France best selling albums ever: Femmes D’Aujourd’hui by Jeanne Mas (1986)
Just after Michael Jackson immensely improved the profile of music videos and MTV, a group of female singers came from obscurity to the spotlight. The World had Madonna and Whitney Houston leading the pack. France on its side had Mylène Farmer, Patricia Kaas and Vanessa Paradis. These are the most remembered, but many others did quite well before them, but have since disappeared. The biggest such flying star was undoubtedly Jeanne Mas.
Unknown until 1984 after several years trying to make her mark in the rock / punk scene, Jeanne Mas suddenly exploded with her punk-wannabe stylized pop debut hit Toute Première Fois. A second single, Johnny, Johnny, was just as big, both selling well past half a million units in France. The self-titled album failed to be as massive though, peaking at #5 while selling over 200,000 units.
Such a successful start opened doors to the best authors and musicians to work on her sophomore effort, Femmes D’Aujourd’hui which came out in April 1986. The lead single En Rouge Et Noir was a tremendous smash during the entire summer, hitting #1 on a 16-week run inside the Top 10. It remains an iconic 80s pop music song in French culture.
The album quickly responded. Entering at #3 on the April monthly chart without being available for the entire period. It jumped to #1 in May. It should have been a second month at the top in June but a compilation album, which weren’t excluded at that time, blocked it. Nevertheless, the LP kept selling immense amounts all summer long moving from #1 to #4 during seven consecutive months. Shipping over 100,000 copies upon release, the half a million mark was achieved during the promotion of second single L’Enfant which reached #3 at the end of the year. Overall, the new star had already moved 2,5 million records by November.
Femmes D’Aujourd’hui barely had time to leave the Top 10 in January 1987 when it charted at #11. The third single, Sauvez-Moi, shot it back to #3. Itself a #3 hit, this was the last extract from the album which concluded its road on to an impressive 49 weeks run inside the Top 10. Even if it did so at the worst moment – just before the 1987 Q4 sales explosion thanks to tax changes – that was enough to easily cross the 800,000 units barrier.
With sales truly gigantic, only topped by the likes of Renaud and Jean-Jacques Goldman at the time, Jeanne Mas received the superstars treatment with a live album and single to close the era. En Concert peaked at #12 selling over 100,000 units while the single La Bête Libre went to #13.
Home of all popular singles from both albums, En Concert replaced Femmes D’Aujourd’hui as the main catalog item for the singer. Thus, when she strongly returned in 1989 with the #1 album Les Crises De L’âme the 1986 blockbuster failed to truly enjoy a boost. It still got awarded a 3xPlatinum award which was introduced the previous year, representing more than 900,000 units shipped.
1989 year was negative year for the artist. After topping the album chart for 4 weeks, Les Crises De L’âme went downhill at high speed. The lead single also made it to #13 and all three subsequent releases completely failed to chart. By the end of the year, the complete tour was cancelled due to dreadful ticket sales. As incredible as it may seem, her following album released in 1990, a mere one year after her chart topper, missed the Top 50 – just like the other 13 albums she went on to release. To illustrate how much Jeanne Mas’ fame collapsed, the biggest song on her last 2017 album PH has the abysmal to date total of 1,556 streams at Spotify.
This massive backlash fully stopped sales of Femmes D’Aujourd’hui album. If it seemed poised to break the million mark at the time, some 28 years after the 3xPlatinum it has yet to reach the magical level, a level that will likely never be achieved at current pace.
Net shipment as of the end of 2016 is estimated at 980,000 copies. It makes Femmes D’Aujourd’hui the 180th best selling album of all-time by that date.
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Sources: SNEP, Billboard, IFOP, Spotify.