Singer-songwriter and producer Biolay was at the forefront of his native country’s pop revival in the early 00s, earning frequent and lazy comparisons to the enfant terrible of French popular music, Serge Gainsbourg.
The son of a clarinettist, Biolay played the violin as a child (his younger sister Coralie Clément is also a singer) before earning a place at the prestigious Lyons Conservatoire, where he learned to play the trombone and studied composition, arranging, and studio production. By his early twenties Biolay had left classical music behind and was playing in a band, Mateo Gallion, but his performing career had stalled by the time he signed a songwriting contract with EMI France in 1996. He wrote and produced the majority of Keren Ann’s first two albums for EMI France, and also worked with the Israeli-born artist on veteran chansonnier Henri Salvador’s successful comeback album, Chambre Avec Vue.
Buoyed by the success of his work with other artists, Biolay released his debut album in 2001. The Latin-influenced Rose Kennedy was an ambitious recording that retold the story of the ill-fated American family (Rose Kennedy was President John Kennedy’s mother). The darker-hued follow-up, 2003’s Négatif, mixed disparate styles such as chanson, country rock and electronica, and gained the singer further positive notices in the press. In 2004, Biolay released an album with his wife Chiara Mastroianni, the charming, folksy Home, and also completed the soundtrack to the Arnaud Viard film Clara Et Moi. The studio albums, 2005’s À L’Origine and 2007’s Trash Yéyé, confirmed Biolay’s prominence as a modern French songwriter, with their effortless fusion of rock and orchestral pop.
Biolay had been obsessed with the Jean Graton comic book series Michel Vaillant since he was nine years old. The series reflects the life and (mis) adventures of a lonely Formula 1 driver, as much an existential figure as he is a hero. He has also been a lifelong fan of actor and racecar driver Steve McQueen. Formula 1 (aka Grand Prix) racing is a national pastime in his native France and indeed, after futbol, across Europe. Biolay paid it homage on 2020’s Grand Prix. Issued in the early summer, it marked the songwriter’s deliberate return to “French rock.” He wrote 12 of the set’s 13 songs, and co-composed “Virtual Safety Car” with guitarist /bassist Pierre Jaconelli. His other session players included drummer Philippe Entressangle and keyboardist/programmer Johan Dalgaard. Biolay produced, sang, played bass, programmed synths, and arranged the date which was mixed by Pierrick Devin. In April, its first single and video, the Marta Bevacqua-directed “Comme Est Ta Peine?” metaphorically addressed loneliness and separation imposed by quarantine during the global COVID-19 pandemic.