16
May 14

B*WITCHED – “C’Est La Vie”

Popular41 comments • 2,144 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. 26
    punctum on 19 May 2014 #

    If All Saints were the Spice Girls it was OK for big girls to like, then B*Witched captured the very young ones; as with Aqua, they were extraordinarily successful within a very limited timeframe. Still, it’s rather startling to hear them rolling their tongues around “C’est La Vie”’s assorted double entendres – “I got a house with windows and doors/I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” “Do you ever get lonely playing with your toys?” – and the baffling daring of lines like “Do you play with the girls – play with the boys?” within the context of the girl next door trying to coax the shy boy down from his treehouse. They certainly don’t hide their assertion either; the gusto of their chorus-preparing “I’m the wolf today (HEY! HEY!)/I’ll HUFF! I’ll PUFF! And blow you aWAY!” suggests that the boy market (pace Suzi Quatro) might also have been targeted here.

    The quartet were also, and unavoidably, Irish; as the anti-Nolans they couldn’t have done a better job since the song is littered with snatches of girl talk (“Some people say I look like me dad”) and makes a considerable deal of the Celtic angle with the fiddle jig entering midway through the bubblegum snaps and curves (“thanks to Danny our fiddle player for your deadly diddly tunes” they quip on the sleeve of their eponymous debut album). There was also a Boyzone connection since two of B*Witched were the sisters of Shane Lynch. But “C’est La Vie” is infinitely more fun than boring, prematurely old Boyzone – not to mention the Corrs – if not quite as electrifying as I originally thought (one can now hear the Nolans politesse seeping through, and harmonically I would have done something more interesting in the third bar of the chorus), it remains an imperiously burbling shot of post-Spice girl pop and deserves at least a few more strident hey heys.

  2. 27
    ciaran on 20 May 2014 #

    Annoying but also enjoyable. If they let it at this it would have been great as bar maybe one other visit to popular nothing had the same bite as CLV.Prefer it without the video too I have to say.

    With the Boyzone connections this was a sure thing as Number 1. Not as good an introduction as Wannabe was but then again very few are.6 or a 7 depending on mood.

    B Witched fell harder than most. Almost like the Bros of the 90s. A very short spell at the top before fading. More on that later.

    There was quite a lot of Irish acts in the chart thatr year. OTT, Boyzone and an updated oldie from u2 but this is where Louis Walsh really made his presence felt. Aswell as Bwitched there was also utterly the forgettable Carter Twins (only known within Ireland i’d say) and an act called Kerri Ann who was also in the top 20 that year and even Now 40. Apparently she said she was 18 when in reality she was 25 or 26 IIRC.

    Of course as we know to our cost he was only just getting started.

  3. 28
    Steve Williams on 21 May 2014 #

    #27 There were some more Lynch sisters as well, their younger sister was in an act called Buffalo G, a duo, who did a rather ragged cover of Really Saying Something, and then another Lynch sister was in another girl band called Fab who I recall tried to dress a bit All Saints-y – combat trousers, piercings, funny hair – but combined that with the wimpiest ballads imaginable.

  4. 29
    James BC on 21 May 2014 #

    #27 And the Corrs! The most overtly Irish of all the Irish acts of the time.

  5. 30
    swanstep on 21 May 2014 #

    I tend to agree with Punctum@26 that the Corrs were pretty dull, but the radio/dance remix of their early single ‘The Right Time’ is cutesy fun that stacks up well against CLV.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.)

  8. 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.

  9. 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’.

  10. 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.

  11. 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….

  12. 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.

  13. 38
    Andrew Farrell on 18 Jul 2014 #

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

  14. 39
    iconoclast on 18 Jul 2014 #

    If.

  15. 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.

  16. 41
    Patrick Mexico on 20 Jul 2014 #

    This might well be my ultimate guilty pleasure. 8.

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