Florent Pagny

Born : 6 /11/1961 in Chalons-sur-Saône (France)
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Chanson

At the time of writing - at the beginning of 1998 - Pagny, along with "Savoir Aimer", is France's biggest selling recording artist. A great come back: after a brief spell of stardom ten years ago, Pagny had virtually disappeared out of circulation. A great lesson as well, for all those who doubt themselves too much - and for those who don't enough!

At the time of writing - at the beginning of 1998 - Pagny, along with "Savoir Aimer", is France's biggest selling recording artist. A great come back: after a brief spell of stardom ten years ago, Pagny had virtually disappeared out of circulation. A great lesson as well, for all those who doubt themselves too much - and for those who don't enough!

Florent Pagny was born on November 6 1961 in Chalon-sur-Saône, a town in the Burgundy region. Florent came from a modest working-class background - his parents were both manual labourers - but his greatest dream from an early age was to attend a Performing Arts School where he could study his two great passions, acting and singing. Young Florent did not excel at his general school studies and, at the age of 16, he decided to quit school and leave his home town to try his luck in Paris.

Florent already had a fair amount of experience behind him when he arrived in Paris. Indeed, the young singer had been performing in local talent contests and on radio competitions since the tender age of 13. Florent had even won a special talent contest organised by the daily newspaper "Dauphine Libéré" during the Tour de France cycling race.

But Paris proved to be a tougher option than the provinces. Florent managed to get a 'chambre de bonne' (a small one-room flat) and began earning his living through a number of odd jobs. His passion for music was still as strong as ever and, in between his various jobs, Florent found time to enroll at the Conservatoire de Levallois-Perret (in the Paris suburbs). It was here that Florent would fulfill one of his childhood dreams, taking singing lessons at the Conservatoire over the next three years. Florent proved to be an eager pupil, despite the fact that many teachers found his leather jacket and gold earring somewhat strange attire for a classical baritone.

Meanwhile Florent continued his series of odd jobs, one of which would eventually score him his first big break. For it was while working as a barman in a nightclub that Florent got talking to Dominique Besnard, one of the top talent-spotters in the film world. Besnard was on the look-out for trendy young actors at the time and Florent's wild 'alternative' image was just what he was seeking. Following his encounter with Besnard, Florent Pagny went on to land roles in two feature films (Bob Swaim's "La Balance" and Alain Corneau's Fort Saganne").

1987: "N'importe quoi"

With his film career well and truly underway, Florent Pagny turned his attention to his singing career, going into the studio in 1987 to record his début single. "N'importe quoi" was a hard-hitting song about drug abuse which was intended as a warning to vulnerable adolescents. Pagny soon got his message across in no uncertain terms. After receiving massive airplay on national radio, "N'importe quoi" went on to sell over 1,000,000 copies, rocketing the young singer to fame almost overnight.

After releasing his follow-up single, "Laisser nous respirer", in 1988 Pagny found himself hailed as a spokesperson for discontented adolescents across the country. Pagny proved an immensely popular figure with teenage music fans who readily identified with this anti-conformist rebel who roared around town on a Harley Davidson and promoted unconventional ideas. Pagny's new-found wealth and fame threatened to go to his head at first, however, and the singer went through a period of 'showing off' to the media before settling into his new role.

Pagny went back into the studio in 1989 to record his third single, "Comme d'habitude" (a cover of Claude François's famous variété hit). In fact Pagny was more than familiar with the French variété repertoire, having been a passionate fan of stars such as Luis Mariano from an early age.

Despite his string of hit singles, Pagny did not go into the studio to record his début album until April 1990. The album was touchingly entitled "Merci" ("Thank you"), expressing gratitude at his good fortune and thanking his fans for having helped him reach the top. Yet Pagny's new-found fame was not always a bed of roses. The French press often judged him rather harshly, mocking his rebel image and criticising his relationship with the young French pop star Vanessa Paradis. Pagny did not take these attacks from the press lying down, however, openly hitting back in his songs such as "Presse qui roule" ("Gutter Press").

Despite hostility from the press Pagny continued to be an immensely popular figure with French music fans, who judged him to be down-to-earth and sincere. When the singer performed at the Zénith in Paris in January 1991 thousands of fans turned out to see him. Overcoming his attack of stage fright, Pagny brought the house down.

1992: "Réaliste

After taking a short break from the music scene to act in several new films, Pagny returned to the recording studio in 1992 to put the finishing touches to his second album "Réaliste". The album, released in July 92, turned out to be a rather melancholy work. Having just split up from girlfriend Vanessa Paradis (c.f. the single "Tue moi"), Pagny was not in the best frame of mind and his second album suffered. Pagny was beset by problems at this time. Apart from his split with Vanessa, the singer was also confronted by serious money problems after having blown most of his earnings on Harley Davidsons, expensive clothes, partying and general showing off. By the end of 92 Pagny had sunk into the depths of depression.

In April 94 Florent Pagny made a remarkable comeback, however, releasing a new album entitled "Rester vrai". Pagny's powerful vocals filled out the lyrics of emotional ballads such as "Les Hommes qui doutent" and "Est-ce que tu me suis" (the latter written by the famous French singer/songwriter Jean Jacques Goldman). Indeed, the eleven tracks on the new album, which successfully fused variété with a modern rock sound, proved that Florent Pagny intended to bound right back to the forefront of the French music scene. Following the low period after his split with Vanessa Paradis, Florent Pagny had found calm and serenity in his personal life again with his new Argentinean girlfriend Azucena (who would give birth to a son, Inca, in March 96).

The singer's career was soon firmly back on the rails, and the time was ripe for a 'Best of Florent Pagny' album. Entitled "Bienvenue chez moi" ("Welcome to My Place"), this album featured all of Pagny's greatest hits as well as three new songs (including a brilliant cover of the Italian singer Lucio Dalla's hit "Caruso"). The album proved a phenomenal success, selling over 1,500,000 copies within a few months.

Pagny, evidently more relaxed when it came to live performances than he had been in the early days of his career, embarked upon a new tour at the start of 96. The tour kicked off in Paris in January with four extremely successful concerts at the Cirque d'Hiver. Florent Pagny received a warm welcome in the provinces then returned to the Zénith in Paris on June 11th for a triumphant show. On December 9th Pagny triumphed once again, packing out the Palais Omnisport de Paris Bercy (the largest concert venue in Paris).

1997: "Savoir aimer"

Following this enormous success, Pagny returned to the studio to set to work on his new album "Savoir aimer", (released in October 1997). Several highly talented French music stars, including Pascal Obispo, Zazie and Art Mengo, were called in to help with the songwriting and the result is simply excellent. The title track from the album has already proved phenomenally successful as the first single "Savoir Aimer", rocketing straight to the n°1 spot in the French charts only a week after its release. On Friday February 20th 1998 Pagny went on to win Best Male Artist of the Year at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards.

Following the phenomenal success of "Savoir aimer", Pagny's new album went on to sell an incredible 1.4 million copies. Pagny - who had by this stage established himself as one of the most popular stars on the French music scene - was the only French artist invited to perform at Pavarotti's international charity concert organised in Italy in June 1998. Performing on stage together with The Spice Girls and Stevie Wonder, the young French star brought the house down! He was also invited to appear at Johnny Hallyday's mega-concert at the Stade de France in September of this year. Pagny's duet with Hallyday ("Le Pénitencier") proved to be one of the highlights of the show.

Pagny returned to the studio shortly afterwards and a year after the release of his best-selling album, "Savoir aimer", released a new single entitled "Dors". ("Dors" was penned by the French songwriter Erick Benzi, as a tribute to his wife who died earlier that year). Pagny brought the house down when he performed "Dors" at his mega-concert at Bercy Stadium (in Paris) on 5 October. The stadium was packed to full capacity, and thousands of fans sang along with Pagny as he ran through a medley of his greatest hits (including the famous "Caruso" and "Oh Happy Days"). Following his triumph at Bercy, Pagny embarked upon an extensive tour (which is set to continue through until December).

Pagny stormed back into the music news at the end of '99 with a new album entitled "Ré-création, which featured 17 (more or less) successful covers of classic French chanson hits. Songs such as the Léo Ferré classic "Jolie Môme" and the famous Trust anthem "Antisocial" were given a modern techno touch thanks to Pascal Obispo's original musical arrangements.

2000: "Châtelet les Halles"

Pagny was soon hard at work in the studio again, putting the finishing touches to a new album which was released in November 2000. The album was named after a busy Paris métro station, "Châtelet les Halles", but no-one seemed very sure why Pagny had chosen this particular title as he turned down all requests for interviews. In fact, Pagny had had a troubled relationship with the media from the very start of his career, French journalists not having taken too kindly to his song "Presse qui roule" (The Deceiving Press). So his new album received hardly any promotion in the media, despite featuring contributions from some of the best French songwriters and composers of the day (Pascal Obispo, Lionel Florence, David Hallyday, Gérard Presgurvic, former Charts star Calogero, Art Mengo and Eric Chemouni).

Splitting his time between France and Southern Argentina (the country of his partner Azucena), Florent Pagny would withdraw to the large property he owns in Patagonia every time his work enabled him to do so. There, wandering on horseback around his thousands of acres, he would indulge in his taste for wide open spaces and, helped by the local peones, take care of his cattle or go fishing. As a result, his fans, frustrated by his long shunning from the limelight, would delight in each of the singer’s media appearance.

At the end of 2001, Pagny went back to the front stage, releasing a new album called "2". The latter is of a rather peculiar sort, since it merely consists of duets with some of the singer’s best friends—the inevitable Pascal Obispo, for instance, as well as Axel Bauer, Eddy Mitchell (in "Pas de boogie woogie"), Patrick Bruel, Daran, David Hallyday. Pagny did not forget to ask some lady friends either and Lara Fabian ("Et maintenant"), Natasha Saint-Pier, and Souad Massi, to mention but a few of them, also feature on the record. Following the release of the album, the singer hosted a television show on TF1 (France’s Number One free TV channel). He had invited most of the artists on the album and performed the duets live with each of them.

2003: "Ailleurs land"

While going on with his cow-and-sheep-breeding business in Patagonia, Florent Pagny would never lose contact with the French audience and he managed to remain one of the most popular artist in France. Collaborating with songwriters in spite of the distance, he released a new album in April 2003. Entitled "Ailleurs Land", the album introduced a somewhat new Florent Pagny: clad in a Poncho, wearing blond dreadlocks and groovy sunglasses and copying Manu Chao’s style. With the first title, "La Liberté de Penser" (Freedom of Thought), the artist intended to put across his independence from the system. Penned by Lionel Florence and Pascal Obispo, this rather acoustic track soon became a hit at the top of the Top Album.

Apart from Florence and Obispo many other famous artists collaborated on the album: Calogero ("Je trace"), Brice Homs-Daniel Lavoie ("Le feu à la peau"), Pierre Grillet-Alain Lanty ("Je parle même pas d'amour"), actress Sandrine Kiberlain ("Sur mesure") and Daran on four tracks. Yet, despite this crowd of people, the album managed to keep a very cohesive sound mixing Rock’n Roll with Down-tempo.

Before embarking upon a promoting tour starting at the Olympia on July 13th, Pagny took part with many other artists in the symphonic show ‘Night of the Proms’ in May. On June 15th, he joined Johnny Hallyday on the Parc des Princes stage to perform a duet.

At the beginning of 2004, Pagny's popularity took a downward turn after he was prosecuted for tax evasion. This public blow to his image marked the start of a difficult period in his career. Taking a temporary break from his singing career, Pagny turned to the film world instead, starring opposite the renowned French ballet dancer Marie-Claude Pietragalla in Jacques Corbal's movie "Quand je vois le soleil." Unfortunately for Pagny, the film failed to reboost his image as it proved to be a major box-office flop.

2004: "Baryton"

Surviving the fall-out from his much publicised run-in with the French justice system, Pagny made a comeback on the recording front later that year with the release of a new album, "Baryton", in November 2004. As the title suggests, this album found the singer indulging his passion for opera and operetta (as he had on his cover of Caruso in 1996). This time round, however, Pagny made the audacious move of recording not one, but eleven songs.

The album "Baryton" was originally intended to be a mix of opera classics (featuring extracts from Verdi's "Rigoletto" and Puccini's "Turandot" and "Tosca") and popular musical favourites ("West Side Story"). But the album also ended up including original compositions by Daran and Calogero (who wrote the music for the single "Io le Canto per te", penned by Pagny's brother-in-law, Giuseppe Giunta). "Baryton" proved to be a major undertaking, musically speaking, Pagny going into the studio with an orchestra of 70 string instruments and a 60-strong choir.

Pagny took a huge risk, moving from pop to opera in one fell swoop, but his fans remained loyal and "Baryton" proved to be an impressive chart-topper, selling over 700,000 copies. Following this success, Pagny decided to prepare a live version of the album, bringing the house down when he performed a month-long run at Le Palais des Congrès in Paris in July 2005.

From September to November 2005, Pagny took the show on an extensive tour of France, performing with a full classical orchestra. A live CD and DVD of his "Spectacle Baryton" was released at the end of the year.

2006: "Abracadabra"

After a career spanning almost 20 years, Florent Pagny has established himself as a truly unique performer. In April 2006, he returned to the forefront of the French music scene with a new album in a 'chanson' vein. "Abracadabra", produced by Daran and Erik Fostinelli, was less commercially oriented than usual, and featured an eclectic mix of songwriters: Gérard Manset and Raphael ("Comme l'eau se souvient"), Miossec (who penned the lyrics for "Ça change un homme") and rapper Oxmo Puccino ("Vivons la paix" co-written with Nat Alhister and Ben Ricour).

The first single release from the album was a classic ballad entitled "Là où je t'emmènerai." Pagny's new sober, pared-down style certainly proved a hit with fans – within a few days of its release, "Abracadabra" ranked amongst the best-selling albums in France.

Determined to tackle a challenging repertory, in 2007 Florent Pagny released a disk of Jacques Brel covers, “Pagny chante Brel”, including songs like “Jacky” and “le Plat Pays”, which he had known since childhood. Yvan Cassar and Daran worked on the new, mostly conventional, arrangements. On 1 December, Florent Pagny sang the songs at Olympia, at the very same place that the Belgian singer had played his last concert in the 70s. Then followed a fairly short tour that saw him sing in front of Belgian audiences for two evenings in June 2008. He then played at Olympia again from 14 to 19 July. Florent Pagny sold over 300,000 copies of his “Pagny change Brel” album.

At the same time as the Jacques Brel project, he started working on an album in Spanish. For several years, Florent Pagny had lived in the Argentinean province of Patagonia and spoken the language of Cervantes.

2009: "C'est comme ça"

Florent Pagny called on the producer and composer Julio Reyes Copello, who has worked with the great names in Hispanic music, like Marc Antony. He appealed to authors like Fernando Osario and Diego Torres and composers like Jimena Romero and Nelson Cano. He also handed several titles to the Parisian Cuban, Raul Paz, who signed the first single “C’est comme ça”, sung in Spanish despite its French title. The songs were recorded in Florida, North America’s Mecca of Latin Music and a temporary home place for the singer and his family. Florent Pagny thus hopes to break into the Hispanic market, even though he knows that this will mean starting from scratch.

He was back on the road for a series of concerts in France from January to August 2010, including two dates at the Zénith in March.

2010: "Tout et son contraire"

The end of 2010 saw the singer’s name back on the record shelves. With a new team (he had left Mercury and joined AZ), Florent Pagny asked some of his old accomplices, like Calogero and Daran, to write and compose a new album entitled ‘Tout en son contraire”. Even Pascal Obispo, with whom he had been on bad terms since 2003, joined him for a duet, “Je laisse le temps faire”. New partnerships also featured on the disk, like Marc Lavoine and the young singer Grégoire, who wrote two tracks.

In promoting the album, Pagny chose blatant self-mockery. Huge posters went up in major French towns proclaiming in French: “If you don’t like Florent Pagny I understand, because there are times when I too feel like giving myself a punch.” The sentence is actually a line from the album’s first single, “Si tu n’aimes pas Florent Pagny…” (If you don’t like Florent Pagny). The lyrics had been written five years earlier by Vincent Baguian, but it had taken Pagny some time to be ready for them. As he neared his fiftieth birthday, the singer was as keen as ever to make waves.

The album’s release was accompanied by an acoustic tour from 13 to 26 November. 

January 2011

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