabaret singer named Camille O’Sullivan, who also performs under just her first name, and found her to be the nicest woman on the planet with the most delightful speaking voice. My editor thought this interview was with the Irish one, but it turned out to be with the French one.


But I went ahead anyway, and Camille said some things which are a little pertinent to discussing music in languages other than your own. HOW CONVENIENT AND INTERESTING. Camille had just released her third album, Music Hole, her first to feature English lyrics.When I asked her about this linguistic switch, she said:

It’s not a switch, really: I’m just exploring some more sounds with English, and I’m not going to drop French. I love French, and I love singing in French. When I was little, I would listen to mostly Anglo-Saxon and Brazilian music; very little French music. But obviously, I spoke in French and wrote in French and studied in French: I was French. But when I started singing, I kind of forced myself to sing in French and write in French, because it’s my native language. To me, French was less a singing language than English. So I started writing in French, and little by little, it became a real joy and a pleasure for me to write and sing in French. It’s very fluid for me now, [but] then I thought, ‘I want to write my own songs in English’, and that’s a challenge too.

I really liked that attitude, treating words as nothing more than different sounds. Like Dylan going electric, Camille was going English. Her approach to sound is really astonishing: I went to see her live, and she had the most creative, stunning arrangements going on. Piano, harp and other traditional instruments, and a desire to make as much sound as possible with the human body using beat boxing and body percussion.

Much less creative but still very enjoyable is Coralie Clément. She mixes indie-rock and the chanson tradition in a most pleasant way. A little bit sexy.

But my very favourite French-singing outfit is Belgian duo Vive La Fête. They’re a mental electro-pop outfit. I find the fact that they sing in French quite interesting, at least in so far as, being from Belgium, they had three languages to choose from. It would drive me bonkers. I recently spent a week in Belgium, and locals and tourists alike had to keep renegotiating languages. “Nederlands? Française? English?” Exhausting! But Vive La Fête had all these to choose from, and they chose French. A wise choice, I think, if you have ever heard the gargling induced by trying to sing in Dutch.


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One Response

  1. joshua william says:

    Have you checked out Charlotte Gainsbourg at all? She has a couple of nice albums – one with musical help from Air + Jarvis Cocker and the other with Beck.

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