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Friday, 31 January 2014

Friday's French music break - Les Victoires de la musique 2014

Yes, this week's Friday's French music break is a bit different as it's dedicated to this year's Victoires de la musique, France's equivalent of the Grammy Awards

And here's a thing to kick off. The very (French) group which cleaned up at the recent edition of the Grammys in Los Angeles, won't just be absent, they haven't even been nominated.

The motorbike helmeted duo (no, not François Hollande and his bodyguard) of Thomas Bangalter of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. aka Daft Punk, apparently declined the offer preferring to take their chances Stateside, where they picked up five awards including album ("Random access memories") and record ("Get lucky") of the year.

Organisers sent out a second invitation to the duo to perform but, as yet, there has been no reply.

So without arguably France's most successful international act at the moment, who has been persuaded to appear and who's up for a possible gong?

Well, you can see all the details here, but the most notable inclusion is not a French artist at all, but...ta da...Belgian Paul van Haver, better known by his stage name Stromae.

Stromae (screenshot from interview with Marie Drucker on France 2 television, August 2013)

The 28-year-old has picked up six nominations in four different categories (huh?) including (deep breath) Male artist of the year, Album of the year (the excellent "Racine carrée") and twice for Original song of the year and Video of the year (both times for "Papaoutai" and "Formidable").

Should he not pick up at least a couple of awards, those voting (which, in some categories include the general public) will need their heads examined.

And especially when you take a look at who he's up against for Original song of the year: ageing rocker Johnny Hallyday for "20 ans" and Maître Gims with "J'me tire de".

Nominated against Stromae in both Male artist of the year and Album of the year (for "Les chansons de l'innocence retrouvée" is Étienne Daho, whose low, almost whispered voice (in other words, he's not much of a singer) has been boring some of us with variations of the same song since the early 1980s.

Zaz, Vanessa Paradis (yet again) and peculiarly enough the male-female duo of Lilly Wood and the Prick (Nili Hadida and guitarist Benjamin Cotto) (winners of the 2011 Best newcomer award) are the three acts nominated in the category Best female artist of the year. Perhaps nobody realised that Cotto is a man and Lily Wood and the Prick are actually a group.

Lilly Wood and the Prick (screenshot from  Where I Want To Be (California) official video)

And there are strange things over in the Album revelation of the year category which includes HollySiz (Cécile Cassel) with "My name is", La Femme and their album "Psycho Tropical Berlin" as well as (here comes another silly name) Cats on trees (duo Nina Goern and Yohan Hennequin) with their album of the same "Cats on Trees".

Yes it's Goern and Hennequin's debut album, but they've been performing together since 2007. Some revelation!

Anyway, the awards will be broadcast live on France 2 and transmitted on France Inter and France Bleu radio on February 14, in what promises to be its usually overdrawn luv-in with Virginie Guilhaume at the helm,

Yes, the same woman who hosted the whole shebang (with Laurent Ruquier) in 2013 and who also presents "Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier?"

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Plagiarism claims levelled against French Eurovision hopefuls Twin Twin

France hasn't even chosen its contestant to place poorly in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, but already one of the contenders is creating a buzz.

And not for the right reasons.

The confusingly (purposefully) named trio Twin Twin are being accused by many of having "plagiarised" one of 2013's biggest-selling songs in France in an effort...well presumably to make it through as France's representative at this year's songfest to be held in the Danish capital Copenhagen in May.

Twin Twin (screenshot from France 3 television)

Their group's song, "Moustache", bears more than a passing resemblance to Belgian singer Stromae's (excellent) "Papaoutai" with a dash of former child star Jordy's 1992 hit (the ghastly) "Dur dur d'être bébé!" thrown in for good measure.

If you need a bit of convincing, close your eyes and take a listen to Twin Twin and Stromae back-to-back or you could listen to all three titles (just click on the links provided) on the mashup made by DJs on Virgin radio.

The group has admitted there is some (!!!) similarity at the beginning of both their song and that of Stromae, but has denied accusations of plagiarism saying that the song was written a year before the release of Belgian singer's album ("Racine carrée").

"We're flattered to be compared with Stromae," the group said. "He's a great artist but the word 'plagiarised' isn't really appropriate."

All right. How about "copied" then?

France hasn't won the Eurovision Song Contest since 1977 and in recent years has placed (to say the least) poorly.

The usual method for choosing the country's entry has been for the execs at France Télévisions to choose an artist and then the song.

All very democratic and hugely unsuccessful producing a string of also-rans with last year's entry from Amandine Bourgeois finishing in 23rd place.

So a change of strategy this year with three artists and three songs being put to a public vote.

They are of course "Moustache" from Twin Twin, a semi-finalist in a past edition of Star Academy Joanna, singing "Ma liberté" (you can listen that here) and "Sans toi" - an English-French mix from the group Destan

All three acts have already performed at the so-called National Finals televised on France 3 and it's now up to the public to decide which one will represent the country in Copenhagan in May.

The "winner" will be revealed towards the end of February.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Friday's French music break - Yseult Onguenet, "Roar" and "Ne me quitte pas"

Friday's French music break this week is a double whammy from a singer who is just beginning her career.

It's Yseult Onguenet with her version of Katy Perry's "Roar" and Jacques Brel's "Ne me quitte pas".

Onguenet is one of the contestants this year in the TV talent show Nouvelle Star (the French equivalent of Pop Idol) currently being broadcast weekly on D8.

Now before you start groaning, give the format - and in particular Onguenet a chance.

Yseult Onguenet singing "Roar" (screenshot from D8 Nouvelle Star)

The 19-year-old is probably one of the favourites to win and she certainly seems to be the judges' pick.

But they've got it wrong before (and so has the viewing and voting public come to that).

Because the "collected works" of Star Academy, Nouvelle Star, X  Factor (which only ran for two seasons in France) Popstars and most recently The Voice have allowed some complete non-entities their proverbial 15 minutes and plus of fame.

But they've also provided the launching pad for some successful singers. Jenifer, Nolwenn Leroy, Élodie Frégé and the late Grégory Lemarchal from Star Academy.

While Nouvelle Star has, down the years, given us Christophe Willem, Julien Doré (both winners) as well as Amel Bent.

And Matt Pakora (winner) and Chimène Badi (eliminated because the producers thought her voice unsuitable to be part of the group they were looking to form) both owe their initial exposure to Popstars

Anyway back to Nouvelle Star, now down to the last five...including Onguenet

And it's not difficult to see why.

She opened the first prime time show with a rather rushed and not totally inspired version of Stromae's "Papaoutai". But that could perhaps be put down to nerves.

Since then though, Onguenet has blossomed, putting in one stunning performance after another

Sure, her choice of songs has sometimes been more than audacious, maybe even conceited, with renditions of Brel's "Ne me quitte pas" and "Comme d'habitude" by Claude François.

But it has also been varied with her tackling Lana del Rey's "Summertime sadness", Radiohead's "Creep" and Benjamin Biolay's "Ton héritage".

Yseult Onguenet singing "Ne me quitte pas" (screenshot from D8 Nouvelle Star)

Yes, this is a young woman who seems able to turn her vocal cords in whatever direction she chooses.

Her voice is distinctive. She has a great timbre and range and there's also the flavour of her Cameroonian roots (yes that sounds ridiculous, but listen) in some of her interpretations.

And each performance (even if it has been enhanced and produced for TV in spite of being live) has been a revelation.

Anyway put away any preconceived ideas you might have about TV talent shows and judge for yourselves.

Here are those two performances which (so far) stand out.

First up Katy Perry's 2013 hit "Roar" - which is exactly the full throttle approach Onguenet takes in her interpretation

And then Jacques Brel's much-(over) covered "Ne me quitte pas", into which she breathes ...well take a listen.

Un très bon week-end à toutes et tous!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"Lurn" French with the Front National

Hands up those of you out there who are literally word perfect when it comes to writing.

You never, ever make a mistake of any kind. Your grammar, spelling and the "Eats, shoots and leaves" of punctuation" are all irreproachable.

For those mere mortals among us, all too often errors creep in.

Usually it don't matter none, because others will perhaps not even spot the mistake or, if they do, will be indulgent.

Thankfully for some of us working in fields where it's important to get it right (for fear of giving the wrong impression), there is often a safety net available in the form of a sub-editor or a ruddy good proof reader.

It's a shame - or maybe on second thoughts, perhaps not - that the same cannot be said for the far-right Front National's (FN) candidate in this year's race to be mayor of Paris.

Someone in Wallerand de Saint-Just's team - for that's his name - clearly didn't run the copy for his campaign pledges through spellcheck before sending it off to the printers.

Yes - as an aside - Saint-Just is a man.

Wallerand de Saint-Just (screenshot from YouTube video)

And there you all thought that the race to become the next mayor of Paris was an all-female affair because that's what the (foreign) media has been reporting.

Well it ain't.

Sure both the leading candidates are women.....Anne Hidalgo for the Socialist party and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM) for the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

And the second round slogfest will undoubtedly be between them.

But the first round is not an all-female affair because both the FN with Saint-Just and the Greens with Christophe Najdovski, are putting up male candidates.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, as trivial as it might be in a political world in which image is so important.

You see Saint-Just wants to protect and promote French - the language that is - as part of his campaign.

It's apparently not just a desire to keep at bay all those nasty and devilish foreign (English) words wot keep spoiling la langue de Molière.

No, it's also a wish to promote French, especially in the Paris which "as the country's capital has (paraphrasing) an obligation to show the way."

In other words, Saint-Just wants to "defend" that French language.

Except that's not quite how it came across in the official programme handed out to journalists during a recent press conference.

Because, as you can see from the accompanying screenshot, Saint-Just also appears to be into neoligisms, albeit it cocked-up ones, in wanting to, "défenFre la langue française".

"défenFre" (screenshot from Europe 1 report)

Yes, it's clearly a typo and one which is "understandable given that on a French keyboard the "d" and the "f" are next to each other.

But still it raises a chuckle and is a reminder that in Paris at least, where it doesn't stand any chance of winning, the FN can afford to appear suitably amateurish.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Friday's French music break - Indila, "Dernière Danse"

Friday's French music break this week is a worm.

Not, not the slithery thing you'll find in the garden, but in the musical sense of "a song that gets stuck in your head and just won't go away".

It's "Dernière Danse", the debut solo single from Indila.

Indila (screenshot from "Dernière Danse" official video)

At first the song doesn't sound up to much.

It's almost as though the melody seems to be undecided as to what exactly it is and where it's going.

The production (by Indila's husband, DJ Skalp) "wanders" at times with the melody not quite knowing what it's supposed to be. But that's probably down to the oriental meets French chanson "fusion". It's a mix which lends the song a certain hypnotic feel.

Because there's a definite oriental flavour to "Dernière Danse" which make it more than the run-of-the-mill sort of French song you might well be used to hearing.

In addition, the 24-year-old (although at the moment she refuses to disclose personal details and her exact age is "whatever the person interviewing her" wishes to give her), who has already sung on releases from the likes of Youssoupha, Rohff and Soprano, also has a pretty "interesting" voice. And that's not being dismissive

What comes across initially (to some ears perhaps) as a somewhat whiny pitch (oh dear, this really isn't "selling" the song or the singer is it?) in fact develops into something very distinctive and well-suited to the unusual melody.

Indila most definitely has a sound which sets her aside from many other female artist you're likely to hear on mainstream radio stations in France.

Perhaps though the comparison to (Edith) Piaf, which she finds flattering, is a little far fetched.

Finally there are the intelligent lyrics which, as Indila says, "recount the history of a young person of foreign origin (in France) facing everyday racism and how that makes her feel."

Anyway, "Dernière Danse" has - with reason - been getting plenty of airplay and is currently at number two in the French charts, only being kept off the top by Pharrell William's "Happy".

And Indila is apparently preparing an album, also produced by her husband.

In the meantime though, here's the official clip of "Dernière Danse" which has already been viewed more than four million times on YouTube.

Give it a listen - and maybe then another.

Bon week-end.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

French TV's "double take" interview on Opération Pièces Jaunes

It can be hard reporting on an event that happens annually and, at the same time, finding something new to say.

That clearly though didn't seem to be a thought running through the mind of TF1's prime time news anchor Gilles Bouleau recently as he interviewed France's former, former first lady Bernadette Chirac.

Gilles Bouleau (screenshot from Le Petit Journal report)

The woman with the impossible "hair don't" was invited into the studio in her capacity as president of la Fondation Hôpitaux de Paris – Hôpitaux de France which, every year, organises Opération Pieces Jaunes to collect that unwanted small change we all have in our wallets, purses or pockets, to help children in French hospitals.

Bernadette Chirac (screenshot from Le Petit Journal report)

Anyway there was Chirac, in the studio with ageing French rocker Johnny Hallyday sitting beside her and Bouleau clearly determined to take a less than original approach to the questions he posed.

In fact his style and, more importantly, content bore a striking resemblance to the interview he conducted at around the same time last year.

Virtually word for word, Bouleau repeated the same questions, eliciting more or less the same sort of response.

Ah. That's real probing and exhaustive journalism at its best "copy and paste".

Take a listen to what those ever vigilant folk over at Le Petit Journal on Canal + put together (it's in French naturally but even if you don't understand a word you'll be able to hear that Bouleau asks more or less - maybe more "more" than "less" - the same questions 12 months apart).

20h de TF1: Gilles Bouleau se copie-colle par LeHuffPost

Perhaps the 51-year-old was taking too literally the words he uttered at one point that, "small change has been given a second life for almost 24/25 (2013/2014 interviews) years," in believing the same was true of his interview.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Charlie Hebdo's satirical front cover on Hollande's "Moi, président de la république"

Remember back in 2012 during the televised debate between Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, the two candidates in the second round of the presidential elections?

That moment when former TF1 news anchor Laurence Ferrari asked Hollande what sort of president he would be if elected and the response he gave?

It was a brilliantly written and perfectly delivered speech in which the repeated phrase, "Moi président de la république".

François Hollande (screenshot from 2012 televised presidential debate)

In giving his answer Hollande clearly attacked Sarkozy's style in office saying how he would be less omnipresent in the running of the country and allow the government to do exactly what it had been elected to do.

And he began each point with, "Moi président de la république", repeating the phrase to show he clearly saw himself in the job.

Moreover, he would "lead by example" and "his behaviour would be irreproachable" - a clear reference to how public Sarkozy's private life had been during his presidency.

Ho hum.

Given recent revelations (yes yawn) about Hollande's alleged relationship with French actress Julie Gayet, the weekly satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo just couldn't resist "joining in the fun" in its own inimitable  style.

Its front cover this week shows just how different Hollande really is from his predecessors.

No comment.

Charlie Hebdo front cover

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

France's all-star international "Premier Drame"

It is, of course, currently France's Premier Drame: A soap opera or farce, if you like, of the very first order as far as the international media is concerned.

Francois Hollande's still (at the time of writing, he has yet to confirm or deny officially) "alleged" night time trysts with French actress Julie Gayet.

A story brought to you by that bastion of "investigative journalism", Closer magazine.

Remember, it's the weekly rag which also gave us the double page spreads of the Duchess of Cambridge's wobbly bits a couple of years ago.

The world's media awaits with the proverbial bated breath for Tuesday's annual news conference when Hollande is supposed to outline to some 500 or so accredited Elysée journalists, his plans for the economy, how to stimulate growth and tackle unemployment

Standing room only though and an atmosphere as "electric" as the conference in 2008  at which his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, answered questions, in his own manner, about his relationship with Carla Bruni.

Whatever Hollande says will likely be similarly under-reported internationally as the issue everyone it seems (outside of France) really wants him to address is the alleged affair with an actress very few had even heard of before last week.


Julie Gayet (screenshot from interview in 2012)

Who will ask THE question?

How will Hollande respond?

Seemingly endless column inches and broadcast time have been devoted to such burning issues as the perceived damage to the international image of Hollande - and by association, France - and the hospitalisation of his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.

Heck, France 2 television even asked Hollande's former partner (and mother of their four children) Ségolène Royal on its lunchtime news on Sunday for her opinions.

Seggers refused to respond.

If it had happened to someone holding high office in the United States or the United Kingdom, we are told, he (or she) would have been forced to explain (!!!), apologise and/or even resign.

But thankfully France is neither as priggish as the US nor as obsessed as the UK about its politicians' so-called sex scandals.

Yes, Hollande's opponents are having a field day. He's easy pickings and it's trash journalism at its very best or worst, depending on how you view these things.

President "Normal" is just a little too so for some tastes. For others he's just as hypocritical as many of his predecessors in office in invoking the "privacy principal".

But, let's face it, the allegations are hardly new news, now are they?

They're just in the public domain for the first time.

The rumour had been circulating for the best part of last year.

But Closer, with its trademark long lens approach to capturing photos that'll really tell the story, broke the news that, when picked up by the more respectable media took on a life of its own.

And the race to discover and cover absolutely every angle even led Le Monde to suggest that Closer had been tipped off by some of Sarkozy's cronies about Hollande's movements.

Hooray. Closer and Le Monde in the same sentence with the former helping out the latter to pull in a few extra punters.

Visions of "That'll learn you for criticising my Bling Bling celebrity approach to being president and insisting you would do things differently," perhaps from Sarkozy as he prepares his comeback.


Frankly Hollande's love life wasn't particularly interesting - and it still isn't.

France has seen its leading politicians survive far worse "scandals" of course.

Most recently there was Dominique Strauss-Kahn Sofitel suite 2806 affair (soon to be brought to us as a film starring Gérard Depardieu) a real story of misconduct by a French political heavyweight because it involved alleged rape.

But Jacques Chirac's "There have been women I have loved a lot," admission that he was something of a philanderer?

Or François Mitterrand's recognition of the existence of his daughter Mazarine, by his long-time mistress Anne Pingeot?

They were stories that came and went but hardly "rocked the office of president" (well maybe they created a few waves at the time) and didn't define Chirac and Mitterrand's time in office.

Certainly Hollande seems to have been less than prudent in his behaviour. And one could question his morals and more perhaps.

There are serious questions of safety at the idea of the head of state "scootering" around the streets of Paris in the middle of the night with only the bare minumum of security.

But heck. It's just an alleged affair, exposed by a celebrity magazine.

Here's hoping that the headlines after Tuesday's news conference concentrate on the things that really matter such as how Hollande proposes to relaunch the French economy and live up to his election campaign of cutting unemployment.

Fat chance!

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