posted on March 28, 2008 17:38
While everyone in England has been chattering about Madame Sarkozy, here in Paris all the talk is about a different female pop star and pin-up.
The big music news in France isn't the Teenagers album or summer festival line-ups. No, word on the boulevard is about two 2009 stadium shows by France's biggest female singing star, Mylène Farmer (right). The Quebec-born singer is often referred to as the French Madonna, for reasons that will become apparent as you read on.
We don't need to spend much time discussing her art: it's bland Pet Shop Boys/Dido-esque synth-pop that hasn't changed much since she started selling millions of units in the mid-'80s. Apart from her music, though, Farmer is a highly entertaining character whose story includes controversy, tragedy and mass hysteria. In other words, a proper pop star.
Born near Montreal in 1961, Mylène Gautier changed her surname to that of Frances Farmer, the American actress today remembered only for her psychiatric problems. Moving to France as a child, young Mylène moved from modelling to acting before meeting her future partner Laurent Boutonnat, who kickstarted her musical career by co-writing her singles and directing her videos.
As was the vogue in the '80s, Farmer's videos were epic productions, usually Barry Lyndon-esque costume dramas of over ten minutes. Costumes were often optional, however. The promo for 'Libertine' features what is considered to be the first full-frontal nude video appearance by a pop star. In a more recent video, 'L'Amour N'est Rien', she performs a complete strip-tease. Another video, for 'Je Te Rends Ton Amour', features Farmer as a blind woman raped and crucified in a church. And controversial film-maker Abel Ferrera directed the video for 'California', with Farmer playing a prostitute who murders her pimp.
The songs were just as provocative, often with sexual references or Lolita-esque characters. Farmer's shock-value and saucy image fuelled her incredible success - to date she has sold over 25 million albums worldwide.
Being a scantily-clad pop star meant that Farmer inevitably attracted stalkers. In 1991 one deranged fan arrived at her record company's Paris offices, demanding to see her. On being told that Farmer was not there, the man produced a gun and held the staff hostage. The situation ended tragically, with the stalker killing a receptionist before shooting himself dead.
The incident persuaded Farmer to move to California and live in near-reclusion. Her subsequent career has been conducted with minimum public appearances; typically, one press conference or interview per album or tour. This has only served to intensify the hysteria and speculation surrounding her.
Farmer is back in the news this week, with the announcement of 2 concerts at the Stade de France in Paris in September 2009 (yes, a year and a half from now). With depressing predictability, the posters (left) that are now plastered all over the Paris metro have raised some controversy.
They depict Farmer sprawled in a car park - according to some critics, suggesting that she has been either run over by a car, raped or has fallen from a height. Seeing the poster for ourselves, those are debatable interpretations - but once again Farmer has generated massive publicity for herself by doing very little.
So, for the most part Farmer's records are nothing worth hearing. There's one exception - we've already featured a fantastic single called 'Moi Lolita' (a predictably 'shocking' Farmer title) that she wrote for her protegé, a teen singer called Alizée. The 2001 single was a Top Ten hit in the UK and received plenty of daytime airplay in Ireland. Apart from the dubious lyrics, it's a brilliant piece of disco-pop.
Here's one of the rare not-awful Farmer songs, accompanied by an even rarer video where Farmer keeps her clothes on (the snow-covered setting was probably a factor there). As if to compensate for the lack of nudity, this 2005 song is heavy on the curse-words. It's called 'F*** Them All' and in France there were no asterisks or bleeps. The song is in French except for the chorus (the title, shouted) and a venomous English middle section. Imagine our thrill at hearing this on Saturday-morning kids TV: