“Bâtard” for English-Speakers: With Full Translation

Amy January 29, 2015 1 8,681 views
“Bâtard” for English-Speakers: With Full Translation

I think it’s the most autobiographical song on the album. The rest is just fiction or lying…’Bâtard’ is the song that represents me the best.

~Stromae, in an interview with 20 Minutes

September 12, 2013

“Bâtard” is the song that represents me the best. Not just about the color of my skin, a mixture, but…to go from adolescence to adulthood — it may be obvious, but to me it wasn’t — ultimately it is to make choices, and therefore to be disappointed. And to be disappointed, that’s growing up. And to me, that’s what this song is talking about.”

“Papaoutai,” a song about a son’s distress over the absence of his father, might appear to be the most autobiographical song on Racine Carrée. But that’s actually not the case. Stromae has said “It [Papaoutai] is because of my own story, yes, but it’s not more personal compared to the other tracks of the album. I don’t want to put more than 20% of my own life in my music, cause I prefer to stay objective about that. I don’t think that my life is interesting, actually. I used to say that, because I believe that that’s true. People don’t want to listen to my own story, I think they just want to have an opinion about what we are.

“Bâtard” gives us the autobiographical perspective that Stromae usually prefers to avoid, but at the same time also gives us that more general “opinion about what we are.” In the lyrics, Stromae examines three human inclinations: to categorize yourself by creating your own identity, to resist categorization, and to categorize others.

In an April 2014 interview in English for The Quietus, Stromae responded to questions about “Bâtard” from a slightly different angle than he had seven months earlier:

I’m just somebody who can’t make choices. It’s so difficult working with everybody. The running joke now is ‘Paul, take a decision!’ That’s my problem. And I don’t think I’m really that interesting. I have no conviction. My girlfriend says I have a lot of conviction but I’m not so sure. I don’t really have an opinion. I have small opinions on small things; the most interesting things I don’t have an opinion about, because it’s so difficult because everybody is involved…I think ‘Bâtard’ is maybe it’s the most personal track on the album. In the first verse I’m talking about this extremist guy who has to choose between extremist things, and in the second verse I’m describing my personality – the guy who kind of has the choice to take a decision. And the thrust of the song is ‘Who’s better? The extremist guy or the guy who can’t make a decision?’ Actually the difference between the pair is that one has balls and the other one has no balls. It’s easy to say the extremist is the worst, but that’s not the message I’m trying to convey. It’s so easy to judge people who take decisions quickly, they have a reason to follow extremist opinions but we have to understand why they have these extremist opinions. I’m not better than them. We are exactly the same, it just depends on our conditions.”

“Bâtard” is an unrestrainedly savage song. When the Belgian edition of Psychologies magazine asked “What does Stromae manage to say that Paul cannot say?” he responded, “Everything that’s hard. I’m much too diplomatic in life. People who I can let myself go with, at whom I can hurl insults, are very rare… Except when I’m in my car and others don’t hear me. The opinions, mockery, verbal abuse, I keep them to myself. I’m very patient. At some point, this has to come out. It comes out in the music and when I’m all alone.

Bâtard

[jcolumns]

Ni l’un ni l’autre je suis
J’étais et resterai moi (bis)
Mais t’es d’droite ou t’es d’gauche
T’es beauf ou bobo d’Paris
soit t’es l’un ou soit t’es l’autre
T’es un homme ou bien tu péris
cultrice ou pathéticienne
féministe ou la ferme
Soit t’es macho soit homo
mais t’es phobe ou sexuel.
Mécréant ou terroriste
T’es veuch ou bien t’es barbu
Conspirationniste, illuminati
Mythomaniste ou vendu.
Rien du tout ou tout tout d’suite
Du tout au tout ou indécis
Ahhhh ? Tu changes d’avis imbécile
Mais t’es Hutu ou Tutsi ?
Flamand ou Wallon ?
Bras ballants ou bras longs ?
Finalement t’es raciste?
Mais t’es blanc ou bien t’es marron, hein ?
Ni l’un ni l’autre
bâtard tu es, tu l’étais et tu le restes
Ni l’un ni l’autre
je suis, j’étais et resterai moi (bis)
Ah pardon monsieur ne prend pas parti,
monsieur n’est même pas raciste
vu que monsieur n’a pas de racines
D’ailleurs monsieur a un ami noir
Et même un ami arien.
Monsieur est mieux que tout ça
D’ailleurs tout ça ben ça n’sert à rien.
Et mieux vaut ne rien faire que de faire mal
Les mains dans la merde ou bien dans les annales
trou du cul ou bien nombril du monde
monsieur se la pète plus haut que son trou d’balle
Surtout pas de coup d’gueule faut être calme hein
Faut être doux faut être câlin
Faut être dans l’coup, faut être branchouille
pour être bien vu par tout hein!
Ni l’un ni l’autre
bâtard tu es, tu l’étais et tu le restes
Ni l’un ni l’autre
je suis, j’étais et resterai moi (bis)[jcol/]
Neither one nor the other I am
I was and will remain me (repeat)
But are you leftwing or are you rightwing
Are you redneck or bobo from Paris
whether you’re one or whether you’re the other
You’re a man or else you die
early-childhood expert or streetwalker
feminist or lips zipped
Whether you’re macho or homo
but you’re phobic or sexual.
Nonbeliever or terrorist
You’re long-hair or else you’re bearded
One conspiring against the establishment or an elite
Pathological liar or sellout.
Nothing at all or everything right away
Completely sure or undecided
Huhh? You’re changing your mind, idiot
But are you Hutu or Tutsi?
Fleming or Walloon?
Dangling arms or long arms?
Are you racist after all?
But you’re white, or well you’re brown, huh?
Neither one nor the other
bastard you are, you were, and you remain
Neither one nor the other
I am, I was and will remain me (repeat)
Oh, sorry, the gentleman isn’t taking sides,
the gentleman isn’t even racist
seeing that the gentleman doesn’t have any roots
Besides, the gentleman has a black friend
And even an Aryan friend.
The gentleman is better than all that
Besides, all that, bah that’s pointless
And better to do nothing than to do harm
Hands in the shit or else in the annual records
asshole or else the center of the universe
the gentleman shows off higher than his asshole
Above all, no outbursts, must be calm right
Must be sweet must be cuddly
Must be in the know, must be trendy
to make a good impression on everybody, right!
Neither one nor the other
bastard you are, you were, and you remain
Neither one nor the other
I am, I was and will remain me (repeat)
[/jcolumns]

 

batard english

Performing “Bâtard” at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco June 2014. Photo by Morocco World News

Notes on the Lyrics

T’es beauf ou bobo d’Paris/Are you redneck or bourgeois-bohemian from Paris: The term “beauf” was popularized by French cartoonist Cabu. “Bobo” is a contraction of “bourgeois-bohemian.” The word was coined by the American author David Brooks to refer to a person who lives a well-off lifestyle but espouses bohemian values.

Cultrice ou pathéticienne/Early-childhood expert or streetwalker: A reference to the Madonna/whore dichotomy. The words “Cultrice” and “pathéticienne” can’t be found in a French dictionary. “Puéricultrice” and “péripatéticienne” are the words that have been translated here. Stromae implies their prefixes by concluding the previous line with “péris.”

Féministe ou la ferme/Feminist or lips zipped: Feminists are known for being vocal about their ideas. The opposite would be someone who keeps their mouth shut. “La ferme” literally means “shut it” —  it comes from “ferme la bouche,” or “shut your mouth.” Putting the words in this particular order also creates a double meaning: “la ferme” can mean “the farm,” implying that the opposite of a feminist is a farm wife.

Mais t’es phobe ou sexuel/Whether you’re phobic or sexual: Again, Stromae seems to intend that the prefix “homo” from the previous line be extended here to imply that we should interpret “phobic” as “homophobic” and “sexual” as “homosexual.”

T’es veuch ou bien t’es barbu/Long-hair or bearded: “Veuch” is verlan for “cheveux,” meaning “hair.” If a “long-hair” is a hippiesque peace-loving type, Stromae contrasts that image with the assumption that a bearded man is a Muslim terrorist.

Mythomaniste ou vendu/Pathological liar or sellout: A liar says only what he himself wants to hear. A sellout says only what someone else wants to hear.

Rien du tout ou tout tout d’suite, Du tout au tout ou indécis/Nothing at all or everything right away, Completely sure or undecided: The repetition of the word “tout” and other “ou” and “u” sounds makes the listener’s head spin. This literary device enforces the lyrics’ meaning and brings the confusion of opposites to a powerful climax.

Mais t’es Hutu ou Tutsi ?/But are you Hutu or Tutsi?: Stromae’s Rwandan father was killed during the genocidal conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in that country in 1994. “Êtes-vous tutsi ou hutu?” is the question the killers asked as they carried out the genocide. The question — and by extension, his own identity — is a reminder of the destruction that can result from pointless conflict between people groups. A similar kind of socio-political conflict currently runs hot in his native Belgium (as the next line shows).

Flamand ou Wallon ?/Fleming or Walloon?: Belgium is divided into these two main cultural and linguistic groups, and this disunity is an ongoing source of friction in the country. Stromae’s own identity in this regard is harder for his compatriots to pin down than most. It’s likely that others have asked him this question a lot, since he was raised by his Flemish mother (with whom he shares his very Flemish last name), but he speaks French as his mother tongue. The point is that both questions are futile. Hutu, Tutsi, Fleming, or Walloon, the important thing is that all are human.

Bras ballants ou bras longs ?/Dangling arms or long arms?: Another play on words and another reference to the cultural and linguistic division of Belgium. The rhyming sounds in French create a nod to two Belgian provinces, Brabant Flamand and Brabant Wallon. But literally, of course, “dangling arms” and “long arms” are really the same thing, which may have implications for those socio-political differences in Belgium.  There’s even another level to the wordplay here: Stromae’s physique is often described in one or the other of these ways. It’s as if even the journalists who write about him can’t make up their minds…even though they’re all saying exactly the same thing.

Mais t’es blanc ou bien t’es marron, hein ?/But you’re white, or well you’re brown, huh?: Stromae finds it interesting that in Europe he’s considered black, but in Africa he’s perceived as white. In French slang, “tu es marron” doesn’t literally mean “you’re brown,” it means “you’re screwed.”

Ah pardon monsieur ne prend pas parti/Oh, sorry, the gentleman isn’t taking sides: People who don’t take sides say they are “citizens of the world” and not part of any group. Are they taking the high road, or the high-and-mighty road? And there’s even more ambiguity here. The line could also be translated “the gentleman isn’t making up his mind.” We usually think of “taking sides” as a bad thing, and “making up your mind” as good. Which is it?

Les mains dans la merde ou bien dans les annals/Hands in the shit or else in the annual records: Stromae draws a distinction here between blue-collar workers who are down “in the shit” and white-collar employees who handle nice clean paperwork. But in the context of “shit,” the “anal” in “annals” makes us think that the white-collar workers are in just as deep as the blue-collar ones.

Trou du cul ou bien nombril du monde/Asshole or else the center of the universe: More body-part imagery here: “nombril du monde” literally means “bellybutton of the world.” Stromae’s playing with the common expression “se prendre pour le nombril du monde” (literally, “to take oneself for the bellybutton of the world”), meaning to think of oneself as being excessively important.

Monsieur se la pète plus haut que son trou d’balle/The gentleman shows off higher than his asshole: Stromae combines two idiomatic phrases here, making translation difficult. “Il se la pète” (literally, “he farts himself”) means “he’s showing off.” And “il pète plus haut que son trou de balle” (literally,“he farts higher than his asshole”) means “he’s a self-righteous jerk.” In other words, Monsieur is a doubly pretentious show-off.

Please leave a comment if you have a question, something to add, or a different interpretation.

Lyrics reprinted from Stromae.net. If you’re interested in Stromae’s lyrics and can read French, try http://forum.stromae-forumofficiel.fr/f15-paroles for some great discussions.

Cover photo: Strome performing “Bâtard” live at the Zénith de Rouen arena in France, March 22 2014

One Comment »

  1. Juliette February 17, 2015 at 6:56 am - Reply

    What a goddamned genius.

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