Thursday, May 6, 2010

Foreign Music on French Radio

by Katherine Hom

Music is a universal language. I’m sure we are all familiar with this phrase and truly it is impossible to say that music does not have the ability to transcend boundaries. But along with the notes themselves, music brings with it cultural traces. By studying foreign music presence on two popular French radio stations, NRJ Radio and Radio Nova, as well as speaking to French people I hope to gain a better understanding of how foreign music is influencing French culture.

This study really harkens back to John Tomlinson's idea of cultural and media imperialism that we discussed, that media, as it spreads from western capitalistic societies carries culturally specific values along with it which are promoted and become dominant. Since the United States exports the most media goods in the world, and France is a fully developed and advanced society, the main and most obvious cultural difference between the two is language. The Académie Française is in charge of protecting French culture, language and heritage.

In analyzing the playlist for a 24 hour period I found that NRJ, the top popular music station played 309 songs. Of these songs 111 were by American artists, 53 were by UK artists, 57 were by French artists, and 88 were by other artists of assorted origin. See fig. 1.

On Radio Nova, the trendy non-mainstream world music station 292 songs were played. 141.5 were by American artists, 55 by UK artists, 30.5 by French artists, and 65 by artists of assorted origin. See fig 2.

While Nova seems skewed towards American artists with less focus on French music the breadth in artist selection was much greater than NRJ’s. They represented a wider range of lesser-known artists. To illustrate the difference in artist breath, of NRJ’s playlist, 57 French songs were written by only 15 artists, while 26 different artists wrote the 30.5 songs on Radio Nova. Still, the majority of music played was by American artists. And while NRK purportedly plays “hit music only” it seems that American artists are the hit-makers.

I spoke with some French youth to try to get some insight on how this large amount of foreign, American and English speaking music, is experienced. In their experience most popular radio stations don’t play French artists that often and most music is foreign. These foreign artists then are more popular while there is less focus on French artists and a general aversion towards using French language in creating songs. English is becoming increasingly normalized in music. Antonin Pierre also known as “T”, of the French pop band Pony Pony Run Run said that “ [foreign music] influenced everything, the way we make music, we've been listening so much English and American bands, that it seemed natural to sing in English...we learned the language that way, translating every lyrics, our ears are shaped by those foreign bands. We didn't and don't listen much to French speaking music.”

While France is concerned with maintaining its national identity and language in the sphere of music and radio, it seems that foreign music and the English language is unavoidable. The practice of playing more foreign artists on the radio propagates the idea that French artists are typically not the best and to be successful you must sing in English. This in turn influences the tastes and preference of young musicians towards using English in their songs. It seems like this is an unbreakable cycle that to change, would require an intense overhaul of media systems and individual mindsets, which would really be impossible. Whether it is through slang or song, English seems to be slowly creeping into French life, no matter how hard the French language guardians try to hinder its advance.

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