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Latest update : 2008-04-19

"Divine", the song by Sébastien Tellier chosen to represent France at the Eurovision competition, is provoking an outcry amongst the defenders of the French language. And with good reason: it's sung in English.

The grumbling by French language defenders is getting loud. The origin of their outcry: the Eurovision song contest. “Divine,” the song by French musician Sébastien Tellier, chosen by France 3 TV to represent the French nation in the European song competition, is sung in English.


For National Assembly deputy François-Michel Gonnot of President Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP, this is unacceptable. He told AFP that we “can’t on one hand force French radio stations to employ quotas for French songs […] and then go to Eurovision with a French singer who has decided to sing in English.” He continued, “I’m asking the channel [France 3] to be a little consistent. The defense of the French language is part of the channel’s responsibility, and it’s decided to broadcast this English artist…”


Culture minister Christine Albanel said that “it’s a pity” that the artist chose the “language of Shakespeare” to represent France. Then the Minister of State for Cooperation and the Francophony, Alain Joyandet, “enjoins Sébastien Tellier and France 3, which selected him, to consider a way that they could honour the French language.”


Marc Tessier, the musician’s producer, responded on Europe 1 radio: “Sébastien Tellier has been singing for ten years in German, French, Italian, Spanish…it depends on what inspires him. He is like all musicians, free to choose what he wishes. When France 3 called us to broadcast the song, it happened to be that it was in English. Tellier tried to adapt it into French but it didn’t work.”


A question of inspiration


Musicians like the singer Camille as well as Mark Daumail, from the pop folk duo Cocoon echo these statements, saying that the choice of language depends on one’s roots and inspirations… Jean-Benoît Dunckel, one of the two members of the electro-pop group Air said to FRANCE 24 in January that “in French, we have all the weight of French literature and poetry, so the comparison is difficult. With English, we put more emphasis on the sound, contrary to French, where the lyrics are most important.”



“This debate smells a bit moldy,” says Stéphane Elfassi, director of RecordMakers, Tellier’s label, about these criticisms. “It’s a little outdated, in 2008, to make people believe that French culture has come down to one three-minute French song on Eurovision,” he says, adding, “Daft Punk, Air and Sébastien Tellier are developing a new culture seen overseas as being of the present and corresponding to the times. Sébastien is defending France’s colours and very proud to have been given this mission with the objective of doing better than in previous years.” And for a reason: no French artist has won the competition since 1977.

Date created : 2008-04-17