France: La Zarra and Evidement

Ooh la la! I associate France with chansons (Patricia Kass, Barbara) or aburdist comedy (Sebastien Tellier, Les Fatals Picards, Twin Twin, Tom Leeb*). But this year, they’re sending something which is both chanson and an absurdist take on chanson, and I love it.

What’s absurdist about this song? I know it may just seem like chanson against a disco beat. Monika Liu did that last year, except in Lithuanian. But I think we really need to look at La Zarra’s absurdist performance of gender.

La Zarra is engaging in a constructed, exaggerated femininity. The original press release announcing her participation hailed her hips. At the time, I thought it was sexist. Now, I wonder if it’s a line that La Zarra inserted herself. Her whole aesthetic is bombshell curves and golden age screen queen styling. I can easily imagine La Zarra going toe to toe with Joan Crawford in a bitchy, camp fight scene in a Michael Curtiz film. (Please, someone with video skills make this fantasy happen.)

So we know that La Zarra is smart – she’s making clear decisions about how to present herself as an artist- and she brings that smartness into her lyrics. Evidemment is on its surface, a song that seems like it’s a breakup song. But when we get to the end, where La Zarra says, “Did I manage to sing the Great French Song?” it becomes clear that La Zarra isn’t singing about a relationship with a person – she’s singing about a relationship with music, the sacrifices she’s had to make to be a pop star.

Even though she’s now on top of the world, she still manages to throw in nudges of humor that humanise her experience. Her litany of hurts not only contains the expected heart, but also the kidneys. She’s looking for love, but can’t find it – just like she “can’t find anything, like in my handbag.” La Zarra can’t give us a straight-up chanson. She needs to make it ridiculous.

Of course, what ties all of this together is La Zarra’s voice. The opening verse, before the beat kicks in, is just her chewing through the phrases. There’s so much emotion in every breath!

So why don’t I love this more? La Zarra has the voice. The smarts. The look. But the video, sadly, is an inadequate showcase for her talents. I feel like it was filmed quickly in Canada so that French television would have something to use to introduce her.

Her song evokes a specific time and place – the 1970s disco and glamour of Studio 54. But the song built on the foundation of a disco beat doesn’t allow La Zarra to move. I don’t know whether she’s just immobilised by her corset and skirt, or whether she hadn’t yet time to come up with choreography. But this is a song that is designed to get you to dance, and yet La Zarra herself can’t do that. (Maybe that’s just another absurdist layer in the staging – the irony of having a dance song performed by someone who doesn’t dance.)

Evidemment has almost everything, but the staging in Liverpool will need to impress a lot more than the video has. I hope the pre-parties will reveal what La Zarra can do when not constrained by the need to map out every camera angle.

* Tom Leeb is absolutely absurdist. How else do you describe a man representing France by performing the song LIVE on the EIFFEL TOWER and then having all the lyrics be in English? Best In Me is a gigantic troll on the entire nation of France and you all couldn’t see if because of his abs.

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