Eddy de Pretto Is the Proud Sound of a New France
Eddy de Pretto is now 27 and sings on some of the biggest stages in France these days – or he did when the stages were open. At the age of 21 he performed for a smaller audience: the tourists on the Bateaux-Mouches, the Paris sightseeing cruises that carry millions of people up and down the Seine.
“It was a pretty crazy job. I’ve been on the vocal cruises where dinner is served, ”said de Pretto in a recent video interview from Paris. From the little stage in the boat’s dining room, he recalled, he’d serenaded tourists by syrupy Charles Trenet standards to the point of utter indifference. “They ate and looked at the Eiffel Tower. They didn’t even notice anyone was singing – they thought it was a soundtrack. “
“But those three years on the Bateaux-Mouches were so typical of a career,” he added. “It was absolutely formative to sing in front of people every evening who didn’t care.”
Those lonely nights on the cruise ship are the origin of “À Tous Les Bâtards” (“To all the bastards”), de Pretto’s second album, released last month in France. “I waited patiently to ascend the throne / And they sang my songs as if I had sung ‘La Vie en Rose'”, he says on the first single “Bateaux-Mouches”, the lyrics of which started from Remember Take part in lots of hip-hop bragging rights. But the name verification of both Rihanna and Édith Piaf as your guiding stars? That’s less common.
De Pretto rose to fame in 2018 with his triple platinum album “Cure”, and his mix of urban beats and chanson poetics wasn’t the only unusual attribute. There was his voice: big and lively, with every syllable articulated for the back of the house. There was his gaze: hoodies and tracksuits, a three-day beard and a strawberry-blonde tonsure like that of a medieval monk. And there was his biography: a young gay man, uninhibited and undisturbed, from the suburbs, which the Parisians still typified as the cultural backbone.
He was born in 1993 in Créteil in the south-east of the capital. His father was a driver and his mother a medical technician who worshiped an earlier generation of French singer-songwriters. “We lived in public housing and my mother heard a lot from Barbara, Brassens, Brel and Charles Aznavour,” he said. “She heard it all along and was very loud too. Loud enough to be heard through the vacuum cleaner. “
De Pretto said he did sports as a child, bad enough that his mother enrolled him in acting classes. The stage suited him. He landed a couple of small television and film roles. But his theatrical tendencies did not match the macho culture of the Parisian suburbs.
This tension inspired his breakout single “Kid”, a mid-tempo ballad about parents and their female sons. “You will be male, my child,” de Pretto sings over replacement piano chords and digital hi-hats, although the song’s video shows how he tries to obey the call. Shirtless and drenched in sweat at the gym, De Pretto looks way too bulky to lift the massive dumbbells caught between family expectations and his true nature.
“Every single word of ‘Kid’ is so wonderful,” said singer Jane Birkin, who performed a duet with de Pretto in 2018 Friends. And I should think he respected himself – I wouldn’t mess with him. At the same time, it has great fragility and sharpness. “
“Kid” was an instant hit in France and seemed to come out of nowhere. De Pretto’s weighty voice sounded like a throwback from the 60s, but he sang over frugal, menacing, bass-heavy beats. The slang texts had the vibrancy of the suburbs, but they were as poetic as they were sour, with that French fixation on what de Pretto calls “the weight of the word.”
On his first major TV appearance in 2017, he only appeared with his own iPhone to accompany him. The album cover of “Cure” had the same Gen-Z casualness: mirror selfie, phone in hand, leg pulled up on the kitchen table. A reviewer for the French newspaper Liberation said, astringent – but not without reason – that it looked like a late-night drunk picture sent to a Grindr connection.
In fact, there was also de Pretto’s theme: furtive glances in the locker room, sloppy after parties in dark basements, gloomy evenings while browsing the apps. In his spiky single “Fête de Trop” (“One party too many”) he describes the discomfort of another evening that gets high and “sticks my tongue into the salivating mouth” of the “boys of tonight”. “Jungle de la Chope” (“The Hookup Jungle”) is about the “bland conquests” of casual sex, whether safe or otherwise.
Some gay musicians treat their homosexuality as a non-issue; others want to make it a differentiator. What made de Pretto’s debut so exciting was that he didn’t do either of these. He assumed his identity to the full, making it nothing special. “I write from my perspective as a gay man,” he said. “But the songs aren’t a defense for being gay. I mean, yeah, I’m gay and I look out on society. “
He did, however, record a sideways pride anthem. “Grave” (“A Big Deal”) is fun, dirty encouragement for anxious gay teens – think Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” for teens whose first look at same-sex intimacy comes from streaming video. It’s a catalog of gay rites of passage that, as de Pretto sings, are “no big deal”: locating classmates in physical education, fantasizing about your best friend, and a lot more that can’t be printed in a family newspaper. “Don’t Live: This is a Big Deal!” goes the chorus.
“If I had to compare him to anyone, it would be Christine and the Queens, even though Eddy hasn’t exploded internationally,” said Romain Burrel, editor of French gay magazine Têtu. “Christine really paved the way for gender and sexual orientation issues,” he said. “But Eddy is very, very French. There has been a globalization of music, but when you hear Eddy de Pretto you are in the 11th arrondissement. “
Musically, “À Tous Les Bâtards” sounds a lot like “Cure”: the same big voice, the same minimal beats. But de Pretto’s writing has become less angry and more sectarian. “Désolé Caroline” (“Sorry Caroline”), his second single, initially sounds like a breakup song directed by a young gay man to the straight girl he cannot love. (In the interview, De Pretto described this type of romantic rejection with the charming Franglais verb “friendzoné”.)
On the other hand, this “Caroline” that the singer wants to get out of “my veins” may not be a real girl. She could be a personification of cocaine: a double meaning that he emphasizes in the music video in which de Pretto sings in a white parka amidst the snowstorms.
“I love to play with these double meanings,” said de Pretto, “because it opens up the field of possibilities.” He leaves the field open at the end of “À Tous Les Bâtards” in the ingeniously dirty ballad “La Zone”. This is where suburbs and sexuality become interchangeable, as de Pretto in a slick falsetto asks us to risk a visit … well, a particular area that is often viewed as dirty or dangerous.
“La Zone” in French slang refers to a rough suburban area, the kind of place to buy drugs. But when de Pretto speaks of the “dark joys” of a place where “some men are afraid to leave”, we realize that the particular zone he invites you into is more anatomical than geographical. (Birkin said the song reminded her of “Sonnet du Trou de Cul,” a poem by Verlaine and Rimbaud from 1871. “It’s a wonder people don’t talk about it anymore!” She added.)
The Parisian suburbs have produced so many of France’s best singers, actors and artists, not to mention the reigning soccer world champions. And yet, Western Europe’s largest and most diverse city treats the cities outside its ring road as inaccessible places. “That was the whole project of the first and hopefully this second album: breaking those fantasies and ideas that everyone has about what is going on in the suburbs,” said de Pretto. “And from a pretty stereotypical view of being gay.”
“It is an artist’s job,” he said, “to find points of view that have not yet been found.”