Anggun wins the French vote
New album and Eurovision
What with representing France at the Eurovision Song Contest next May and the release of her fifth album, Échos, Anggun’s French comeback is turning out to be something of an event. With her trademark charm, the singer of Indonesian origin discussed her selection for Eurovision 2012 with us, as well as her “disloyal” relationship with the French and their language, and the Asian reserve that underlies her latest, more personal, opus.
RFI Musique: Two weeks after the announcement, how are you feeling about your future participation in Eurovision?
Anggun: I feel really proud to have been selected, of course. I think that France Télévisions did a good thing in choosing someone from a different cultural background like me. I’m also aware that France is divided: there are those who encourage me each time they see me, like taxi drivers who want to “vote for me”… I have to tell them they can’t do that, but that they can vote against the UK! And there are those who say the event is mega outdated and that only has-been singers take part! (Laughter) One thing’s for sure, the competition gets noticed. It’s a shame that it’s not bigger in France, like it is in Germany, Sweden and the UK.
In any case, I try not to let the pressure get to me. After all, the competition’s about songs, not singers. I don’t know what track I’m going to do yet, but one thing’s for sure: I don’t want to sing in only French or English, I want to make it 70% French and 30% English.
What do you say to those who would like it to be 100% francophone?
Singing in your own language is obvious, but it’s important that people can understand it in countries where they don’t speak French. It would be a bit of a shame to drop English. French music in English exports really well, look at Daft Punk.
In any case, I’m not one hundred per cent French myself. I started my career before I arrived in France and it carries on throughout the rest of the world in English.
The new album is pretty classic rock pop, after your hip hop album, Élévations, which surprised a lot of people …
I think people are really cold-footed in France! That’s the reason why Élévations didn’t have the success it deserved here. I’m still very proud of that album. If I’d been in the United States, I’d no doubt have been congratulated for the change in direction. The album worked really well in Asia (Ed’s note: seven times platinum), but French audiences don’t really like change.
Because I’m really keen to avoid being pigeon holed and because I’m disloyal, I’ve gone back to rock with Échos. It’s something of a return to my roots because I started out singing rock. I actually wanted to do heavy metal, but I changed my mind (laughter). The man of my musical life is called Trent Reznor, from Nine Inch Nails. He’ll never know it, but I think he’s a pure genius, which is why I asked my producer Pierre Jaconelli to indulge me on one song, Promets-moi le ciel, by adding some really saturated guitars.
You’ve said that Échos is one of your most personal albums. Why?
I put a lot of personal stories into all the songs. But the lyrics aren’t purely autobiographical. Ultimately, everything is highly fictionalised, even though the meaning is there. I sing about my father’s death, which occurred seven years ago. I’m a bit slow: I need time and distance to talk about the things I care about. L’année du Serpent is about the worst year of my life, 2001, when I went through a painful separation. But it’s a song filled with images and symbols. My Asian reserve has a lot to do with that, even though strictly speaking it forbids me from singing about that kind of feelings and emotion, whatever the words.
In fifteen years of career, how has your relationship with the French language changed?
Let’s just say I’m a bit more relaxed now. But I still don’t master the language perfectly. It’s true that French is very complicated to sing. I had to learn how to sing again with the help of a vocal coach. My lyrics writers have been told to avoid certain words with too many “l”s or “m”s, which I still have trouble pronouncing. A lot of people are bothered by that; they complain that they can’t fully understand what I’m singing. But I don’t want to rub out my accent, it’s part of me and who I am.
Anggun Échos (Warner Music France) 2011
Live concert at Le Trianon (Paris) on 13 June 2012…
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper