With echoes of David Bowie, Scissor Sisters, and Ezra Furman, Hubert Lenoir is a glam pop sensation in the making. The 24-year-old Quebecois artist has inspired teen fans to wear makeup to school, an endlessly fun 70s-rock-hooks-meets-jazz-meets-Motown sound, and even started a public debate about his ass.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please enjoy Lenoir’s eyeshadow-smeared breakthrough performance on La Voix, French Canada’s version of The Voice, from earlier this year. Lenoir embraces spontaneity like a bathroom makeout, kicking over his mic stand and caressing himself before flashing the sacred fleur-de-lis symbol tattooed on his rear. YouTube comments some 450,000 views later call Lenoir everything from “le David Bowie québecois” to “bitch un peut.”
It was enough for fans and critics outside of Quebec to take notice, nominating his solo debut album Darlène for this year’s Polaris Music Prize (full disclosure, I’m on the Grand Jury). Complete with a companion novel by Lenoir’s partner Noémie D. Leclerc, Darlène tells the story of a Quebecois girl (Darlène) who meets an American boy (Ashton) wanting to die by suicide. “Tôn hotel” (“Your hotel”) is the album highlight, an irresistible glam romp led by handclaps, piano, and even BWAA BWAA BWAAAA airhorns.
Its fittingly carefree music video features Lenoir and friends doing whatever the hell they want, from getting matching fleur-de-lis tattoos to burning headlines on Lenoir and even Darlène itself. Winking at his past, “Tôn hotel” even ends with a bloodied Lenoir holding a splattered Quebec flag aloft. Vive l’Hubert libre! Check out the music video below as well as our interview with Lenoir on freedom.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Noisey: “Tôn hotel” is such a fun centerpiece to Darlène. Where does it fit into the story of Darlène and Ashton?
Hubert Lenoir: Ashton and Darlène are meeting in a hotel. It’s a mixture of catchy phrases I’ve written without really thinking about it. I believe it has the best part of the album that’s also on the cover of Darlène, “mais la mort ne fera pas mal si on va droit au ciel,” which translates to “death won’t hurt if we go straight to heaven.” I see it as death but also as a way of rebirth.
What inspired the summer lovin’-turned-chaos music video?
The truth is we were on tour this summer and when we shot it we only had a day. We had an old camera and some friends and we just started shooting. We knew we wanted to break stuff and have fun and just hang out in our hometown [of Quebec City] and drink a little. Everything escalated into “Let’s burn some stuff.” At some point we smashed a window and my hand opened—it was bloody as fuck.
Wow. So is that blood on your face and on the Quebec flag yours?
I’ve gotta be honest with you, it’s both [real and fake blood]. We added some on the flag.
Bearing your butt on TV is hardly a sin in 2018, yet you instantly made headlines in Quebec. Why was Quebec’s reaction so uptight?
There’s a big wave of conservatism going on right going on in Quebec. It seems like we’re going back to the 50s again. Like with the [“Tôn hotel”] video, I don’t plan things that much, I just showed my butt because it’s something I would’ve done at a late-night concert at 1AM or whatever at a bar, but I did it on TV with a big audience.
A lot of the comments that I’ve seen were pretty homophobic. If I was very manly and masculine showing a part of my butt. It would’ve been a total, total different thing if I was Justin Timberlake. Since I was wearing makeup and just being who I am—something people aren’t used to seeing on Quebec television—everybody went nuts. In the days following, everyone started having this debate on whether I was a piece of shit or a hero. As the weeks went on, I got messages from young boys wearing makeup to go to high school for the first time because they saw me on TV or my music videos. That was really, really nice to see this kind of effect that you can have on people.
Did that La Voix performance bring completely new fans or haters to your shows?
Yeah. A week later, my name was everywhere. People went online to watch my performance. One thing I’ve noticed, being more and more popular, at first my concerts the demographic used to be pretty tight, 19 to 25. Now that I have a song on the radio a bit, I see Instagram stories of like 16 year olds listening to my songs or at my concerts. In the back [of the crowd] there are now 30, 40 year olds.
It’s fun watching you burn headlines and even your album in “Tôn hotel.” Would you say you’re destroying or embracing your reputation Taylor Swift style?
That headline [in the video] was the morning after a show that I did at a festival in my hometown this summer. It’s wasn’t a bad headline—it said I was a great show—I just don’t really care for good critics or bad critics. The fact that I burned my record, I think the past is the past. I’m always looking at the future and I don’t want to do the same thing over again. I don’t want to be labeled as anything. It’s like the themes [of Darlène] of emancipation and being reborn, being somebody new, being fluid about yourself. If you don’t want to be a boy or don’t want to be a girl or don’t want to be in between or if you want to be both, you can do it. Being a provocateur is also provoking new ideas and provoking change. I would call myself a provocateur.
Who else should everyone be paying attention to in Quebec music right now?
I’m gonna start with a friend who co-produced my record and played guitar with me, Anatole. Then you should listen to a great punk band from Montreal, Crabe. There’s a big rap scene going on so you should listen to High Klassified and Tommy Kruise who is actually my cousin. The rap god right now is Loud. You should listen to Yes Mccan, a great, great rapper and friend of mine. There’s so much more. Look at Spotify Quebec playlists and give yourself a trip.
You’re on the Polaris Music Prize shortlist. How does it feel to have made it? This year is really stacked.
It feels good cause it’s been seven years since a French record’s been nominated [to the shortlist—Galaxie’s Tigre et diesel in 2011]. I wanted to do music that wasn’t Quebec music, but music that can be enjoyed by everybody all over the world, but still in French. It’s pretty great. I hope it’s gonna open doors for new French records to be nominated and great Quebec artists and my records in the future. There’s so much good music being made in Quebec. We need to be heard.
Jill is on Twitter.