Both starlet and harlot, French chanteuse and global player, the singer wielded her natural stage presence to striking effect
At last year’s Conservative conference, Boris Johnson claimed he was “mayor of the sixth biggest French city on earth”. So perhaps it’s no surprise that for Vanessa Paradis‘ first London show for three years, her compatriots are out in force. Eager for a glimpse of their pop princess, they impatiently clap for the show to begin just a minute past Paradis’ expected stage time.
During her absence, the singer, actor and Chanel muse has split up with her partner of 14 years, Johnny Depp, made her English-speaking film debut and released her sixth album, Love Songs. A collection of soulful ruminations released in 2013, it’s spawned three singles in France and is a timely reminder of what first propelled the 41-year-old into the spotlight.
Paradis made her first public performance aged just seven on French children’s talent show L’Ecole des Fans and when she appears – a mere six minutes late – it’s clear the stage is her second home. Her body moves fluidly, her arms waft airily, and she dances with the same sultry abandon as a teenage girl in front of her bedroom mirror. Vocally, she’s just as youthful, skipping through the insistent Tu Pars Comme On Revient and relishing the playful chanson tradition of La Seine.
But Paradis is every inch a woman. With her short hair parted on one side and alluring makeup, from the neck up she looks like a 1930s starlet. Below, the combination of rust-coloured camisole and tight leather trousers is more harlot, yet Paradis pulls it off with undeniable elan.
Together with her five-piece band, which features famous French singer-songwriter and rumoured boyfriend Benjamin Biolay, she glides through the 22-song-strong set that spans her 27-year career. There’s Marilyn et John, from her 1988 debut and the Serge Gainsbourg-penned Dis-Lui Toi Que Je T’aime and Tandem, with Paradis enjoying each innuendo-heavy line. Her time in LA with Lenny Kravitz is represented by the 60s-style sugar rush of Natural High and Sunday Mondays, and reveals Paradis can switch from French chanteuse to international star as deftly as she swaps from harmonica to tambourine.
Having identified that the majority of the crowd is French, Paradis barely departs from her native language, except to say how she’s “very honoured to be here in such a beautiful town on such a beautiful day”. Not that it matters – Paradis is here to let her music do the talking. From the striking Commando to the delicate, audience-silencing torch song La Chanson de Vieux Cons and reggae-interpreted Joe Le Taxi, she’s boundary-less, breathy and brilliant.