Chanson francophone contemporaine : une ode à l’activisme ?

Contemporary French song: an ode to activism?

If Aznavour, Mireille Mathieu or Lara Fabian have accustomed us to the lyricism of classic French song, the news of French-speaking music in the last decade is part of a new dynamic. Modern singers are beginning to deviate from the love theme to address causes close to their hearts. In 2020, 65 artists produced in France obtained a gold, platinum or diamond record for their international sales. This divergence from traditional themes demonstrates their commitment to breaking taboos and certainly plays a role in their success.

Without discrediting the importance of classical song for French musical heritage, the songs of Angèle, for example, like those of many others, address subjects that have long remained in the shadows: feminism, mental health, politics, ecology and LGBT+ rights… These singers not only draw attention to important causes, but their voice is a spokesperson for those who have none. The marginalized, harassed and forgotten find themselves in these songs that go around the world.

Below we will go through the various subjects in question and discover these singers who tell their story and that of many others.

Our “flaws” with Apple

French singer Claire Pommet, known as Pomme, is the embodiment of a generation. At only 23 years old, she released her second album in November 2019, Les Failles. As its name suggests, this album already deals with subjects considered “non-selling” in the industry, such as: mental disorders and illnesses such as anxiety, depression and anorexia (Vide, Chanson for my Depressed Love); the domestic and family abuse she suffered (1996); discrimination against LGBT+ people, herself being homosexual (2019, We will burn); ecology, where she defends fauna and flora (Sequoias, As far as the eye can see); other taboo subjects such as fear of death and lack of self-confidence (I don’t know how to dance, La Lavande).

“It wasn’t very accepted,” the singer recalled in an interview with Slate.fr in 2020. At the time, we doubted that an album that tackled so many “dark” subjects was going to be successful. But with more than 50,000 sales according to the SNEP (National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing) for his album which won the Victory of Music, there is no longer any doubt. “Today, I’m not in any ‘game’ and I prefer that rather than doing something that’s fashionable but doesn’t look like me. It’s not a victory to achieve success with music that doesn’t sound like me. What looks like him is what looks like to all of us. It’s the little flaws that we don’t dare talk about.

Feminism with Angèle and Cœur de pirate

Apple is not the only one to claim the rights of its own body: the song Balance ton quoi by the Belgian singer Angèle stirred the year 2018 with a video clip as daring as it is controversial. This song is from his album Brol which has sold over 500,000 copies and is certified double diamond disc. With over 100 million views on YouTube, the song captures what thousands of anti-harassment activists have been trying to say for a long time: “No means no! Dressed as a lawyer, Angèle puts the patriarchy on trial and makes fun of the sexism she denounces with creativity: various costumes are put on by the singer (lawyer, witness or even coach depending on the context); a derisory and ironic staging shows men learning the principles of consent in a classroom with Angèle as their coach; public participation. Angèle calls on a very large number of people of all ages and ethnicities to express themselves and participate. “One day maybe that will change”, hopes the singer at the end of her song. With her simple but poignant words, she proves that you don’t need a whole manifesto to talk about gender inequality and the daily problems that women face.

One of these problems, less covered by the media and unfortunately still not taken seriously enough, is marital rape, because it is believed that being in a relationship implies sexual consent by default. In a song terrifying with its raw lyrics, Quebec singer and songwriter Béatrice Martin, known by the pseudonym of Cœur de pirate, recounts for the first time in her 15-year career her experience of marital rape in her song I want to go back, exit in 2018 in his album In the event of a storm, this garden will be closed, which the artist describes as “his most personal album”.

According to a study by Statista Research Department published on May 16, 2019, 98% of victims of spousal rape are women. Cœur de pirate speaks in his song for all these women who have remained in the shadows, allowing them to identify with his text. “And I wanted to scream, get carried away because I suffer, when you’re inside me, but doubt forms, imprisons, because I’m supposed to love you. Speaking up is not easy since, as the song shows, the victim questions himself, doubts, and sometimes even feels guilty, a recurring reaction among rape victims. “I told myself that it was time for me to talk about it, otherwise I was going to explode,” she admitted to Le Figaro in June 2018. Indeed, the lyrics of the song illustrate this hesitation vis-à-vis the disclosure of this trauma: “The heat of our violence, this intense pain, which always persists, but I keep our secret, which gnaws at my soul, which feeds my vices. »

“Green” Songs

In another register of combat and activism, ecological songs with universal aims arise. Several singers like Julien Doré, Gauvain Sers, Pomme or Zaz have composed it. This subject is not new in the music industry, Francis Cabrel with Answer me (1981) or Like a tree (1972) by Maxime Le Forestier are already early attempts at engagement. But this cause takes more scale and becomes more and more recurrent in the modern song.

After years of absence from the musical track, Julien Doré returns with a new album in June 2020, Aimée, whose committed song La Fièvre has already totaled 11 million views on YouTube. In an ironic clip with its realism, Doré denounces: rising temperatures and overconsumption; climate change ; negligence and lack of awareness.

In Y’a plus de saisons (2019), the French singer Gauvain Sers wonders “What will it be like in a hundred years? and if “the Earth can turn when their autumns are our springs and their winters are our summers”. On a simplistic guitar tune, the composer evokes climate change due to industrialization. A committed artist, he has also written political songs such as Mon fils est parti au jihad and Hénin-Beaumont. Before the official release of his song, Gauvain received a letter from a child: “I would like you to write a song about climate change because it is becoming a big emergency. “Of course, I had already written the song when I received this note from Joachim, but still, it’s a funny coincidence…” said the singer on social networks.

If all these subjects spring up in waves within the new generation, it is not because they did not exist. It is because we now dare to talk about it more. Music certainly remains an art which aims above all to entertain, and it is up to each artist to express themselves on the themes of their choice. But as long as we have a voice and are sure to be listened to, why not use it to speak on behalf of those who don’t? This evolution of French song sheds light on the mentality of a generation that is now open-minded: we are no longer afraid of things left unsaid, of taboos, we no longer accept silence.

Myriam NSOULY

First-year undergraduate student in French literature at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut.

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If Aznavour, Mireille Mathieu or Lara Fabian have accustomed us to the lyricism of classic French song, the news of French-speaking music in the last decade is part of a new dynamic. Modern singers are beginning to deviate from the love theme to address causes close to their hearts. In 2020, 65 artists produced in France…

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