Mylène Farmer: Music Videos II 7.5
eyelights: Que mon cœur lâche. XXL. Comme j’ai mal. Farmer’s then-new glamourous look.
eyesores: its brevity. its less cinematic quality. its bonus feature.
I’ve been an on/off Mylène Farmer fan for decades. She’s been on my radar ever since ‘Ainsi soit-je…’, the 1988 album which made me realize that there was a French antidote to the pop confections usually on offer.
I don’t usually like Francophone music. But I love Mylène Farmer.
In truth, I love one out of two of her albums; for every platter I savour, she releases one that I find okay, but not great. It’s fitting that this ratio is similar that of Madonna’s own output, being France’s equivalent Queen of Pop.
I fell for Farmer especially hard in the early ’90s, after she released the incredibly infectious standalone single “Que mon cœur lâche” and then her masterpiece, 1995’s ‘Anamorphosée’. I just couldn’t get enough of her.
Sadly, though I could play her tunes endlessly, I never got a chance to see her videos. I’d seen some earlier ones, and even saw “Que mon cœur lâche” a couple of times, but I didn’t have access to any of her other music videos.
This is where ‘Music Videos II’ comes in.
Originally released on VHS in 1997, the collection brings together Farmer’s video singles from the mid-’90s. Unlike its predecessor, which boasted a respectable dozen of them (plus bonuses), this one only features five in total.
(nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video.)
1. Que mon cœur lâche: The song, which was released in 1992, was originally recorded for an AIDS charity compilation. However, due to its ambiguous lyrics, which some suggested condones unprotected sex, it wasn’t selected. Therefore Farmer chose to release it to promote her first compilation, a collection of dance remixes. Unfortunately, the remix version on ‘Dance Remixes’ is subpar to the single.
The song is pretty simple, with a moderate beat, but is backed by lovely synth arrangements. It also features a candy-sweet chorus that lunges at you with its guitars, giving it rhythm. It remains one of my favourite tracks by Farmer, possibly because of the guitars, possibly because of of its relative-rarity – until the release of the ‘Les mots’ compilation, I couldn’t hear this yummy ditty.
Shot by Luc Besson, this video takes us to Heaven (i.e. above the clouds) where God, an older businessman-type sits in a black chair and reads the paper. Disgusted by the news, he calls on his best angel for a mission. Jesus isn’t sent because of “the last time”, but Mylène shows up (being an angel, she’s wearing a white dress), listening to music on her tape player, humming along.
He asks her to go to Earth and fix things, so she slides down a pole, Earthward, to a grimy, concrete “city street”. There she intervenes in a series of relationships, good and bad. She then sees hookers and pimps, and men taking doses of “Love” from a breathing mask when they’re turned away from a place called ‘Q’ (in French, the letter Q sounds the same as a euphemism for @$$ or sex).
After intervening in a prostitute’s hookup, being in effect a part of it, she is now dressed in black and gains access to ‘Q’. In ‘Q’, she is surrounded by people bondage clothes, dancing in a space lined with white sheets. By the time she returns to Heaven to make her report, she’s sassy and blows a bubble in God’s face. It’s a bit silly, but it’s a fun video. And Farmer was super cute in it. 8.0/8.0
2. XXL: The lead single to ‘Anamorphosée’, ‘XXL’ was also Farmer’s third number one single in France, where it immediately landed upon release. Also driven by guitars, it’s an infectious piece whose chorus is simply “we need love”. A more upbeat track than many of her predecessors, it’s a song that was geared towards women, using the XXL fashion label to be inclusive of all women. As with “Que mon cœur lâche”, perhaps its due to its more rock-based sound, but I really dig this one.
A black and white video, “XXL” consists largely of Mylène strapped to the front of a locomotive that is barreling down the tracks, singing the song with arms outstretched. There are inserts of villagers waiting at a station, reacting to hearing the train, workers feeding coal into the train’s furnace, …etc. There’s no story, but it’s a beautifully shot video; it almost has an epic feel. Mylène has a very different look here: for the first time in her career, she’s got more of a pop siren look, all glammed up with long hair and everything. It looks good on her, actually. 8.0/7.5
3. L’instant X: The second single from ‘Anamorphosée’ is interesting because it was her greatest hit yet, though it never made it to number one: it just outlasted the others on the charts and sold in phenomenal numbers. It’s also unusual because Farmer sings in a lower register than she normally does, backed by a mid-tempo beat. I love the track but I never understood it, confused as I was by her reference to Santa Claus in its chorus.
Farmer holds onto the pop diva look for this video, except that here she’s thickly made up, which is less appealing. She’s in a big cloud of soapy bubbles, swimming in it a little bit; as she’s wearing a white dress with transparent sides, she sometimes looks naked. There are slomo inserts of men looking at the camera and others of men surprised by seas of soap pouring out of everywhere and overflowing from skyscrapers, …etc. It’s a visually-interesting video, though it’s rudimentary and maybe even a bit cheap. 7.75/7.5
4. California: The album’s third single is also its opening track, which begins with the sounds of engines, sirens, and other ambient noises. It’s a song about Farmer’s desire to leave everything behind, to get a new start in California. It’s a slow number with a sexy beat and, though it wasn’t a much of a hit as the first two singles, it’s a regular in her live shows.
This one was helmed by cult director Abel Ferrara. It finds Farmer preparing in a hotel room. Her lover, and handsome young man, disagrees with her look. She’s so beautiful, classy, lovely here, in her black dress and long hair. Conjointly, another scene plays out where she’s given a trashy hooker look and the guy (Gian Carlo Esposito) is her beret-wearing pimp.
Later, the classy version is driving around Hollywood Blvd at night, looking at neon stripjoint fronts, while the trashy version is walking the sidewalk with other girls. They see each other. The classy one is upset, wants to get out, but her lover won’t let the driver stop. They go to a star-studded soirée and, after a while, she goes to the bathroom to change into a sexier outfit. Seeing her doppelgänger dead on the ground, she decides to take her place. I’m not sure what the subtext is, but it’s a cool video. 7.25/7.75
5. Comme j’ai mal: Possibly my favourite track of the whole album, “Comme j’ai mal” brings a return of Farmer’s angsty lyrics crossed with a poppy vocal hook. Unlike the others, it doesn’t have a rock edge, but it has some epic soundtrack-y passages, lifting it above your regular radio single. Personally, I find the chorus so ridiculously catchy that it sticks to the roof of my mind. Sadly, it’s also the lesser of ‘Anamorphosée’s singles, charts and sales-wise.
This one finds Mylène in a white dress, singing at a window, reminiscing about an abusive childhood. It shows her torment at her dad’s hands, a frightened child in the shadows of her room, finding comfort in sugar cubes and insects. Later there are shots of the adult Mylène transforming into a butterfly-like creature after coming out of gooey, stringy stuff. Her insect outfit is artsy, elaborate. I like the idea behind this one, though it feels a bit clunky in its execution. 8.0/7.5
‘Music Videos II’ also comes padded with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the “California” video over three days. The 26-minute short film is basically a bird’s eye-view of the filming, with no interviews or narration.
It’s not riveting stuff; I could do without it.
The same cannot be said for Mylène Farmer or this video collection: though the shorts aren’t nearly as cinematic as the ones from her earlier years, they accompany some of my favourite songs of hers – and highlight her best album.
And while my interest in Mylène Farmer will always be in flux, I will always be a fan due to the incredible quality of her best output; at her best, she not only speaks of the pain of existence, but manages to find ways to transcend it all.
She offers philosophical and metaphysical pop, something that few other artists have attempted, let alone succeeded at as well as she has. It may be tempting to simply write her off as a pop confection, however she’s anything but.
Behind the gloss is rare depth.
Date of viewing: September 5, 2017