Artist Spotlight: Matthieu Chedid

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Tanagra

Growing up, I liked my music like I like my coffee—dark, bitter, and steeped with angst. (Starbucks always seems to screw up the last part of my order.)

I wanted my songwriters brooding. Uncombed hair hiding haunted faces, shoulders slouched over keyboards, vocals tinged with melancholy and regret.

I was a g*ddamn drag to bring to karaoke.

And then, thankfully, I found the music of Matthieu Chedid.

Matthieu Chedid was born 12-21-1971 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist who began his musical career as a studio and backing musician for acts such as NTM, Nina Morato, and Billy Ze Kick, amongst others.

His solo career began in 1997 as something of a flamboyant disappearing act. Debuting with the album Le Baptême (Baptism), Chedid obscured his appearance with wild hair and costumes and took the stage name M (generally written “-M-“)—M for Matthieu, M for “aime” (love). He chose the one-letter moniker as means to create a stage persona and to distance his work from that of famous family members. His father is singer-songwriter Louis Chedid, and his paternal grandmother is the Egyptian-born Lebanese poet and novelist Andrée Chedid.

Le Baptême was largely well received by critics, but Chedid’s popularity on the French pop charts did not take off until the release of his single “Machistador”, a cheeky examination of machismo.

His success grew with the release of his second album Je dis aime (I Say Love) in 1999. On this album, he explored serious topics such as his French-Middle Eastern identity (“Je dis aime” with lyrics written by his grandmother) and materialism (“Mama Sam”) while maintaining his upbeat, spirited approach on songs such as “Le festival de connes” (a playful take-down of the atmosphere at the Cannes Film Festival).

His third album Qui de nous deux (Which of us?) arrived in 2003. The album, inspired largely by the birth of his daughter in the previous year, is notably softer and sweeter than his previous efforts. Stand out tracks include “La bonne étoile” (“The lucky star”), “Le radeau” (“The Raft”), and “Quand je vais chez elle” (“When I go home” or “When I go to her home”). The album earned Chedid four Victoires de la Musique awards (the French equivalent of the Grammy) including Best Album and Best Song for “Qui de nous deux.”

The years between Qui de nous deux and the release of his fourth studio album Mister Mystère (Mister Mystery) were marked by collaborations with other artists. Chedid wrote and produced the majority of Vanessa Paradis’ album Divinidylle(which earned her the Victoires de la Musique for best album in 2008) and toured with her as her lead guitarist and backing vocalist for the Divinidylle Tour. He composed the score for Guillaume Canet’s popular conspiracy thriller Tell No One(Ne le dis à personne) in 2006. Chedid’s score earned him a César Award (France’s national film award, more or less their Oscar).

(Spoilers for movie in clip)

In 2009, Chedid released Mister Mystère, in which he collaborated with legendary French artist Brigitte Fontaine for an album of his darkest, most experimental, and most sexually explicit music to date. For much of the promotion of this album, Chedid abandoned his familiar gelled hair and extravagant costumes in favor of a simple black suit and brimmed hat. His singles included “Le roi des ombres” (“The King of Shadows”) and “Est-ce que c’est ça?” (“Is this it?”) which delved into loneliness, disillusionment, and romantic tribulations. Other stand-out tracks include “Tanagra,” “Le Crise” (“Crisis”), and “Destroy.”

His most recent solo work was the album Îl (He) released in 2012. In some ways, Îlis a return to Chedid’s lighter, funkier, pre-Mister Mystère form. The album even includes some previously unreleased songs written during his studio sessions forLe Baptême. Stand-out tracks include the premiere single “Mojo” and “Faites moi souffrir” (“Make Me Suffer”).

Chedid’s career is so vast that it was hard for me to compress it into this write-up, but I hope I’ve done some justice to his work. His music has changed my life for the better, and I hope that you might find a song or two of his that sticks with you.

Down here I’m including songs and performances of his I couldn’t fit into my narrative but which deserve to be shared. Some are covers. Some are original. All are wonderful:

(I forgot to mention that Chedid wrote the music for the children’s film Un monstre à Paris. The English-language version, A Monster in Paris, was for a long time available on American Netflix. I am not sure if it remains there now.)

Au revoir, mes amis!

Author’s notes:
•Apologies for the dodgy formatting. I’m not the the most tech-savvy.
•About using “Matthieu Chedid” rather than “M” or “-M-” throughout the write-up: I figured his full name would make him easier for readers to Google for further information if so desired.