France – There’s been a change in the way the contest is perceived in France. It used to be a hated contest, “for old people and gays”, more kitsch than cult; nowadays, the contest is popular, even if some people can consider it’s not a perfect way to look at the contest, it’s already a step up.
First of all, there are the signs that the country has taken a new interest in the contest. When France 3 was in charge of the contest between 1998 and 2014 (for more details, you can check my French history in Eurovision), the contest slipped into a dark age: three Top 10 results, two Top 5 more than a decade ago (2001 and 2002), when the contest wasn’t as big as it is now, that’s not much for a 17 entries run. Worse: they had an impressive run of bottom 5 placings, often three in a row: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014. So France 2 took over, got a bottom 3 placing with a “reasonable” entry that they admitted later was an awful choice, “completely disconnected” of the reality of the contest. They indeed sent a new Marie Myriam. One year later, Amir changed everything.
Facts prove Amir’s influence on the way the contest is perceived here. He won ET’s pre-contest TEKO 2016. More importantly, Amir won the OGAE’s vote 2016 after France got only second in 2009 with Patricia Kaas (behind Norway) and in 2011 with Amaury Vassili (behind Hungary). In the contest, Amir got 3rd from the juries and 9th in televote! If France often managed to do well with juries (Patricia Kaas got 4th with the juries in 2009 and got close to the Top 10 in 2012 or 2013), it usually flopped in televote (except with Jessy Matador who got 8th from the televote in 2010). In the end, France wrapped up the 2016 season with a 6th place overall, a best result over a decade. With the good result, came more success. Amir’s song “J’ai cherché” was extremely well received in France, ending in the NRJ Music Award for “Best French Song”, a prize won by televote on competitor channel TF1!
What can explain this, if not the cult following Cyril Hanouna has gotten in France? Here’s not the place to discuss this cult following and the way it can be quite sick (even if his daily live talkshow can have its moments, and can be hilarious with some great editorials sometimes), but Cyril Hanouna has been the French commentator in 2009 and 2010 (with France being at reasonable 8th and 12th places) and has never hidden his love for “the kitsch show” that is Eurovision. His talkshow, now first in France, has been getting more and more following since late 2013 and in 2014 he pushed Conchita Wurst before the contest, came dressed as her in the following Monday’s show, invited her when she performed at Paris’ Crazy Horse. Since then, every year Cyril has talked everything issued by France 2 on the contest, invited Lisa Angell and Amir both before and after their contests and helped them get recognition never ever before an entrant has received, except for Patricia Kaas who exceeded the sphere of the contest alone.
But it’s not just Cyril Hanouna anymore. The famous (and insanely annoying, if I may say so), Kids United group has recently helped reconnect with the last French winner in the contest, 1977’s “L’Oiseau et l’enfant”. Kids United are a French group made only of kids and teenagers, put together by a producer to promote organizations who help kids around the globe. They only do reprises of famous songs about peace, and their last hit was Marie Myriam’s cult entry:
So what, it’s just pop culture! Not anymore. Great French comedian Isabelle Huppert, nominated this year for a Golden Globe in Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece “Elle“, former Cannes president in 2009 (her jury gave the Palme d’or to Michael Haneke’s “White Ribbon“), features in a new film about… an Eurovision former singer trying a late comeback! Here’s the trailer:
The film, entitled “Souvenir” has an interesting cover done by plastician artists Pierre & Gilles, who are known for revisiting iconic figures through the grotesque and the kitsch. Which of course rises more questions: is the contest now popular, but only for how its perceived, as an old fashioned “bad taste” contest? Now anyway, the new France 2 team seems more likely to bring more good results for France, and seem to be on par with what is popular in the contest and in the country, as Amir’s success, both domestic and in the contest, proves.