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May 14

B*WITCHED – “C’Est La Vie”

Popular43 comments • 4,412 views

#792, 6th June 1998

vie B*Witched have reformed, like most bands, and gave an interview last year where they “revealed” that “C’Est La Vie” was “about sex”. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” is, apparently, some kind of secret sexual code. Shocked, aren’t you?

Tabloid coverage is the killing ground of ambiguity. In the red-top world meaning in songs is either in-your-face obvious or smothered in apparently impenetrable code, to be copped to years later as an ‘exclusive’. And so it’s a news story that a phrase everyone knows is a bit naughty might indeed be a bit naughty. Except “C’Est La Vie” isn’t really ‘about sex’, even in this coy way. You can say, perhaps, that it’s imitating a sexual world, in the same way a game of kiss-chase is. But this isn’t “Barbie Girl”, let alone “2 Become 1”. It’s a pop record for kids – B*Witched played their first ever gig in a primary school – and so it plays at being about what pop records are about, like a game of house or doctors and nurses.

So what’s a pop record for kids doing selling several hundred thousand copies? We’ve talked a bit about how new sales channels – supermarkets, especially – had led to an all-ages CD singles boom, and that helped groups like B*Witched do well. But we’re also dealing here with the fallout from the Spice Girls. Girl Power came along at a time the British music business – focused on Take That and Britpop – were astonishingly poorly prepared for it: the Spices got an entire album promotional cycle to themselves before any serious competitors appeared. And now they have turned up, in numbers, and playlisters and marketers are making up for lost time. “C’Est La Vie” is flagrantly pitching itself as “Wannabe”’s kid sister.

What’s interesting about the Spice inheritors is the way each of them settled into appealing to a different part of the Girl Power audience, sorted roughly by age. All Saints’ went for older teens and higher credibility. B*Witched aimed at 9-10 year olds. And we’ve got a third act coming up who landed roughly in between. Nobody went for the broad-church mass appeal which the Spice Girls had, by luck or determination, managed.

This kind of thin-sliced demographic targeting, as we’ll see, has a short shelf-life even when it’s a success. Once you’ve specifically hooked primary school kids, how likely are they to carry that excitement onto secondary school? Not very. And even beyond the short-termism, tight targeting suggests a limited view of what pop can do. Narrowcast pop moves against the idea of pop as uncanny or uncomfortable, as something that suggests new ways of being in your world. It’s a vision of pop that can scratch itches but can’t cause them.

But that’s a pan-cultural problem, and it’s a little unfair to load it onto music for young girls. A Duplo-brick version of “Wannabe” isn’t an evil idea. So as one, how does “C’Est La Vie” do? Not at all badly. It’s extremely catchy, as is probably the minimum requirement for kids’ pop. It keeps moving, bouncing along on that piano – this and the Mel C-esque backing ad-libs are its main musical borrowings from the Spice Girls – and throwing new vocal hooks at you. It’s cheeky, and its cheekiness helps seal the sense of B*Witched as a fun gang to be part of – certainly a lot more so than the feeble forced banter. (“Some people say I look like me Dad”). And of course it has one further card to play – the Riverdance-inspired instrumental break, just in case you didn’t twig that these girls are Irish. Their PR made no secret of Edele and Keavy Lynch’s brother being in Boyzone, but his band never had their Irishness pushed so emphatically – the fiddle break is clunky, and cynical, and makes B*Witched look like Father Noel Furlong’s youth group. On the other hand, Boyzone never got material this jolly either. There were always going to be Spice imitations, and they were always likely to play it safer. But while “C’Est La Vie” is very much the junior to its inspirations, it plays its part with real and enjoyable pep.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    James BC on 21 May 2014 #

    One thing I noticed about the Corrs: literally ALL (or literally almost ALL) their songs mention dreams or being asleep, or occasionally not being asleep. They were obsessed with dozing off.

  2. 32
    Kinitawowi on 21 May 2014 #

    Umm, the bunny is strong with the Corrs, people.

    (But yeah, Only When I Sleep was a bit of a dozy. Still love ’em though.)

  3. 33
    Cumbrian on 28 May 2014 #

    That’s life. Not mine though, unfortunately – though that is likely my fault more than this song’s. Not for me.

    Re: the discussion of Irishness in music here reminds me that there was a bit of a vacuum in the perception of what Ireland does musically at this point, that these acts then filled in. Ask people to name an Irish band around this time and, as people have pointed out, there are a number of pop acts vying for attention. Only 2 years previously though, ask people to name an Irish band and the answer would be U2 by default, pretty much. Their perceived slip up with Pop and going away for a while, plus the opportunities afforded to some of these other acts, at least gave the impression of there being more to Irish music than The Edge’s effects pedal.

  4. 34
    Steve Mannion on 28 May 2014 #

    I’d say The Cranberries had a few good years as Ireland’s second biggest band based on popularity across Europe (led by ‘Zombie’ which may well have been a top 10 hit everywhere in Europe besides the UK). I too was a fool for ‘Linger’.

  5. 35
    weej on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I was a little apprehensive listening to this as I loved it at the time and was concerned that, like Swanstep @16, it would be rubbish now. But no, it’s still a joy to listen to, and even the riverdance bit seems to work perfectly – that’s just where the chords are heading, and why not go there? It’s that sense of fun that makes the song in the first place.

    Andrew @24 – funny you say that, because the only 21st century conversation I’ve had about B*Witched was with a gay man who refused to believe I could be straight after I said I liked CLV – at a guess this was probably because he was only into punk and metal and assumed something like this could only be enjoyed for camp value.

  6. 36
    DanH on 1 Jun 2014 #

    C’est la vie…C’EST LA VIE! That’s just the way it goes…THAT’S RIGHT!

    …oops wrong one….

    As Mapman said, I heard this a few times here, but it was pretty brief. Watching the video now, it has a bit of “OH BY THE WAY WE’RE IRISH!!!” feel to it, maybe emphasizing it for other markets. *insert stupid joke like ‘if they were any more Irish, there’d be a pot of gold and green beer in the vid, bla bla bla*

    I’ll hold off my thoughts on the Corrs and that bunny for the time being….

  7. 37
    Kaz on 17 Jul 2014 #

    If, based on what the Lynch twins have said in the press over the years, and what B*Witched have said in the media since they’ve reformed, you make the basic assumption, which most people have made, that at least three of them are gay, then CLV is about lesbian sex. It’s pretty unlikely that lezzers would sing about heterosexual nookie. “Do you play with the girls, do you play with the boys?” has clear bisexual overtones.

  8. 38
    Andrew Farrell on 18 Jul 2014 #

    …not entirely sure you know what all those words mean, even the ugly ones.

  9. 39
    iconoclast on 18 Jul 2014 #

    If.

  10. 40
    Kaz on 18 Jul 2014 #

    Edele and Sinead’s “marriage” as mentioned by Edele on The Big Reunion.

    Keavy “I felt I’d lost my tolerance of men” Lynch – Daily Mirror, Dec 2009.

    Edele saying on twitter that she wanted to do the horizontal mambo with her sister, and also that she fancied Lyndsay.

    The photos on twitter of the Lynch sisters with their tongues stuck down the throats of lesbians.

    “I can’t believe people didn’t think we were lesbians” – Lyndsay, London Metro 2013.

    The whole gay image of that Barbarellas crap which the Lynch sisters inflicted on the public.

    It’s not exactly a difficult conclusion to come to.

  11. 41
    Patrick Mexico on 20 Jul 2014 #

    This might well be my ultimate guilty pleasure. 8.

  12. 42
    BWitchedRules on 9 Apr 2016 #

    It’s been stated before numerous times in these comments; B*Witched were fortunate to have made their way onto the pop scene when they did.

    Their ability to capitalize during the brief window they had is nothing short of impressive.

    As for the song, its catchy melody and (overt?/covert?) sexual innuendo doesn’t diminish my jovial memories and distinct fondness for this distinctly Irish ear-worm.

    Final synopsis:

    Solid, underrated song that will gain a resurgence as those 90s teens, tweens, and older closet-B*Witched fans hear the song on the TV in an advertisement for the latest new, must-have product. 8.5/10

    @ #35 Weej

    I share your sentiments as well. Being a straight male myself, some individuals found it hard to believe I’m not gay or bi.

    C’est la vie!

  13. 43
    FiddlerOnTheGround on 18 Oct 2016 #

    @ #37 Kaz

    Read this article and I think it may refute your claims to the girls of B*Witched being lesbians:

    http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/national-news/bwitched-australian-tour/152936

    Even if they are gay or bi, it doesn’t matter. They’re very talented and beautiful. But you really should provide links as proof of some kind to back up your claims.

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