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Scott Jagow: There are some new French groups that are singing songs in English. And believe it or not, that is very unusual. France has a quota system that encourages bands to sing only in French. John Laurenson tells us about a new generation that’s defying the tradition.
Song Clip: The band Justice
John Laurenson: Rolling Stone magazine’s fourth best song 2007. Justice have already sold 300,000 albums, a third of those in Britain and the United States. But to do it, they had to hire the services of a London children’s choir to do those infant Michael Jackson vocals. Latest in a series of ways round a language problem that’s as old as rock ‘n’ roll itself.
Song Clip: “Les Portes du Penitencier” (House of the Rising
Sun) in French by Johnny Hallyday
First, they translated English and American songs into French. Then there was singing ‘een Ingleesh’
Song Clip: “She” by Charles Aznavour in English
Then, hardly any singing at all.
Now, you’ve got a slew of young artists who write and sing real lyrics in faultless English. A duo called Cocoon, who just won the main French rock magazine’s new talent competition. A group called Aaron, who’ve sold 200,000 copies of their new album.
Sound Clip: Singer chats to audience in French.
At a club in the north of Paris, another group, Hey Hey My My, are playing their first ever sell-out concert. They chat to the audience in French. Then sing to them in English that would make their former teachers proud.
Song Clip Hey Hey My My song with English lyrics
Stephane Gilles runs their record label.
Stephane Gilles in French with voice over in English: The big labels always used to think French groups singing in English could never work commercially. But with the success of this new generation of artists to whom singing in English comes naturally, they’re falling over each other to sign French-Anglophone talent, because if you can sing in English, you can sell all over the world.
The problem is the quota system that protects Francophone pop. At least 40 percent of the music radio stations play has to be in French. But even out in that free 60 percent of airtime, where French-Anglophone artists are competing on a level playing field with Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, the French are doing really well.
Song Clip: “On My Way” by Cocoon with English lyrics
Top airtime on Virgin and Oui FM last month: French duos The Do and Cocoon. Thanks in part to English, French pop is doing better than it has for years.
In Paris, this is John Laurenson for Marketplace.
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