Copy Chats

IF London Student had the technology of a musical greetings card, you would now be hearing something sounding deceptively like Rick Astley: Never Gonna Give You Up / Never gonna let you down / je serai là pour toi, ma bay / Viens, prends ma main et let’s go away!”.

The cover comes courtesy of Franck, Filip and Adel - the bilingual boys now igniting first lusts all over France as 2Be3 (pronounced To Be Free).

Or you might be hearing Emmananuelle, Karrine and Chris-Laure - the wannabe girl sensation, So What!. They have climbed the French Charts with a cover of Shampoo’s hit, Trouble, which is peppered with Anglo-Saxonisms and seasoned with Spice Girl rapping:

“Ah-ha. We’re in trouble
On ne veut plus même en songe
Avaler tes mensonges
Ah-ha we’re in trouble
Sur l’envie qui nous ronge
Nous on jette l’éponge.”

Despite the desperate rhymes and the over-use of English fill-in words like yeah, babe and check -check check-it-out, French boy bands and girl groups are no worse than any other French pop. Nor, for that matter, do the emerging French boys’ bands – such as 2Be3, Alliage and GSquad – have any more or less musical interest than the likes of Boyzone, 911, Worlds Apart or the former Take That.

But they are clones of a formula adopted for Gallic tastes, for very French reasons – such as quotas limiting English-language airplay, a difference in the perception of image and a culture where you can sing “doodoodoo-aha” with a straight face because rock’n’roll does not have connotations of rebellion.

The country which brought us glam punk is now managing to out-sweeten an already caramelised formula. In France, the boys are more god-fearing and their chests are even more closely shaven. They are enrolled at universities and claim not to know what Ecstasy is. The girls follow politics, but only from afar.

Freshly returned from a clothes-shopping trip tp London, Franck, Filip, and Adel (their real names) have given an exclusive insight into the image which sent their debut album to gold within two weeks of release and put both their singles in the French Top Ten simultaneously. Almost a year after they were recruited by EMI France, 2Be3 are dreaming of a future in the British charts.

Q: What sets you apart from other boy bands ?
Filip, aged 22: “Boy band is not a term which applies to us. In France, it is a pejorative term which implies a prefabricated band. We are real friends who have known each other for 12 years. We can show you school photographs.”
You seem just like a boy band. You are even sponsored.
Franck, aged 23: “We are sponsored by X-Energy, a vitamin drink. But the guy who owns the company is a friend of ours.”
What are your musical influences?
Filip: “Take That is the reference, obviously. We listen to everything; U2, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Claude François...”
What is your image?
Filip: “Very healthy, sporty. No cigarettes or alcohol. We are very aware of our responsibilities as idols. Two of us are at university.”
Studying what?
Adel, aged 21: “We don’t have much time at the moment but my subjects are Arab and Russian. Arab is my mother tongue.”
Filip: “Serbo-Croat and Russian. Serbo-Croat is my mother tongue.”
On your list of album acknowledgements, you all thank God. Are you religious?
Filip: “Yes , I’m Orthodox”
Adel: “I’m Muslim.”
Franck: “I’m Christian. But it’s the same God.”
Do you take drugs?
Franck: “Never.”
Not even Ecstasy?
“No, never. Have you?”
It is fairly common in Britain.
Filip: “Really? Even Young people? I can’t believe it. What kind of effect does it have?”

2Be3’s naivety may not ring true to British ears - recently confronted with the realities that the Spice Girls were to cast Tory votes and that East 17 has cast a member thanks to Ecstasy - but EMI is confident that their music is re-exportable to the cynical British market.

Other labels are equally convinced that, given sexy French packaging, their signings can break into the monolingual British charts. Hence the franglais lyrics and English-sounding band names. EMI’s Chrysalis label has the girl trio ADM, and its début album single, When You Wanna Move, is entirely in English. BMG-France is rumoured to be working on a girls’ group for British consumption. In the boys’ department, BMG has GSQUAD - four oiled boys, very pelvic, with an unescapable gay appeal and sponsored by Mustang clothing - whose first single was a bilingual version of Infinity’s Will you Be My Baby?

Of all the French boy and girl bands, only Alliage (“Four boys of different origin brought out together [on Polygram] by their passion for music”) have had chart-topping success with a single containing not one English word.

Baila, an upbeat little number about holiday romance, comes from a band whose four non-smoking, non-drinking, single members are so pre-packaged that fans of all nationalities need just to rehydrate them according to taste.

However, the very idea of concept-pop is very un-French. The country’s forté is its continuing tradition of baladeers, in the mould of Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg, but they are often as unpolished, image-wise, as some of France’s worst pop excesses. Against this backdrop, the emergence of girls and boys flashing million dollar smiles and pneumatic abdomens seems surprising to say the least.

But Didier Auzy, a DJ on Radio NRJ, feels the arrival of the formula in France is the logical result of the radio quota law which came into force on January 1 last year. It stipulates that 40 per cent of pop music on the radio must be sung in French. Covers like Never Gonna Give You Up, Trouble and Will you Be My Baby all qualify because more than 50 per cent of the words are French.“

Before the law, perhaps 10 or 15 per cent of the songs we played were French, so we did not need to play French covers of English songs. When the quota came into force we realised that French music was not the type young people wanted to listen to on the radio. All of a sudden there was a real shortage of singles, so the record companies saw their chance. Ironically, they have given their bands English names to make them seem young and hip and have ended up imitating the English,” says Auzy.

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