The Congolese-French superstar performed a medley of old and new hits at the sold-out show in London on Sunday night.
Despite being our closest neighbours on the continent, French music has never made it to the mainstream in the UK and shows by Francophone artists are few and far between. Instead, France’s biggest stars fill stadiums in the likes of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria etc. Over the years, a few plucky acts have ventured across the Channel, but then never come back. Although, many simply don’t bother (and that was even before Brexit).
Congolese-French singer and rapper GIMS (until recently known as Maître Gims) first started making music in the early noughties as part of hip-hop collective Sexion d’Assaut. His later solo albums have sold millions of copies and his albums Mon cœur avait raison (2015) and Ceinture noire (2018) both went straight to number one in France and Belgium.
Today, he’s the most-played artist on French radio and even has a Netflix documentary to his name. And yet, nearly 10 years after his triple-platinum selling debut album Subliminal, this is his first ever UK show.
GIMS takes to the stage with an explosive rendition of Est-ce que tu m’aimes ?, complete with pyrotechnics. From here, the hits kept coming, spanning his extensive catalogue: Bella, Zombie, Tout Donner and Je M’tire.
However, fan favourites Tu Vas Me Manquer and Best Life are noticeably missing and the lack of an encore leaves a sense of everything ending too soon.
Also, a word to be said about the support act. A last-minute drop out meant the warm up act was replaced by DJ sets with the sub-bass turned up deafeningly loud. Half an hour to 40 minutes is fine but two hours, especially for those with standing tickets is a. Bit. Much.
The crowd at the sold out show tonight at the O2 is neither the French diaspora neither just a bemused crowd of Brits, but a melting pot of all different ages and nationalities, united by their love of the singer. There are a lot of hardcore fans tonight, the people around me (and above me, from looking up at the balcony) are all enthusiastically singing along to every song. It’s quite a feat as, keep in mind, this is an artist who has released around 80 songs in the past two years alone. It’s also a testament to his knack to produce hit after hit.
For an international megastar GIMS is softly spoken as he expresses gratitude between songs and pauses to check in on a scuffle in the crowd “Tout va bien ici? Ok, we keep going.”
That’s not to say he can’t put on a good show. He commanded the stage like a seasoned pro wearing his signature dark shades throughout. He switched between rap, comedic and theatrical falsetto and, of course, his famous operatic singing voice.
However, the band often rely on the backing track which subtracted from the overall excitement of a live performance. Furthermore, La Même and Reste, originally performed with Vianney and Sting respectively, are left as per the original version. It’s one too many where half the song is spent listening to a recording of the other vocalist. It’s a shame there were no special guests to fill in and mark the occasion of GIMS’ UK debut.
Elsewhere, GIMS leads the crowd in a group sing-along for a cover of Bella Ciao and drops in a few surprise snippets of Sexion D’Assaut songs, much to the delight of the long-time fans. Then, during Sapés comme jamais the bassline briefly delved into the Thriller theme and the singer danced along.
Overall, GIMS gave a brilliant debut in London and hopefully his success, combined with the evidence that there is a dedicated fanbase here, will pave the way for more Francophone artists to test the waters.