Amel Bent is a French performer whose career was jump-started by her inclusion in the TV talent showcase Nouvelle Star, which is essentially the French equivalent of Pop Idol and American Idol. Although she was eliminated from the show in the semifinal round, she was nonetheless a fan favorite. She was quickly signed and released her debut album Un Jour d’été; her first single from the album, “Ma philosophie”, shot up to #1 in the French charts and stayed there for an impressive six weeks. Since then, she’s enjoyed a considerable amount of success performing and recording for the past ten years. Although the amount of fame she’s attained has nowhere near the amount of reach as Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, she is still the most successful alum of Nouvelle Star thus far.
While she does have a fairly pleasant voice from the tracks I’ve listened to, it’s clear that the music she records is far more controlled by the production and engineering of these records rather than the skill of her voice itself. The singles from his first album, for example, sound very much like they take influence from production techniques of 90s R&B (even though this album was released in 2004). “Ma philosophie” was the first ever recording I’ve heard of hers and I was immediately taken aback by how much the introduction mirrors Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love”. The various synth sounds in the track also invite comparison to the likes of Destiny’s Child and TLC, while Bent’s voice itself has subtle shades of Britney Spears’ distinct vocals, though Bent definitely has more of a sense of control on her vocals than Spears did at this stage in her career. In any case, “Ma philosophie” is a fairly catchy little track and after a few listens it’s not hard to see how this one made it to the top of the charts.
“Ne retiens pas tes larmes” was the second single of Bent’s to reach #1, which quickly digs her out of the one-hit wonder trap to which so many fall prey. Like her other recordings, this one is definitely more a work of the producer(s) than anything else really, but at least this was the one out of her first three smash singles that most demonstrates the emotional appeal of her vocal talent. Her singing is enveloped in a crisp cascade of keys and drums that, while appearing pretty bland on surface-level, do highlight the subtleties of her vocal power rather well. Lyrically, this translates to pretty much the polar opposite of Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – which is a huge plus, since I’ve found the message of the song distractingly quaint to begin with. It forgoes the message of emotional suppression in the face of turmoil, instead daring to suggest that, actually, it is okay to cry if that’s your natural response to things. Truthfully, I think we always need more songs that remind us that crying is a natural response to stress and confusion, and I do think that it’s nice that this song is essentially inviting this urge to cry away the pain.
Now, with that said, this is nowhere near an exceptional single. It’s fine to listen to on occasion, but the mixing of this track in particular and Bent’s early work in general just give off the sense of the record company’s fingerprints being overly friendly with the material. It’s true that there are musicians who have proven to rise above the producer’s influence and effectively demonstrated their talent in the face of major interference, but I just don’t think that’s the case here. Of course, this is a debut album from a individual who already possesses a fair amount of star appeal, so it makes sense that this wouldn’t be the most accurate demonstration of what she has to offer. I haven’t looked into much of Bent’s later recordings at all, but my biggest hope is that she has eventually flowered past the generic sounds of her debut into something greater and more distinct. Her exceptional talent certainly shows that she’s perfectly capable of such a feat.