France was one of the original participants in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 and soon became the early champions of the competition having won five times in total. Today we take a look at the history of France in Eurovision.
Although a song in French won the very first Eurovision Song Contest, Refrain, it represented Switzerland, It wouldn’t take long for France to catch up as the first three of France’s five victories in the Eurovision Song Contest were achieved in the very early years and by 1969 their record of four wins was unmatched.
The golden years
In 1958, despite strong competition from Italy and Domenico Modugno’s Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu aka Volare and also from the very first Eurovision winner, Lys Assia, France managed to win the competition with a lullaby in crooner French style, Dors Mon Amour, performed by André Claveau. A surprise for many, though maybe not for the Danish jury which gave France 9 out of 10 votes.
Two years after that, in 1960, France entered a slightly uptempo jolly number entitled Tom Pillibi which, after reaching first place in the contest, became the first winning song to find chart success, not only in its country but also internationally. Jacqueline Boyer entered the charts in the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and it was at the top of the Spanish charts for four weeks in the Summer of 1960.
Once again, in 1962 France managed to win the Eurovision Song Contest with Isabelle Aubret and her dramatic performance of the chanson Un Premier Amour. Despite winning by a landslide, Aubret was less successful in the charts than Boyer, but French was establishing as the strongest language in the competition, as five out of seven winners had been in that language and the full top 3 of the 1962 was “en français”.
After their first two victories French Television hosted the Eurovision Song Contest twice in Cannes but, after the 1962 one, France declined because they did not want to host the contest so soon after hosting it twice, in 1959 and 1961, so the honour of organising in 1963 was handed over to the United Kingdom. France wouldn’t host the contest either after their fourth win in 1969, as one of the other three winning countries that year, The Netherlands, was chosen to host the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest by the drawing of lots.
France sent a haunting ballad performed by Frida Boccara. The song, Un Jour Un Enfant, was once again in the French chanson style, and it described the wonders of the world seen through the eyes of a child. Even if Frida recorded the song in five different languages it found moderate success in the European charts.
Only fourteen contests had gone by and France had already won four of them, The Netherlands three and Luxembourg and the United Kingdom two. In between France had ranked inside the Top 5 in all the contests but one making France the most successful country in the competition at that time.
One more win
The beginning of the 1970s proved less successful in terms of ranking for France but, by 1975, it seemed like they were looking for a fifth victory. They placed fourth in that contest but did even better in 1976 placing second only behind the winners, Brotherhood of Man. The song they entered that year, Un, Deux, Trois, was considered a childish song tailor-made for the contest and its performer Catherine Ferry, being more associated to pop-rock, was also reluctant. Still her participation proved successful not only because she scored well, but also because the song was a hit in several European charts.
The wait was over and in 1977 France won the Eurovision Song Contest for the fifth, and to date the last time. The song L'Oiseau Et L'Enfant was performed by Marie Myriam, and her victory meant a new record in Eurovision Song Contest history. The French ballad managed to enter the charts all over Europe, ultimately reaching the top 10 of the United World Chart. In our Top 10 it is the #1. You can read more about it in our 40th anniversary special about 1977.
In 1978 Eurovision moved to Paris, the only time the city has hosted the event, and France went all classic again with their entry, Il Y Aura Toujours Des Violons performed by Joël Prévost, which placed third. It closes our chart at #10. One year after that, in 1979, they placed third again in Jerusalem, thanks to a dramatic performance by Anne-Marie David who had won for Luxembourg in 1973. She didn’t succeed this time with the blues-influenced ballad Je Suis L’Enfant-Soleil.
Finding a formula for France
The 1980s saw France use different formulas to try to succeed in the competition. They sent a group for the first time in 1980, Profil, who placed outside the top 10, so in 1981 they went back to their classic formula of chanson française, Humanahum, and soloist, Jean Gabilou, and the same team of writers from their last victory, a move that took them to the top three again, and #9 in our list.
Despite being the leaders of the Eurovision medal table, the broadcaster TF1 seemed unhappy with the contest and withdrew from the 1982 contest, only to return a year later with a different broadcaster, Antenne 2. France had only been absent from the competition once before, in 1974, as the French president, Georges Pompidou, died in the week of the contest and France withdrew.
Back and renewed
When France was back in 1983 it was to witness another French team winning the competition, on behalf of Luxembourg, a victory that made the Grand Duchy tie with France for most wins, five. France “only” finished eighth that year, and after worse results through the decade, France opted for an internal selection from 1988 onwards.
The internal selections gave France eight Top 10 rankings in a row and also the last two entries in our Top 10. In 1990 they went exotic with the choice of Joëlle Ursull and the Serge Gainsbourg co-written song White And Black Blues, which finished second. The track was a big hit in France, also making the Eurochart at #21. It’s at #7 in our top 10.
One year later, in 1991, France followed the exotic trend by sending Tunisia-born Amina and C'est le dernier qui a parlé qui a raison, a song she wrote herself with Wasis Diop, from Senegal. However, that year the unexpected happened and France tied in the first place with Sweden. A tie-break rule had been introduced in 1989 and it was therefore put into effect. France and Sweden both had the same amount of 12 points so the amount to 10 points was included. Sweden received more sets of 10 points (five to two) and so was declared the winner. In our chart Amina has to settle with sixth position despite nearly winning Eurovision itself.
After some poor rankings in the 1990s, France went back to a public selection in 1999 but after two more failures internal selections were introduced again in 2001. The move proved successful as France placed fourth with Canada’s Natasha Saint-Pier and a return to the French chanson in Je N'ai Que Mon Âme. The song hit big in the Francophone charts and was performed in the 60th anniversary show Eurovision’s Greatest Hits:
France placed fourth again in 2002 with Sandrine François and her dramatic ballad Il Faut Du Temps. For the rest of the 2000s France only placed in the top ten once more when Patricia Kaas took the fan favourite Et S’Il Fallait Le Faire to 8th place in 2009.
Looking for the hit
Besides Patricia Kaas some big names in the French music industry competed for France over the years including Sébastien Tellier in 2008 and Anggun in 2012. Despite being favourites in 2011 with Amaury Vassili’s Sognu it is their 2010 entry that keeps getting more and more views on our YouTube channel, currently more than 70 million! In Oslo Jessy Matador placed 12th in the Grand Final but his dancehall and zouk song Allez Olla Olé seems to be irresistible in many countries ever since:
One placing that France had never got in the ranking was the last place …until 2014 when the band Twin Twin came 26th and last in the Grand Final with Moustache. Definitely France does better with soloists so they sent one the following year, Lisa Angell, but she only managed one place better. Time to rethink again and so in 2016, with a new team in charge, France was back in the Top 10, and in the charts, with Amir and J’ai Cherché which narrowly missed a place in the top five and here it misses a place in our Top 10:
And so we arrive to 2017 when France almost reached the Top 10 again with Alma’s Requiem, another internal selection and so far the last as next year France has announced they will have a televised national selection, Destination Eurovision, where the public will decide who will represent France in Portugal at the next Eurovision Song Contest. Bonne chance!