What Is the Meaning of "La Vie en Rose"?

By Benna Crawford
Edith Piaf, the French chanteuse, introduced and immortalized

"La Vie en Rose" is a song written in 1946 by and for a "chanteuse réaliste," a "realist singer," who portrayed the gritty life of the Parisian underworld during the dark days of the Paris occupation by Germany. Lyricist and singer Edith Piaf won instant acclaim for the song, which captured the hardships and hopes of the time, and it became her signature piece. "La Vie en Rose" went on to become a popular cover for a number of famous performers and an award-winning film in 2007.

Rose-Colored Glasses

The title literally means "life in pink," or life seen through rose-colored glasses. It was an apt metaphor for the colorful life of its creator. Edith Piaf, a street waif in early 20th century Paris, became a performer of worldwide renown when she was offered a job singing in a cabaret, based solely on the raw power and pathos of her untrained voice. The slight singer was renamed "Piaf" or sparrow. Her talents as a chanteuse and an actor launched signature songs such as "Milord," "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," and the song she wrote the lyrics for, "La Vie en Rose."

The War Years

Piaf had performed at a bordello-cabaret named "La Vie en Rose" several years before she wrote the lyrics that would come to define her to a global audience. The gaiety of Paris disappeared under the gloom of deprivation and occupation by the German army during World War II. Life was hard and the songs of the cabaret singers both reflected the hardship and promised a glimmer of hope for a brighter future. "La Vie en Rose" was considered by Piaf’s entourage to be an insubstantial song and she hesitated to introduce it into her repertoire. But, once she did, it became an instant hit, defining both the singer and the era. (see references 1, 3)

Commercial and Abiding Romance

Louis Armstrong made "La Vie en Rose" one of his signature songs. Artists as disparate as Grace Jones, Josephine Baker, Bing Crosby, Iggy Pop, Donna Summer and Andrea Bocelli have recorded it. Lyrics such as " When you press me to your heart / I'm in a world apart / A world where roses bloom / And when you speak, angels sing from above / Everyday words seem to turn into love songs / Give your heart and soul to me / And life will always be la vie en rose" spoke not only to beleaguered war-torn Paris but to survivors and people everywhere who embraced the romantic notion of love. (see reference 4)

Big Screen and Hall of Fame

In 2007, a feature film about Piaf, "La Vie en Rose," recounted the life story of the "Little Sparrow," her colorful exploits and affaires d'amour, the trajectory of her enduring career and the indelible legacy of her talent. The movie, directed by Olivier Dahan with French actress Marion Cotillard in the role of Piaf, won two Oscars and numerous film festival and industry awards, including an Academy Award, a Best Actress Golden Globe and a Cesar for Marion Cotillard's portrayal of Piaf. The song, recorded by Louis Armstrong, is heard in the animated film "Wall-E" when the two robotic characters first encounter each other in the ruins. And the music and lyrics of "La Vie en Rose" won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998, 36 years after Piaf's death at age 47. (see references 1, 2, 6)

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .