I want to pogne

The American hegemony on the pop music scene is indisputable. And many talent hunters from the United States are exploring other regions of the globe in search for new ideas and artists to carry them. Scouting for new talents, Gene Simmons was at the Metropolis last November for the M pour Montréal music event. His presence obviously didn't go unnoticed.

In its report on the event, ChartAttack.com deemed it worthwhile to mention that Mr. Simmons told a room packed with local media (i.e. mostly French) that "any self-respecting band interested in making money has to sing in English. The Scorpions could barely speak two words of English and managed just fine."

Happily unmarried with Canadian model Shannon Tweed since 1985, the Kiss front man knew exactly where he was heading with the local press. Of course, he's right about singing in English being a better route for making money; the list of best selling music artists is packed with English-language singers. But what appears to be close-mindedness to the average North American may simply be curiosity for things other than English.

It's kinda cool to highlight these differences in cultural curiosity. The Who, for example, was a popular band with album sales in the 100 million vicinity. Despite a successful tour in 2006-2007, ticket sales weren't strong enough in Montréal to justify a stop in the city.

On the other hand, Rammstein, a band from Germany singing almost exclusively in German, was a hit in Québec City last summer. When they embarked on their world tour last fall, Montréal was one of only two cities in North America and tickets sold like hotcakes. They will be back this spring (three times in less than a year) and sales are doing fine; Montrealers in search for good tickets this coming May should consider Toronto.

Still, Mr. Simmons missed the mark by using The Scorpions to illustrate his point. Céline Dion is a much better example. She sold twice the albums Mr. Simmons did with his band and, unlike The Scorpions, has a very descent répertoire of songs in her mother tongue.

Perhaps, Rock et Belles Oreilles said it best in 1989 when they released "I want to pogne", a Frenglish phrase for "I want to be famous".

Don't get me wrong. Singing in English is great. And Québec's music scene is jumping on the bandwagon along with others at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Need I say I wish them good luck?

If there's one thing that should stand above all... it's that... well... there's stuff going on outside the English-speaking world.

1 comment:

Raman said...

Culture-wise, we have come out of an era when "international" meant a meeting of different cultures and languages. An era when artists like Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich could sing in front of audiences who didn't speak their languages. Yet, audiences sensitive enough, and culture-curious enough to make an effort in order to appreciate their art.
In that era, in the heart of New-York and other great World capitals, you could still easily find foreign language cinema theatres. In that era, a Serge Gainsbourg record could still be voted "best album of the decade" by a British audience

Now, "international" means "English". It means that, wherever an individual starts from, they will most likely listen to some local stuff, and then English stuff; neglecting to pay attention to anything else.

Hence, in his/her I-pod, a Thai person is likely to have Thai mp3s, alongside American and British ones. No Cambodian, Chinese or Brazilian music, or anything else.

Is that really "international"?

To keep with my example, a Thai artist making music will have to make the choice: Be local, in Thai; or be international, in English.

Problem is, if they make Thai music, local style, but sing it in English, that won’t cut it usually: International audiences have become so desensitized to anything "foreign" sounding, that they are not likely to succeed. To everybody, it will sound like bad or weird American music.
So the Thai artist will also have to make the music sound not-Thai: make it sound American.
Goodbye diversity.

(Now, change “Thai” for “Québécois” in my example, and you have Céline Dion.)

Is that a good or a bad thing?
Personally, I believe less diversity and more homogeneity is sad. But that’s just me: Someone who, at any given time, will have Italian, German, Bulgarian, Greek, Thai, British, Cambodian… mp3s in my player.

But this scenario will certainly please anyone who sincerely believes we should do away with cultural differences, starting with a single, common World language. (Guess which. Hint: It's not Esperanto.)

Artists deciding how to conduct their career face a choice, which goes beyond how rich they hope to become. A choice that has to do with masking their identity, and also with the kind of World they will help outline.