Bastille Day is upon us, when all the world celebrates Louis XIV crossing the Delaware or something. We're not clear on the details, and on that front we join countless English-speaking pop and rock stars who took similarly haphazard forays into the Language of Love. In honor of the Frog's big day, we present the ten most facepalmy uses of French in American/English pop music.
10. "Sorry" by Madonna
It's the deliberation we oppose -- trust our entire five years of French (and yeah: we paid attention in at least two of those) when we say no self-respecting French speaker would actually enunciate a sentence like this. "Je suis desole" should sound like "Juswedesso," and that's if you're feeling fancy.
9. "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
Oh la la? Really? You can't just say one line of the chorus in French, once, and expect to get away with that. It's like a Francophone slur, like saying "awww shucks" around a rural meth lab owner when you come from the city. Embarrassing.
8. "Voulez Vous" by ABBA
Frankly we always convince ourselves to love ABBA until we watch it on video. So. much. glitter...
7. "Eyes Without A Face" by Billy Idol
As in the Gaga song, we have an instance of a line being repeated verbatim, translated in French. Here it's just turned into the background hook. Which is worse, because it's like they went to write a backing part, sat around for a few days trying to come up with the right words for it, and finally settled on "Fuck it: where's Babel Fish?"
6. "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads
This one was subject to some debate because, of course, the Talking Heads is sacrosanct. And we want to be clear that we have and will continue to spin the rings off our copy of Remain In Light. But when it comes down to the tape, it's pretty clear the song merits inclusion. Yeah, we get it: You're smarter than us, David Byrne. Fuck you.
5. "Le Freak" by Chic
Just.... "The Freak" would have been fine, Chic. And we certainly understand that your name itself is in French, and in that sense the arbitrary articles in the tongue of your cheese-loving inspiration makes sense. But this is maybe the best example on this list of a song that would be totally and completely uncompromised by switching the French words to English. Don't force it, folks. 4. "Michelle" by the Beatles
How many times, in the early days of the Beatles leading up to this song, did John Lennon and George Harrison have to tell Paul McCartney he had to take French lyrics out of songs? We're guessing it was often.
3. "C'Etait Toi (You Were The One)" by Billy Joel
What makes us angriest about this one is what a great album Glass Houses is generally. Joel himself admits regret on this one. And he should, because this is the worst kind of Bill Joel -- the one pretending to be aloof and refined. Don't worry: Christie Brinkley would have slept with you even without the romance language flash cards.
2. "Je Suis Un Rock Star" by Bill Wyman
Bill Wyman, who sings in the thickest English accent imaginable, just absolutely punts this. Holy shit. It's like when you play mock tourist and just over-exaggerate the English phonetics of non-English words, except Wyman isn't really kidding. Yikes seems appropriate on this one.
1. "Lady Marmalade" by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink
This thing was put to a sort of informal vote and "Lady Marmalade" ran so far away from the number one spot we didn't even need to count. We will not couchez avec vous, no matter how much Mocha Chocalata you try and ply us with.
Honorable Mention: to Flight of the Concords' "Foux De Fa Fa," which satirizes this exact subject so flawlessly we almost didn't bother.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.