Looseley, David L., Popular Music in Contemporary France: Authenticity, Politics, Debate. (Berg French Series, Oxford and New York, 2003). ISBN 1-85973-636-X (Paper), £15. ISBN 1-85973-631-9 (Cloth), £50.
This is an excellent book. Clearly and simply written but yet with an uncompromising ambition to deal with popular music in a seriously analytical way, Popular Music in Contemporary France provides an invaluable critical discussion of French music and music culture from the 1960s to the present-day. The approach considers, not the sacred-cow of chanson, but French popular music - pragmatically defined as those musical forms conventionally distinguished from the 'classical' - in the public sphere, and analyses the deep and multi-layered levels of discourse and debate that have arisen in France around such musics. Such a perspective breaks usefully with the tradition, in France as well as in Anglo-Saxon discussions of French music, which is limited to chanson as a literary phenomenon to be considered on the level of personal aesthetics. Looseley very rightly argues that the 'musicalisation' of French society since the 1960s has seen popular music become ever more imbricated in French politics and civic society and, therefore, worthy of analysis on the level of the public sphere. Moreover, public discourse on music is as important in France as the music itself, and as chanson has receded in importance for state cultural policy, since 1981 pop has increasingly been seen as of strategic importance. Looseley has perceptively identified popular music as 'one of the leading laboratories in which the French cultural exception is tested, reworked and argued over with passion' and his analysis - divided into sections discussing the music and the political histories of pop -shows how popular music has helped define and redefine France's 'national culture'. A short review such as this cannot hope to do justice to the complexities of the argument, but can serve to commend the author on the range and detail of his sources, as well as on the ease with which he presents and comments upon complex issues.
In Popular Music in Contemporary France David Looseley's mastery of the intricate details of fact and debate and the clarity of his exposition are such that one is always sure of seeing the discussion in all its complexity, despite the multidisciplinarity of approaches required by the study of popular music. It is not for nothing that the author is one of a select group of British experts on French music and popular culture in general with whom French academics and cultural apparatchiks are happy to deal. All in all, this book, along with the author's similarly exciting The Politics of Fun: Cultural Policy and Debate in Contemporary France (1995) represent indispensable references on any module investigating music or popular culture in France. David Looseley is to be heartily congratulated both for the way in which he has mapped the contours of French music and popular culture and built bridges between French and British academics, but also for the ways in which his work has over a period of many years strongly contributed to reshaping the nature of 'French Studies' in many British universities. All in all, this is an indispensable purchase for all those interested in the politics and practice of French popular culture.
Hugh Dauncey (University of Newcastle upon Tyne)