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Lolitas at dawn

Alizée versus Mélissa Mars


Paris 

18/04/2003 - 

France has always had a penchant for pop Lolitas and now two fresh-faced lovelies are vying for the top of the charts. Alizée and Mélissa Mars, both pretty young things who regularly grace the cover of French teen magazines, each have their own take on the Lolita style. And call it chance or cunning marketing strategy, the two rivals have just released their new albums on the same label. RFI/Musique investigates:


"Moi, Lolita!"


Armed with a Barbie smile, a handful of saccharine pop melodies and a dose of calculated double entendres, Alizée has taken French FM stations by storm. The teen idol from Ajaccio got her first major break on French TV talent show Graine de Star and since then she has not put a foot wrong. Alizée's debut album, Gourmandises, sold over 800,000 copies (a major feat for a young unknown!) and her single Moi, Lolita proved to be a phenomenal hit, selling a staggering 1,500,000 copies in France. Moi Lolita then went on to rocket up the charts in Germany and the Netherlands (gaining gold disc status in both countries), before going on to seduce fans in Japan and the UK. Young Alizée has also carried off a number of major music accolades in the process, scooping the NRJ Award, the Hit FM Award (in Russia) and a stack of other awards as the French female artist who has amassed the best export sales.

Alizée's chart success is a long way from being a chance flash in the pan either. The young singer has a formidable songwriting artillery behind her – namely, French pop diva Mylène Farmer and her Pygmalion-composer Laurent Boutonnat, who scrupulously 'chaperone' their protégée, exerting tight control over song content and image. In fact, dressed in her flirty little mini-skirt and white Bobby socks, Alizée frequently looks like a 'soft-core' version of Mylène Farmer in her Libertine period.


Alizée's second album, Mes courants électriques, has done nothing to change the winning formula of the first. Alizée may come across as a teensy weensy bit more grown-up on this latest offering, but she is definitely not playing down the "Lolita touch". She still sports her sexy schoolgirl wardrobe and her new CD cover is tartan-packaged like the last. The 18-year-old claims to assert more control over her career these days - "I'm not afraid to speak up and give my opinion on recording sessions!" she recently declared. But when it comes down to it, Alizée's pop ditties still revolve around playground dramas and teenage crushes. What's more, with its overdose of breathy backing vocals, soppy lyrics and interchangeable melodies, Mes courants électriques can hardly be described as alternative or original – although we have to admit Alizée's second offering is actually quite easy on the ear.

In any case, Alizée's electrical currents are likely to send the right sparks flying in the teen market. In fact, Mes courants électriques will doubtless be rocketing up the charts soon. That's what Mylène Farmer and Laurent Boutonnat are counting on in any case. Alizée's mentors are banking on their young protégée packing out the Paris Olympia no less than seven times this August!


No-One's Pulling My Strings!

In spite of her baby pink wardrobe and her naïve, prepubescent vocals, Alizée's rival Lolita Mélissa Mars actually comes across as more of a sweet head-in-the clouds dreamer than provocative teen simperer. Mélissa, who hails from Marseilles in the south of France, began her career as an actress but "fell into music by chance" after meeting François Bernheim (the man who helped catapult Patricia Kaas to fame). And perhaps it's her thespian past that prompts her to describe herself as not simply singing, but performing a sort of "musical staging" of her songs. Mélissa's debut album, Et Alors?, is an intimate, self-centred affair which touches on the young singer's personal 'problems' in the sweet playful, language of pop. Interestingly enough, several of the songs on Mélissa's first album have been penned by her mother including the semi-autobiographical first single Papa m'aime pas (Daddy Doesn't Love Me).

But beware trying to establish any parallels between Mélissa and Mylène Farmer's protégée. Despite both Lolitas' albums having been released almost simultaneously on Polydor, Miss Mars bristles at the idea of being seen as any kind of Alizée spin-off. "Honestly, you've got to be really underhand to start drawing comparisons between me and Alizée," she snaps, "Alizée's not got any personal control over her career at all. She's become Mylène Farmer's 'object' – and I don't mean that pejoratively. I'm personally involved in how my career unfolds, so you really can't compare me and Alizée. I'm no-one's marionette!" As for those who have dared to draw parallels between Mélissa and Mylène Farmer, they get short shrift too. "I think it's a bit too easy to lump Papa m'aime pas and Maman a tort together," Mélissa declares, "The two songs have nothing in common whatsoever, apart from – at a stretch - the title!"


Miss Mars is adamant that she is "an individual artist", not to be neatly pigeon-holed alongside anyone else and defends her album Et Alors? as standing out from the crowd. "I never get the impression that what I'm doing is completely standard!" she insists. While Et Alors? is hardly a model of uniqueness and singularity, we have to admit Mélissa seems sincere in her approach. Having said that, however, Et Alors? is infused with the strains of saccharine 80s pop, which is a tired old formula at the best of times. And if Mélissa is really serious about insisting she's no Alizée spin-off, then she had better refrain from playing the girly game and stop creating such a fuss about her age. Comments like "Sometimes I feel 25, sometimes 16!" may go down well with teen magazines, but they hardly break her out of the Lolita mould. Which brings us back to the heart of the subject – is Miss Mars a Lolita or not?

"Well," muses Mélissa when pushed, "I have to admit the term Lolita – as it was originally defined by Nabokov – does fit me a bit. But the word's so over-used these days. You've just got to be a young singer and act a bit provocative and you're instantly dubbed a Lolita. I mean, come on, even Lorie's being called a Lolita now – and if Lorie's a Lolita then quite frankly we all are!" Touché, Mélissa, but it's up to you to prove that theory wrong!

Alizée Mes courants électriques Polydor 2003
Melissa Mars Et Alors ? Polydor 2003

Loïc  Bussières

Translation : Julie  Street