At the top of a hilly cobblestone cul-de-sac in Paris’ tony 16th arrondissement, a young, shaggy-haired Frenchman stands waving frantically. He is one of Carla Bruni’s assistants. ”Dépêchez-vous!” he calls, urging a journalist to quicken her stride. ”Carla is about to play another song.” Sure enough, on the other side of the imposing iron gate that separates Bruni’s house from the rest of the neighborhood, an informal concert is taking place. Seated on her front steps, looking out into her lush garden, the supermodel-turned-singer-turned-First Lady of France is strumming her guitar to ”J’en connais,” a track from her 2003 debut album, Quelqu’un m’a dit. Next to her is Taofik Farah, her longtime guitarist and collaborator, and in front of both of them is a BBC camera crew, shooting footage for an upcoming documentary on Bruni. Though they’ve been filming for hours now, Bruni seems perfectly engaged, tapping her foot and swaying with the music as she sings about all the men she’s known. But then, somewhere in the middle of the second refrain, she stumbles over the lyrics. ”I forgot!” she says, flashing an apologetic smile. ”We haven’t done this one in five years!”
No one appears to mind the momentary hiccup; everyone gathered in Bruni’s yard on a recent July evening seems to appreciate just how rare this intimate little gig is, and that it’s the closest they’ll come to seeing the First Lady perform publicly for a long time. After marrying the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, in February of this year, Bruni announced that, for reasons of security and propriety, she would not play live as long as her husband remains in office. ”It would be sort of obscene,” she says. At the same time, Bruni, once famous for her liaisons with Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, decided that she shouldn’t have to give up her music career just because she happened to have married the leader of a G8 country. ”It’s not that I want to use my husband’s power to sell my songs,” she says, sitting in her home office after the BBC crew has left. ”I just don’t believe that women should drop everything. That’s something machiste” — macho — ”that I cannot bear.”
This week, the 40-year-old musician released her third album, Comme si de rien n’était. Like the acclaimed Quelqu’un m’a dit, which sold 2 million copies worldwide and made many a jaded French critic swoon, the new record is a collection of acoustic, folk-pop songs that explore Bruni’s pet themes of love and passion. The title translates to ”As if Nothing Happened,” and it refers to the under-the-radar manner in which Bruni recorded the album over three weeks last winter — a mere month after she and Sarkozy exchanged vows under the media’s insatiable gaze. ”The whole situation was frantic,” she says of her nuptials. ”But we did the album very quietly.”
NEXT PAGE: Bruni on the controversy around her so-called ”drug song”: ”It doesn’t bother me much. It’s actually nice to have people searching for a meaning [in my lyrics]. At least they read them!