The love that dare not speak its name: remembering Jean-Claude Pascal and ‘Nous les amoureux’
It’s been almost 30 years since Luxembourg last appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993. However, the small Benelux nation was a powerhouse during its 37 appearances, winning the contest five times and reaching the top three on a further three occasions.
To celebrate Luxembourg's public holiday today for the Grand Duke's Official Birthday, we’re looking back to the country’s first win at the 1961 Contest in Cannes, with the classy and quietly subversive 'Nous les amoureux'.
Luxembourg, je t’aime?
With an estimated population of just over 630,000, Luxembourg is one of the least-populated countries in Europe. Furthermore, only around half of its residents are actually locals. It’s therefore not surprising that during its Eurovision heyday, Luxembourg was known for selecting foreign singers and songwriters, normally from neighbouring France. Think San Marino, but with less disco and more French chansons!
For the 1961 contest, French crooner Jean-Claude Pascal was chosen to represent the Grand Duchy on the Eurovision stage. After receiving la Croix de Guerre for his bravery during the Second World War, Pascal had numerous careers in the arts, as a fashion designer, actor, singer and eventually writer.
He was known for his classically handsome features, which made him a popular choice for cinematic male leading roles. By the time of the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest, he was also an established singer who had released multiple albums. Consequently, he was selected by the Luxembourgish national broadcaster with the song 'Nous les amoureux'.
Unpacking the song
On first listen, 'Nous les amoureux' is a sweet, slightly jazzy love song in which Jean-Claude tells his lover that they will love each other regardless of what everyone else thinks.
At the beginning, he sings that other people “would like to stop us from being happy (on voudrait nous empêcher d’être heureux)”, and explains that “les imbéciles (no translation needed) […] hurt us and play tricks on us (nous font du mal, nous jouent des tours)”. Despite this, we’re told that “nothing is clearer than love (rien n’est plus évident que l’amour)” and that “the sun shines for us (le soleil brille pour nous)”.
Musically, it’s fairly standard crooner fare – as Leonora from Denmark much later sang, “Love is forever and everyone.” A cursory reading indicates that the song could be about anything from an adulterous relationship to a disapproving family. However, when one looks beneath the surface, the song is hiding a secret in plain sight – much as Pascal did himself throughout his life.
Let’s look first to the title of the song: 'Nous les amoureux', which translates to "We, the lovers”. “Amoureux” is in the masculine plural form, which indicates to a French-speaking listener that the titular lovers are either a man and a woman, or two men (contrast “amoureuses”, which would refer only to women). Throughout the song, the lyrics remain coy on the gender of the lovers, sticking to gender-neutral plurals such as “nous” and “on”.
This avoidance of gendering Pascal’s lover is paired with repeated references to religious imagery – in the opening verse, he sings “it seems that Hell awaits us (il paraît que c’est l’enfer qui nous guette)”.
Perhaps most telling, however, is the bridge, which is worth translating in full:
Mais l'heure va sonner But time will bring
Des nuits moins difficiles, Less difficult nights,
Et je pourrai t’aimer And I will be able to love you
Sans qu’on en parle en ville. Without it being the talk of the town.
C'est promis, It is promised,
C'est écrit. It is written.
To anyone who has ever lived in the closet, the idea of being rejected for loving somebody hits close to home. True enough, then, Pascal would confirm in later decades that 'Nous les amoureux' had been written about a gay relationship.
A quiet revolution
Pascal himself was gay and several sources suggest that he had relationships with men. However, he never publicly confirmed this, likely in order to maintain his public persona as a handsome crooner and male lead. Although same-sex activity was not outlawed either in Luxembourg or Pascal’s native France by 1961, discrimination and violence remained rife for queer people of all stripes.
Excerpt from the transcript of proceedings in the French National Assembly, 18 July 1960
Most notably in 1960, a new French law against indecent exposure doubled penalties for breaches which involved homosexual activity. In introducing this amendment, National Assembly member Paul Mirguet stated the following (translated from French, see above):
“... you are all aware of the gravity of the scourge of homosexuality, a scourge against which we we must protect our children. At a time when our perilously marginalised civilisation is becoming so vulnerable in this ever-evolving world, we must fight against anything capable of diminishing its prestige.”
Despite the hostile social environment, 'Nous les amoureux' won the 1961 Contest with 31 points and went on to enjoy popularity across the European continent. Jean-Clause Pascal would later return to represent Luxembourg again in 1981 with 'C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique', coming 11th out of 20 entrants.
The seeming lack of controversy about the 1961 entry speaks to how queer communities throughout the 20th century often persevered by hiding in plain sight. To a modern eye, it’s not difficult to read queer themes into 'Nous les amoureux' – but ironically, the success of the song’s call for tolerance and acceptance relied on it not being noticed by the powers that be.
Nonetheless, the song is an admirably direct call for acceptance of queer relationships, as seen in the following lyrics:
Alors les sans-amours, les malaimés, So, to the unloved and the lonely
Il faudra bien nous acquitter You will have to let us go
Vous qui n’avez jamais été condamnés You who have never been condemned
Nous, les amoureux We, the lovers
Nous allons vivre sans vous, We are going to live without you,
Car le ciel est avec nous, Because Heaven is with us,
Les amoureux. The lovers.
The final lines also point to a more nuanced treatment of religion than one might expect. Rather than rejecting religious teachings outright, the lyrics state that “Heaven is with us” and that “He (God) gave us the right to happiness and the joy of being a couple (Il nous a donné le droit au bonheur et à la joie d’être deux)”. Those who taunted the lovers are presented not just as cruel and lonely, but as religiously mistaken.
In more modern times, Eurovision is both a global phenomenon and a common focal point of the queer community and pride across Europe. 'Nous les amoureux' shows, however, that the Contest has always been a forum where statements are made and social norms can be subverted.
Jean-Claude Pascal’s song is often overlooked in the history of the song contest. But as well as being a lovely tune in its own right, it also exemplified a moment in time at which LGBTQI+ communities began to stand up and assert their existence and their rights to live freely. Luxembourg’s first winning song therefore casts a longer shadow over the Contest than anyone could have imagined at the time.
The Aussievision team would like to wish a happy national holiday to everyone in Luxembourg, and we hope to see you back on the Eurovision stage at some point soon!