La Madonna Française


Today, discovering new music is easier than ever. The days when we relied solely on what our favorite radio DJs chose to play are long gone. Nor do we depend on music video channels on television anymore. A whole world is available to us through the Internet.

I have observed, however, that what we listen to is generally limited to the languages we speak. Turkish and English music occupies much of our musical palate. While this is very nice, and there are many options to choose from, sometimes it can be wonderful to broaden our horizons. It is with this in mind that I write about a singer I greatly appreciate but who has been overlooked outside of the French-speaking world until now.
Her name is Mylène Farmer and she's been called "the French Madonna" throughout her international, multi-decade career.

Mylène Farmer was born Marie-Hélène Gauthier on 12 September 1961 in Québéc, Canada, where her father was working at the time of her birth. They moved back to her parents' native France when she was still a child. Not much is known about her childhood as she is notoriously elusive and rarely grants any interviews or appearances. After dropping out of drama school, she met and formed a partnership with Laurent Boutonnat, a young artist who was looking for a girl with a good voice to record his song "Maman a tort." Mylène was selected to sing the song and it was around that time she changed her last name to Farmer in tribute to the American actress Frances Farmer. The song, constructed as a nursery rhyme, proved controversial at the time of its release in France because it was about the obsessive love a girl felt for her nurse. The song and the controversy surrounding it would become the standard for the long and adventurous career of the singer.

"Maman a tort" was followed by the album Cendres de lune. Farmer and Boutonnat formed a strong musical partnership in which Farmer was the lyricist and Boutonnat was the composer. This partnership continues to this day. Boutonnat also wrote and directed many of the music videos from the album and several consecutive ones, although this arrangement was broken after the disastrous big-screen adventure of Giorgino. Mylène Farmer became famous for her long and elaborate music videos for the songs like "Libertine," "Tristana," "Sans Contrefaçon," and "Pourvu qu'elles soient douces," which is twenty minutes long and is in two parts. While her later videos are shorter in length and somewhat simpler, they still have a visual and literary strength which set them apart from all the others you see on TV everyday.

In these videos and throughout her career, Mylène Farmer has defied many boundaries. She is an expert at breaking taboos and crossing lines. You can expect both frontal nudity (she became the first singer to appear nude on screen in her appropriately-titled 1986 video "Libertine") and profound poetry (she's known for her dark, ambiguous lyrics that utilize many puns and various word games) from her. She is, unlike many other singers who strive to become "celebrities," a very elusive person. She surrounds her public persona in a cloud of mystery, rarely appearing in public or on TV. She gives only a single interview per album. Her five concert tours to date have proved to be legendary, their sound and video recordings selling millions of copies worldwide. She made a statement though her art and style long before the likes of Lady Gaga even thought of singing. Her songs, from her signature track "Désenchantée" (currently one of the highest-selling French-language songs in the world) to her most recent efforts in "Point de suture," remain a force to be reckoned with. Discover her, go into her world of metaphors, literary allegories, deepest darkness, and the cheekiest humour. You will not regret it.

Mylène Farmer's discography: Cendres de lune (1986), Ainsi soit je... (1988), L'autre (1991), Anamorphosée (1995), Innamoramento (1999), Avant que l'ombre... (2005), Point de suture (2008).

Get introduced through these songs: "Désenchantée," "Sans logique, sans contrefaçon," "Je t'aime mélancolie," "Libertine," "Tristana," "XXL," "California, souviens-toi du jour," "C'est une belle journée," "Dégénération," "C'est dans l'air."