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Contribution : "Daft Punk: the cultural exception 2.0" by David Lacombled

Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy Awards shows that the cultural exception must not be limited to a withdrawal into itself, but to enrich itself by turning into a “universal exception”.

We have been nitpicking here and there[1] on Daft Punk’s triumph in Los Angeles pretending that the whole world liked the Frenchies when they remained silent: Daft Punk, helmeted and silent, receiving their five Grammy Awards, and The Artist, a silent film, crowned by five Oscar®. A good Frenchman would be a silent Frenchman. Meaning: these are only half victories as they are not in the language of Molière. Some even detected a guilty allegiance to the “mainstream”, and in both cases a submission to American codes (the lyrics, the funk, Pharell Williams, Nile Rodgers for Get Lucky; Hollywood cinema for The Artist).

As a result, these observers deny themselves the pleasure of these distinctions on the pretext that they would finally only be the result of the American narcissism and dominant spirit, which love to gaze at their reflection. That just goes to show French bashing is well practiced at home (and has nothing to be jealous of the one practiced in the United States).

As far as we are concerned, we would rather see in the success of the electronic duo (and in that of The Artist) the permanency of a French spirit. Besides, can’t we see in the silence of Daft Punk a wink to the mime Marcel Marceau, who was the most famous French actor in the US for a long time? More seriously, it appears that it needs a great panache to dare facing Americans on their own game field. And who can seriously believe Daft Punk to be opportunistic? Since its beginning in 1995 with the already much noticed Homework, this band hardly shows much coherence. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, as visionary alchemists, have always tried to mix in their sound test-tube the ultimate blending that would make the whole planet dance…

They already achieved it with the tenacious electronic refrains DaFunk, Around The World, in 1997 (illustrated, by the way, by the Frenchman Michel Gondry), and then with One More Time and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (2001) and Technologic (2005)… It must be admitted that with Get Lucky, the helmeted duo created the philosopher stone: the instantaneous and planetary hit. The disco Esperanto. With this extra little thing, that we call since the nineties the “French touch”. And this French touch is made up of irony, humor, a postmodern wink, that manages to be both ultra referent and absolutely original.

But above that, such a success makes us wonder about what we call the cultural exception. Preserving our culture and our cultural industry is essential, vital. But the question is to know what we want to preserve? Our language? Our originality? Yes of course, but not as a closed heritage necessarily endangered. It is mainly the French spirit, the French panache that we need to preserve, not by erecting Maginot lines or hiding us behind the language barrier, but by making it shine outdoors.

The cultural exception is not a question of letter but of spirit. And the success of Daft Punk or The Artist not only opens the way to other successes but shows that the openness is the best way to preserve our cultural identity. Same thing goes with the Internet. It is not with bolts and barriers – inevitably inefficient – that we will preserve our cultural capital.

As such, Daft Punk also showed the way. A real lesson of cultural exception 2.0. Get Lucky not only showed up really early on YouTube, DailyMotion, but the duo also encouraged all kind of covers by amateurs. It looks as if the duo disseminated their sheet music on the Web… We thus saw thousands of copies/tributes/pastiches/misappropriations of Get Lucky flourishing on the Internet: with a ukulele, an opera version, with an old banger, in dub, in choral, etc.

All of this with a breathtaking loop effect, the height of postmodernism: a song tribute to the golden age of disco, itself being the object of multiple tributes. And this “pirating” invasion did not prevent Get Lucky to be one of the most sold singles in 2013. On the contrary: it only reinforced the single in its cult status. An openness strategy which far from attenuating the single, reinforced it. The moral of this nice fairy –accounting  ?- tale? It is that the French cultural exception wins by opening up and by becoming a universal exception.



About David Lacombled 

A journalist by training, David Lacombled is a Managing Director for the content strategy at Orange. He is also president of the think-tank, The Villa Numeris and author of the book Digital Citizen (Plon).

His website :

On Twitter : @david_lacombled