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Dossier - French Popular Music

Putain d’camion : Commercialism and the chanson Genre in the Work of Renaud

Kim Harrison

Résumé : The singer-song­wri­ter Renaud, whose work stret­ches from the mid-1970s to 2003, shows a cons­tant awa­re­ness of the genre in which he is wor­king and its place in popu­lar cultu­ral his­tory. This arti­cle will concen­trate on Renaud’s strug­gle to come to terms with his own place and status as a chan­son artist, and with the place of the chan­son artist gene­rally in a com­mer­cia­li­sed and glo­ba­li­sed music indus­try. Through an exa­mi­na­tion of his songs and inter­views, it will brie­fly out­line Renaud’s rela­tion­ship with the music indus­try, explo­ring how his almost arro­gant defiance of the indus­try, and the mass media gene­rally, chan­ges over his career as he has to come to terms with com­mer­cial suc­cess. It will explore Renaud’s rea­sons for the ongoing strug­gle with the indus­try and hypo­the­size that his dis­taste for com­mer­cia­lism is conco­mi­tant with his pro­jec­tion of him­self as a chan­son artist, which is equa­ted as the binary other of the ‘pop’ or varié­tés singer. The second part of the arti­cle will focus on some of the ways in which Renaud dis­tin­gui­shes him­self from more com­mer­cial pop sin­gers and draws atten­tion to him­self as an auteur. It will argue that although Renaud’s own per­so­nal bat­tles with the mass media have per­haps not been as vic­to­rious as he may have hoped, the fact that he has ins­pi­red a whole new gene­ra­tion of singer-song­wri­ters wor­king in the chan­son tra­di­tion and loo­king to ways of media­ting the genre’s roots and tra­di­tions with today’s more com­mer­cial indus­try, is a tes­ta­ment to Renaud’s own place and impor­tance in chan­son his­tory, and reason to view his work as a valid area of aca­de­mic inves­ti­ga­tion.

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