A French-Malian Singer Is Caught in an Olympic Storm

In four months, France will host the Paris Olympics, but which France will show up? Torn between tradition and modernity, the country is in the midst of an identity crisis.

The possible choice for the opening ceremony of Aya Nakamura, a superstar French-Malian singer whose slang-spiced lyrics stand at some distance from academic French, has ignited a furor tinged with issues of race and linguistic propriety and the politics of immigration. Right-wing critics say Ms. Nakamura’s music does not represent France, and the prospect of her performing has led to a barrage of racist insults online against her. The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation.

The outcry has compounded a fight over an official poster unveiled this month: a pastel rendering of the city’s landmarks thronging with people in a busy style reminiscent of the “Where’s Waldo?” children’s books.

Right-wing critics have attacked the image as a deliberate dilution of the French nation and its history in a sea of sugary, irreproachable blandness most evident in the removal of the cross atop the golden dome of the Invalides, the former military hospital where Napoleon is buried. An opinion essay in the right-wing Journal du Dimanche said “the malaise of a nation in the throes of deconstruction” was in full view.

The rapid immersion of the Olympics in France’s culture wars has its roots in a meeting on Feb. 19 at the Élysée Palace between President Emmanuel Macron and Ms. Nakamura, 28. Mr. Macron, doubling as the artistic director of the Olympics, asked if she would perform.

The official poster of the Olympic Games in Paris has been attacked by right-wing critics as a deliberate dilution of the French nation and its history.Credit…Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

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