(San Francisco, CA) – Unlike other pop royalty with single-name recognition, Mylène never needs to worry about overexposure. When she re-emerges from her space-time portal - as she does in Paris tonight, six years after her last blockbuster European tour and four years since her last album - it’s an international happening, major cultural moment and another gorgeously designed chapter in the enduring brand story of France’s most celebrated pop star.
Désobéissance, her eleventh studio album, was released in September 2018 and certified Platinum two times over by December. According to Idolator and Le Point, it’s one of her best-reviewed albums to date. Her sold-out, 9-date residency at Paris’ La Defense Stadium, where she will perform in front of 235K+ people, is almost upon us. But when it’s all over, Mylène will once again disappear into the ether. There will not be an Instagram update on future plans, selfies, fashion looks or chats about where she’s jetting (Farmer has no social media presence). Full transparency has never been Mylene’s thing, and her global fan base loves her for it.
Brand Identity + Brand Storytelling
Mylène Farmer has been a star for 35 years, yet she very clearly chooses to remain an enigma to both her fans and the world. Laurent Boutonnat, the famed French composer and Farmer’s songwriting partner, has been her primary collaborator for most of this time. Their adoption of almost total radio silence between albums, tours and collaborative periods is foundational to Brand Mylène - the suggestion that she materializes through a portal and then disappears into the ether isn’t far fetched either, simply watch the opening and closingof Timeless 2013. In short, Farmer chooses to exist and emotionally connect with fans almost exclusively from the concert stage. Fan fiction and websites lauding and/or analyzing every detail of her work and life abound because relatively few details of her life are in the public sphere.
Like Greta Garbo, Farmer’s regular retreats from public life make her periodic re-emergence a cultural event for the French-speaking public, media and a die-hard fan base. If so little is known about her life, how does Mylène Inc. thrive and grow? Through her and Boutonnot’s music and lyrics, which often feel like art-song-poems-as-secret language only a fan (thinks he or she) understands, Farmer lends her one of a kind voice, which someone once described to me as a “beautiful and breathy flute,” although her lower register often surprises and delights, as well. Farmer’s various eras, as well as the iconic concepts and stories attached to her albums and videos are the foundation upon which everything is built. But it’s more than having a unique sound, vocal style or an iconic video.
Emotional connection is the glue that bonds Farmer to her audiences. It’s not unusual for her to break down in tears while performing one of her many hit ballads, allowing audiences to sing lyrics back to her, thanking them for their care and love. Having experienced these quasi operatic moments first-hand, they feel powerfully intimate, even in a stadium full of thousands (who are of course crying with you). It’s safe to say that it’s here, in these hallmark interludes, where fans reaffirm and recommit emotional investment and connection with their chosen diva, perhaps inspiring them to tell and retell their own versions of the Mylène Farmer brand story. In her 1991 hit Désenchantée, Farmer sings:
“Je cherche une âme qui pourra m’aider, je suis d’une generation désenchantée (I’m looking for a soul who could help me, I’m from a disenchanted generation).”
The call to action couldn’t be any clearer.
Brand Loyalty + Brand Experience
After decades of building a positive, almost cult-like emotional core with her fans, especially in the LGBTQ community, it’s not surprising that a fiercely loyal, long-term fan base thrives. There are certainly other performers of Farmer’s stature and beyond who have similar relationships with fans, but this regular concertgoer and pop music love has never been more constant lump in throat moved to tears than during a Mylène Farmer performance, whether on video or while watching her live. In an overcrowded 2019 pop music landscape that seems youth-focused, competitive and homogenous in the extreme, my 28 years of fandom for a woman in her 50s who wears her heart on her sleeve while singing moody, sad and joyful songs in French could be called niche, hence my next point.
Given the momentous feeling surrounding each new tour, including tonight’s opening in Paris, I posit that the Mylène Farmer experience is a luxury brand experience. It’s certainly expensive, not unusual for today’s large-scale, mega concerts, but the value of that experience is so highly prized, unique and forever cherished among fans that it’s akin to a bespoke luxury good as unique, one-to-one personal connection. Add FOMO to that, which is always present since we never really know when (or if) Farmer will return to the stage. A 2018 Forbes piece defines luxury experience as “a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something” in the luxury sector. Also, that “part of the luxury calculation is exclusivity or scarcity.” Given costs, value, supply and demand, there are only 235,000 opportunities for what feels like a personalized luxury experience, and then it’s gone forever. Case in point: the majority of Farmer’s Désobéissance shows sold out within 72 hours. Demand reconfirmed. And tonight, our Libertine sings again. Bravissima.
Originally published via LinkedIn on June 7, 2019