tremble clef

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Christophe Willem, "Elu Produit De L'année"/"Double Je" (2007)

2006's edition of Nouvelle Star (aka the French Pop Idol) was won by Christophe Willem, a contestant who seems to have caught the public's fancy for two things. One, his voice: arrestingly high-pitched, ethereal, and yes, feminine. Two, his looks: in an early round, one of Nouvelle Star's judges infamously called Christophe "la tortue" (the turtle), and then tried to flip him over onto his back. (I may have made up that last part.)

The two things are intimately related, of course: by now it's a common trope in many singing shows to have a contestant whose looks supposedly don't match his or her voice. (Mine does, but if I ever join a competition, I'll be sure to find some way to manufacture such a discrepancy and thus a good hook. Dress up like a tattooed punk rocker, say, and then sing like a choir boy. Though this plan is slightly hampered by my inability to sing like a choir boy.) Of course, like many reality TV characters, Christophe is not the hideous deformed beast he's made out to be. He's just the TV version of ugly. His gangly physique is Olive Oylie, his glasses make him into something of an Erlend Øye, and his unshiny hair doesn't hide his fivehead, oi vey. But if someone holds him down and shaves off that thing on his face, you can already see that he's plain more than fugly. (I do feel bad about how nature shortchanged him, though, because his father is rather [silver-]foxy.)

I'm not sure I would have liked Christophe if I actually watched the show. Maybe Nouvelle Star just had assy theme nights that restricted his song choices, but Christophe apparently had a weakness for bad 70s disco cheese: he performed "Sunny," "Born To Be Alive," "I Am What I Am," "Staying Alive," and "My Heart Will Go On," for crissakes -- although, I have to say, he's not that camp. (His taste in chansons is better, I think: here he covers Michel Polnaref"s "Goodbye Marilou.")

Christophe's debut album, Inventaire, doesn't bear much relation to his Nouvelle Star performances. It's surprisingly sleek and contemporary-sounding, and credit for that may need to go to Zazie, whom I think produced parts or all of it. It's also quite a varied album. Shows like American Idol are actually quite paradoxical: the format asks its contestants to assume different styles and genres each week. But if the show thereby showcases faux-versatility -- "faux," because as many critics have noticed, there is very little consistency in whether contestants are praised or castigated for "stepping out of their boxes," and if I never hear that expression again it will be too soon -- such versatility never becomes a marketing point after the winner is crowned. (This is probably due to how segmented the American music market is, of course; as far as I know, the one album that tried to be 16 weeks of Idol on record stunk up the joint.) Seen from another angle, this confirms what many know: something like American Idol is first and foremost always about the show (which requires that weekly variety), and much less about positioning its contestants for any kind of career afterwards.

But I digress. Christophe's album is not "varied" in the sense that it jumps from bluegrass to country to, say, a rap number featuring Kevin Covais (seriously, Paris, wtf). But listen, for example, to how different its first two singles have been:

"Elu Produit De L'année" was a download-only single released back in March, and it's a tremendously toe-tapping neo-Motown stomper. It's a bit like Spice Girls' "Stop" with more violins and horns, which is a compliment of the highest order. And the groovy video features women dancing with lampshades and birdcages on their heads! (Not at the same time. That would just be silly.)

"Double Je" is the more official second single, and it's awesome in a totally different way. Reviewing it for the Jukebox, where the song is gratifyingly lodged in 2007's top ten, I compared "Double Je" to the French Italo disco classic "Voyage Voyage," which Pet Shop Boys fans will remember is the record they were trying to emulate with their Patsy Kensit version of "I'm Not Scared." It's a cool piece of thumping, bleeping electropop, and that video has new age people laying hands on Christophe, or something. I don't know.

Though it has its patchy moments, Inventaire has several other potential hits: lovely piano-led ballads (like "Chambre Avec Vue"), and even a pulsating English electropop number "Kiss The Bride" that may spearhead Christophe's attempt to break into Francophobic countries. But I feel like I almost don't need these other tracks, because ""Elu Produit De L'année" and "Double Je" may constitute the best one-two debut punch from any Idol winner ever, and that's practically enough for moi.


Post a Comment

<< Home