ESC 2010 Reviews: France
Ah, France. One of Eurovision’s Grande Dames, she truly has the reputation of one of the competition’s greatest Divas. Her highest heights were reached in the faded glory days of the earliest years of the contest, and almost entirely by big-voiced and powerful chansons and ballads. She also takes a diva-ish attitude towards the ESC, alternating between adoration and disdain. And, oui, France might not have raised the trophy high since the 1970s (although they lost the 1991 Contest on a technicality), but merde, they’re still here! Their regional and linguistic allies Luxembourg and Monaco have both dropped out (since 1993 and 2006, respectively), but France’s love-hate relationship continues. Back in the 1980s, a network head described Eurovision as a “monument to drivel”, but instead of withdrawing from the ESC, the nation simply switched networks, and after a 1-year absence, they resumed participation.
Another interesting point about France’s relationship with Eurovision is that of linguistics. Traditionally, the ESC uses both English and French as its official languages (as in, the hosts will present the contest bilingually, and points are announced in both languages), and nations are allowed to pick whichever language they’d like to sing in. As time has progressed, more countries have sent songs in English, and hosts only seem to use French nowadays as a ceremonial tool. France has held incredibly steadfast to their focus on their language’s representation in Eurovision. Back in 2008, when offbeat singer Sebastien Tellier was the nation’s choice, there were shocks felt all over France when it was realized that his song “Divine” was almost entirely in English. One member of Parliament made such a fuss that Tellier eventually changed a few lines of his song into French, just to appease his compatriots. (And, to tell you the truth, Tellier’s lyrics were basically unintelligible anyway. He could have been singing in Malagasy, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell much of a difference. But he put fake beards on his backing singers, drove on stage in a golf cart, and sucked in helium onstage. That automatically makes him awesome.) France has dabbled in other languages, however, besides just traditional French. In 1992, “Monté la riviè (Go Up the River)” was sung partially in Hatian Creole. 1993 brought Corsican to the ESC stage for the first time (“Mama Corsica”), and 1996’s entry, “Diwanit Bugale (May You Blossom, Children)“, was sung entirely in Breton.
Anyway, back to what France does best: big songs with bigger voices. One of France’s five victories was the disputed contest of 1969, when four countries actually tied for the victory (it hadn’t occurred to anyone to come up with a tie-breaking method!). France shared their victory with the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands that year, but Frida Boccara’s “Un Jour, Un Enfant (A Day, A Child) was my favorite of the four. Interestingly, if today’s tiebreaking rules had been in effect back in 1969, France would have won anyway! In 1977, France won its most recent title, sending Portuguese-born Marie Myriam with “L’oiseau et L’enfant (The Bird and the Child)”. Another big, beautiful performance, and another victory.
Last year’s entry tried to follow this beautiful old paradigm. France picked the renowned jazz-pop singer Patricia Kaas to represent them with “Et s’il fallait le faire (And If it Had to Be Done)”, a lush chanson that might have been lovingly lifted from a film noir’s soundtrack. However, despite the beautiful song and emotional performance from Kaas, the song only placed in 8th position.
If Patricia Kaas, a well-known and respected singer who has sold an estimated 16 million records worldwide, couldn’t bring the competition back to Paris, maybe it was time for a change from France’s old wheelhouse. And that’s where 2010’s French representative, Jessy Matador, comes in.
Jessy is a multi-talented performer of Congolese descent, and the network who’s sponsoring his participation in this year’s Eurovision is actually getting a bit of a two-for-one deal: because this song is so upbeat and summery, it’s also going to be used to promote this year’s World Cup, being held in South Africa. “Allez Ola Olé” is undoubtedly different from almost anything else that France has sent before, and it’s also very different from anything else in the 2010 competition. This might work to France’s advantage or not; it’s difficult to tell. But, fortunately for Jessy, France automatically qualifies to the Final (along with Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and reigning champion Norway), as major donors to the EBU. To tell you all the truth, I personally didn’t love this song the first time I heard it. However, in all fairness, the first time I heard it was in the middle of winter in a frigid-cold Minnesota, and the only thing I was really interested in was a cup of hot chocolate and making sure my car was running properly. Now that the weather’s more comfortable, I find myself warming up to this fun soccer chant. Bonne chance!