Launching her solo debut Sainte-Victoire in April 2018, Clara Luciani is already one of the frontrunners of French pop’s nouvelle vague taking the country by storm; recently gaining further notoriety by winning a Victoires de la Musique award for Group or Artist Stage Révélation of the Year. Intimate and autobiographical, Clara’s Saint-Victoire ranges from feminism to heartbreak, expressing a range of sound and emotion in a deep, melodious voice reminiscent 60s chanteuses Nico, Françoise Hardy, and Dalida. Collaborating with previous tastemaker Alma Jodorowsky, Semaine produced Clara’s new official video for the eponymous track 'Sainte-Victoire.' Noting the album’s personal nature, it’s no surprise the young Marseillaise named her debut after the mountains that dominate the Provençal landscape.
Following a chance meeting with La Femme’s Marlon Magnée at a festival (apparently he can dance a mean twist), Clara decamped to the French capital to try her hand at breaking into the music industry. She was 19. After growing up in a northern suburb of Marseille, the musician has referred to moving to Paris as rebirth. “[Paris] gave me the possibility to meet other musicians and play concerts. Due to that, it was easier to make music than in the South of France,” she said. Cutting her teeth on collaborations with La Femme, followed by Hologram with Maxime Sokolinski, Nekfeu, and touring as the opening act for Benjamin Biolay, Clara brings strong foundations to her solo career.
Inspired by a breakup, her initial EP Monstre d’Amour garnered apt comparisons to Barbara, one of France’s most beloved troubadours of melancholy. Donning long black gowns, velvet capes, and a moody countenance, Clara stalked through snowy landscapes, the wide-brimmed straw hat dangling from her neck reminiscent of an aureole. Looking at Monstre d’Amour and Sainte Victoire, the tonal difference is clear. Shifting from patron saint of heartbreak to powerful modern woman, Clara uses breakout hits like the feminist anthem “Grenade” and her cover “La baie” to show the diversity of her sound and perspective. Lyrically, however, the roots of Clara’s sober reflections remain.
"Hey you—what are you looking at? / You've never seen a woman who fights? / Follow me in the washed-out city / and I will show you / how I bite / how I bark," she sings at the opening of “Grenade,” her top track on Spotify with 2 million plays and counting. Yet for Clara, strength and vulnerability exist side by side, and her choice to blend dancefloor anthems with moody ballads reflects her perspective on the feminine experience. Stripped down to only vocals and guitar, “Drôle d’époque” examines the double standards modern women face, while “Les fleurs” muses on finding refuge from the negativity and pressure of contemporary life. In “Sainte Victoire,” Clara thematically unites her EP with her album. Clara speaks over the song’s driving beat and mingled synths, describing surrealistic rebirth from past sorrow. “The desire to live is irresistible / To recover from this sorrow / To recover from this pain is to be able to face everything / You made me understand that I was invincible / Victorious whatever the outcome / I am armed to the teeth/ Under my bosom /A grenade,” she says.
Her penchant for covers comes from an appreciation of 1960s yé-yé. Riffing on this tradition of translating hit American and British pop songs for a French audience, she tackled Lana Del Ray’s “Blue Jeans” on YouTube and included Metronomy’s 2011 single as “La baie” on Sainte-Victoire. Citing musicians like Marie Laforet, who transformed The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” into “Marie Douceur/Marie Colère,” as inspiration, she found greater creative freedom in the French language to add her own personal touch. “For me, there’s freedom in translation, especially,” she said. “It is to make it your own—to tell the same story but with your own words.”
While American pop relies more on crafting a catchy melody than smart lyrics, Clara’s songs are a perfect example of the French enthusiasm for language. After spending her teenage years blogging and writing poetry, she approaches songwriting as something distinctly personal. “For me, writing songs is like writing an intimate journal,” Clara said. “I never really include situations or people that are imaginary or poetic. I simply recount my life in the most direct and simple way as possible.” Despite a shift over the last 10 years towards French artists choosing to sing in English, Clara writes, sings, and performs in her native French. “The French language has influenced me for two reasons. One aspect is because I speak really bad English, and the other is that I talk about such intimate and personal things in my songs,” Clara said. “It would be absurd to sing in another language. It would be like putting a filter between me and my writing. I don’t want that.”
Written by Lauren Sarazen for Semaine. Photgraphy by Noel Quintela.