Singing in English makes our songs

Pony Pony Run Run say their influences range from The Human League to world music - but always in English

5 January 2011

A NEW century has meant a new outlook on pop music for France with many groups choosing to sing in English.

Take pop TV channel MTV; it named Pony Pony Run Run for its European Music Award for best French artist ... but the band sing in English. Gaëtan, Amaël and Antonin also won the best newcomer award at France’s Victoires de la Musique to set their stamp on a changing trend that was, perhaps, symbolised best in the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, when French entrant Sébastien Tellier sang in English. (He came 19th, so it didn’t help.)

Earlier, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg and Vanessa Paradis recorded successfully in English but mostly as one-offs; today’s music scene is different, with more and more French bands choosing to produce and sing all their works in English.

This despite the best efforts of the Académie Française, which presides over new words and general usage of French. It has been very active in finding French equivalents for English words and a disc jockey is now an animateur/trice.

But there’s no stopping the English steamroller. Tellier’s Eurovision choice was much publicised – and derided – but earlier in 2008 folk-rock band The Dø, got to No1 in France with their album A Mouthful and it is all in English.

So many French artists are now following suit that, in September, a compilation album was released called Do You Sing English? to bring together the best of these newly-dubbed “Frenglish” artists.

The British music scene has been credited with sparking the change, as has the need to succeed internationally, but Pony Pony Run Run themselves gave a more complex answer.

They told me: “To sing pop music, it was only natural to sing in English as it made our songs feel whole. In French songs, the emphasis is usually on the meaning of the words and not necessarily the music, but the UK pop scene brings the two together.

“We certainly didn’t choose to sing in English to make it big overseas, although that was an added bonus, as we’ve already supported Katy Perry on tour and have been invited to feature at English music festivals, including Glastonbury.”

PPRR said they preferred the Anglo-Saxon attitude to new music, finding it far more relaxed, enthusiastic and spontaneous than the more structured and often disinterested nature of the French public.

“French pop is very philosophical, with the emphasis not necessarily being on the music. English pop music has always found a way of bringing both the words and music together, making it a whole; good music and meaningful words.

“We just love the music culture in Britain. There’s an enthusiasm and spontaneity for music that is hard to find in France. The atmosphere when we in play in the UK is different; it’s more relaxed, you see families attending concerts even with young children. Music is an integral part of popular culture in the UK.”

The explosion of the internet and networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube has also contributed, and this is where PPRR first became known – to the point where they have already done concerts in Japan and toured Korea.

Such technology has meant French musicians learning more English, being given the chance to discover more music and actively looking to understand what was being said, which has led to them broadening their artistic scope and experiment in a more universal language.

However, French radio is not helping them become better known: artists such as PPRR, Tellier, Phoenix, Hey Hey My My and Revolver are penalised in their own country for singing in English thanks to the Loi Toubon, which restricts English language airplay to 60 per cent.

PPRR found it amusing and suggested Sunday radio as a good example: they said that, by then, radio stations have used up their quota and have no choice but to play French songs.

They owe their music background to their youth in Nantes, where they had American neighbours: “We practically lived at their house; that’s how we learnt English.

“We have been influenced by groups such as Human League, but we draw our inspiration from everywhere, all kinds of music and from all over the world.

“We just chose to draw those influences together and to produce our work in English, as that is what feels right and works for us.”

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