Saturday, May 12, 2012

Music: Mylène Farmer

I moved to France in the early summer of 1991, flying from the flat suburbia of Apeldoorn in The Netherlands to the small city of Grenoble, nestled in the valley in the Alps and surrounded by three different mountain ranges (the Vercors, the Chartreuse and the Belledonne). For the first couple of months, while we were looking for a home to rent, we lived in a small unit in a temporary housing building in the suburb of Meylan. Our days were spent getting used to the heat, playing outside in the grass until late in the evening, taking French lessons  and watching French TV in the morning. To our absolute delight there was a whole channel on network TV that seemed to play only music, M6, a bit like MTV but for the French population. There were some weird songs and videos (like the one with the dancing mummy that I used to reenact for my sister, and finally just found online), some terrible ones, some American and/or British ones that I recognised and one that I couldn't get enough of, not only the song itself (even though I could hardly understand a word of it), but also the video, which appealed to my romantic-I live in the land of 19th century literature-13-year old self.

Even though the Mylène Farmer song Désenchantée was actually high in the charts that summer, I am pretty sure the first Mylène Farmer video I saw was for the song Pourvu qu'elles soient douces, a Barry Lyndonesque recreation set in the 18th century. I could however, be completely wrong, because my research tells me that it was censored for TV as it contained nudity and sex. It would have been edited anyway, because the full-length version is about 20 minutes long, and would have never been shown during regular TV hours. So it is possible I am right. I just know that a few of her videos were on regular play during that summer, the two above, and Libertine. The Pourvu qu'elles soient douces video is actually a sequel of the Libertine video, in which Mylène plays the same character (named Libertine). You can pretty much imagine what a young woman named Libertine would get up to amongst a group of debaucherous characters in 18th century France.

I fell in love with the videos. They were mini movies, shocking, beautiful, something straight out of one of the novels I was so obsessed with. It wasn't until a while later that I also fell in love with the music, because I needed to understand the lyrics before I could really appreciate the songs. So dark and intriguing. It was pop music mixed with something a lot darker and artsy, with a voice both fragile and strong at the same time. Over the years I spent in France Mylène Farmer became one of my favourite contemporary French artists. I would forget about her for a while, to fall right back in love with her again, always because of the amazing videos that she put out every time she released a new album.
After dropping out of high school in 1995 I was working as a chambermaid at the Hotel Ibis in the centre of Grenoble and at the time M6 pretty much played the video for California on a loop. In the video Mylène plays both a rich woman with her lover and a street hooker in California. She witnesses her double being threatened on the streets of LA (her double is then murdered in the video), so goes back there, dressed as a prostitute herself to avenge her double's death by murdering her double's pimp. There was something about the song, the many puns in the lyrics and the beauty of the video that kept me dreaming that there was something more out there for me, even while I was cleaning someone's mess up just so that someone else could make their own mess in the same spot.

The next year Mylène went on one of her extremely rare, but extravagant, tours, and a double live disc of her show at Bercy (Live à Bercy) was released. That year I listened to it over and over and over again, the most poignant part probably being when her voice breaks during Rêver and she stops singing, just for the crowd to sing the song for her until she regains control. I know her voice breaks a lot during the show, and that she has a hard time hitting all the high notes, but there is something so human and heartbreaking about that, especially when you understand the lyrics properly. OK, I was going through a hard time back then, so it helped to listen to songs that were just as sad as the way I felt, and were a great counter to everything else I listened to on a loop (everything being The Cure).
There were many nights that my best friend during the late 90's and early 2000's, Maud, and I would roam the streets of Grenoble at night, drinking wine from the bottle and singing "Je je suis libertine, je suis une catin", to the most probable horror of anyone trying to sleep. I think we thought we were being daring and annoying at the same time. Actually, we were. All the time. Other times we would sing Sans contrefaçon to the statue of Berlioz on the Place Victor Hugo. I'm sure he enjoyed it immensely. Je t'aime mélancolie was another favourite, not that that should surprise anyone. We would run around dressed in suits and ties and Doc Martens with dark ribbons in our hair, a bottle of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Cendres de lune...

In 1999 Mylène released the song Je te rends ton amour, a single off her (then) new album, and it immediately caused a huge scandal as the video depicted a church, blood, naked woman, the devil and a crucifixion pose. Super goth, super controversial and immediately banned on most TV channels. When it was released as a video single Maud and I made sure we were able to purchase one. It's still one of my favourite Mylène songs to this day. After that album I kind of lost touch with Mylène, especially because she didn't release anything for ages after that, and also because I left France and came to the States. I did try to find her 2005 album, but it was impossible to purchase in the States, so I gave up. I'm sure that with the help Spotify I can now discover her new songs, like or dislike them, and listen to the old songs I used to love so much again. It's strange, she's one of those artists that I adore, I love her image, her videos, her words, but I don't love every single one of her songs. There are some amazing ones, and others that just don't really do much for me. She's one of those artists that I could make my own "best of" playlist and just listen to that (although it could end up being pretty long). I think it's mainly the whole image, the long-standing artistic partnership with Laurent Boutonnat and the magic they create together, the wonderful videos, the darkness, the melancholy, the beauty and ultimately her reluctance to share her life with the Press, and her desire to remain as private as possible. All I really know about her is the image that she has portrayed through her music over the years.

Additional information on the artist HERE
Also - disregard the subtitles on the video of Je te rends ton amour above - they are terrible.

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