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Games Without Frontiers

by

Peter Gabriel



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The lyric repeated at the beginning and end is "Jeux Sans Frontieres," which is French for "Games Without Frontiers."It is frequently misheard as "She's So Popular."
This song is about the childish antics of adults, which is especially prevalent when their countries are competing in the Olympics.
Gabriel wrote this before the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980. This reinforced the theme of adults acting like children over the Olympics.
Kate Bush sang backup - that's her singing "Jeux Sans Fronteires."
Gabriel got the idea for the title from a 1970s European game show of the same name where contestants dressed up in strange costumes to compete for prizes. A version of the show came out in England called "It's a knockout," giving him that lyric.
This was Gabriel's first UK Top 10 as a solo artist. It had an interesting impact on his American distribution: Gabriel's first two solo albums were distributed in America by Atlantic Records, but they rejected his third album (which contained this track), telling Gabriel he was committing "commercial suicide." Atlantic dropped him but tried to buy the album back when "Games Without Frontiers" took off in the UK and started getting airplay in the States. At this point, Gabriel wanted nothing to do with Atlantic and let Mercury Records distribute the album in America.
The whistling is Gabriel along with producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.
In 1991, Gabriel's performance of this from Holland was beamed to Wembley Stadium in England as part of "The Simple Truth" concert for Kurdish refugees.
The video includes film clips of Olympic events and scenes from the 1950 educational film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school kids on what to do in case of nuclear attack. (thanks, Patrick - Conyers, GA)
Part of the song goes: "Andre has a red flag/ Chiang Ching's is blue/They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.

Andre could refer to Andre Malraux (1901-1976) the French statesman and author of the book Man's Fate, about the 1920s communist regime in Shanghai. Red flag may refer to Malraux's leftist politics. Chiang Ching could refer to Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists - hence, the rightwing Blue Flag. Chiang's forces lost the civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile.

Lin Tai Yu may be Nguyen Thieu (1923-2001), South Vietnamese president during the height of the Vietnam War. After the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, England, and later to the United States where he died in exile.

The lyric could refer to the fact that while leftist politicians like Andre Malraux had a secure position in France, and rightist leaders like Chiang Kai Shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those caught in the middle like Nguyen Thieu were pawns in the Cold war and had no secure country. This could also be a reproach to either Thieu or his United States backers, saying that he was now a nobody.
A remix by Lord Jamar was used for the theme for the 2009 Winter X Games. The new version was dubbed "X Games Without Frontiers." (thanks, Justin - Durango, CO)
Peter Gabriel
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Comments (60):

I'm not going to comment on the song meaning here, I mostly wanted to comment on the comments.

First off, Ratboy, know what you're talking about before you make a statement. "Illegal Alien" is indeed a Genesis song, not a Police song. Reference this for conformation if you still doubt : http://www.connollyco.com/discography/genesis/index.html
And this : http://www.moodbook.com/music/police.html

Jason : First off, stow the psuedo-intellectual routine, with your atrocious grammar and punctuation you're not bright enough to pull it off. I'm a musician also, and I can say unequivocally that any songwriter worth his salt would laugh at your statement. You might come up with music from a strictly intellectual standpoint (although, while it might be technically impressive, it takes a true virtuoso player or ensemble, like Dream Theater for instance, to pull that off,) or just because you've got a good groove going, or whatever, but lyrics that are just abstract and meaningless don't make for a very good song. They're words, by their very definition they should "say" something. Even a song like "Number Song" by Rythym Corps (their spelling, not mine :-P) with seemingly random lyrical phrases has meaning when you look at them in the context of the whole. Also, the Gabriel/Hackett/Rutherford/Banks/Collins Genesis vs. the Collins/Rutherford/Banks Genesis debate has as much place here as anywhere.

Which, by the way, the first few albums, up to Three Sides Live probably, still had a very "Genesis" feel if you dug deeper than just the radio tracks. After that, other than a couple of gems, it was mostly the Phil Collins show. Now, I won't bash Phil, or Mike or Tony for that matter, I'm sure that once they started producing hits the record companies cranked up the pressure for more; that's the way the business works. Not to mention I imagine their lifestyles got a fair bit more comfortable. Yeah, they sold out. But at least they weren't whiny little bitches about it like Metallica became once they sold their fans down the river. But I wander; Peter's work has been more interesting artistically in a lot of ways, but hey, let's don't forget the fact that he's had a number of pretty big hits himself. And sadly, you don't get hits by being artsy.

Since everyone seems obligated to state what they thought "Jeux sans fronteires" was, I was aware it was French, but had no idea what it translated to until years later.

Anyway, like the saying goes : Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink :-P.
- Ferd, Cedar Springs, MI
"Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again"
Hans = God (Male)
Lotte = free man
Jane = God (Female)
Willi = as strong as a helmet
So, friend Gabriel is getting his hand relief in an extra-marrital engagement.
- Henry VIII, Yes, Germany
I recently saw a documentary which included a guy who worked in a record store in the 70s - 80s who described having a customer come in asking for a song with the lyric, "She's So Funky Yeah." In pre-internet days, the store prided itself on having a staff so knowledgeable that it could find anything requested, and they deciphered that this was the song she was looking for. I guess I thought the same thing. But blame it on Kate Bush, for grossly mispronouncing "Jeux", which should have sounded like "Zhuh," causing confusion for millions of listeners for years. How she sang it "Zhee" without anyone correcting her, I'll never know. Phonetically, Jeux Sans Frontiers is Zhuh Sahn Frahn-tee-ay.
- TLM, Nowhere, NJ
I knew the backup singer was a woman but until know I had no idea that the woman was Katie B.!
- Rayna, Pembroke pines, FL
"Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it."
This line maybe refers to World War II. Adolf, of course, is Hitler (1889-1945), he started it. Enrico is physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), whose theories built The Bomb that finished(?) it. Anyhow, an interesting tune that speaks volumes:)
- Rayna, Puyallup, WA
Thanks to all for posting the "She's so popular" confusion - I've been searching for this song for a while, usually a few days after hearing the song and those were the only lyrics I could (or thought I could)recall. I think the Jeux is what throws everyone, not being pronounced property - not sure how it should appear in true phonetic text, but should be more of an err than eee sound.
- Steve, Brisbane, Australia
I think the kissing-pissing parts refer to western nations going into and trying to fix(kissing)and then destroy(pissing)poor third world countries,many of these countries are tropical.
- Timothy, Philadelphia, PA
Ok listen up people-I am a musician, and have a headache after reading all these comments- For the record, I thought it was "She's so happy now (or happier) am i really alone here?! geez.
Anyhoo, firstly, stop babbling about some song "illegal alien", perhaps sting and genesis both have a song titled this, that happens alot, get use to it- Also, were talking about a song here, not Genesis versus old Genesis, although appropriate in some ironic way, considering were talking about battles and childish behavior. You can dissect what you think an artist is talking about in a song, but the fact is, there may be no point- I have written songs off the cuff, improvising, that may form something you can give many meanings to, after all, you get what you look for. Its very possible that Peter has an abstract side, and didnt intentionally formulate this song as you say- But from the looks of the song, its possible with the names mentioned in earlier comments here- You have to realize that a timeless and/or genius piece of work, will hold many meanings, and appeal to a vast amount of people, but maybe for different reasons. You should consider though with this song or any other song, the artist could have simply been making up the words as they go along- is the beauty of improvisation and the creative mind-
So this song could be metaphorical in different ways- an intelligent artist like Mr Gabriel is unlikely going to write a song about a few specific things like the atomic bomb or vietnam war, he is likely going to try and compress the human condition into one song- meaning yes it could be about the olympics, past wars or people, and everyone and their everyday lives, the battles we endure with ourselves, each other, lovers, society and government, the dark side of competition, etc etc-
try not being so linear-
peace,
JP
- jason, buffalo, NY
After doing some research on this song, it seems like the song is actually about the stupidity of adult National Leaders who argued over issues related to the Olympics rather than focusing on bigger issues. He talks about this as if it was a game that had no international boundaries that could easily be played like the "Knockout" show in Europe. This show portrays international games where no harm would be done that would cause any tears. When he speaks of Enrico playing with Adolf I assume he means Enrico Fermi, the physicist involved with the creation of the atomic bomb. Adolfo Amidei, was a family friend who gave Enrico several books on physics and
mathematics for studying purposes. Although Enrico had successful manuscripts that were translated into German and published in the famous German scientific journal "Physikalische Zeitschrift", he never involved any Nazi German ex-patriots to work or study with him in his endeavors. He did go to study in Germany for a semester. However, he stayed in Leiden with one of his physicist friends,Paul Ehrenfest, who was born and raised in Vienna and who was a Jew. His wife was also Jewish so there would be no connection between ex-patriot Nazi's and himself.The atomic bomb is actually shown at the end of his video.
- Tia, deer park, WA
I always heard "She's so funky now". And instead of "It's a Knockout", I heard, "If so, look out!" And even though it is one of my all time favorites, I had no idea what the song was about until now. I'm glad I found this site. There is much to learn.
- Joel, Joliet, IL
This song is about the countries that boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics..
- Jim, Long Beach, CA
I have nothing against Phil Collins. He's a great drummer.
- Kirsten, New York, NY
I grew up bilingual- English and French- in Louisiana's Cajun Country, so I always knew that "Jeux Sans Frontieres" was "Games Without Frontiers" in French. However, I've always thought that the song reflected Gabriel's disgust with how the US, and other nations, force their will upon other countries- eg: the 1980 Olympic boycott. The whole idea of making the world "safe for democracy" completely ignores the right of other countries to freely choose the government and allies that best suits THEM.
- Serra, Santa Fe, NM
I've never actually seen the video, and I always assumed the song was about the Berlin burlesque culture (dominatrices, S&M, etc;) that sprang up after WWI and was seeing a resurgance in Europe around the time this song came out. I think it's comparing the world to childish games, but also that culture.
BTW, I always heard "She's so popular," but now I'm going to have to listen to it again with a new perspective.
I'd like to hear PG talk about it, it's probably the most intriguing song he ever wrote.
- Tom, Marble Falls, AR
Dunno if Gabriel read it, but Lin Tai-yu (aka "Black Jade") is the central character in the classic Chinese literary work by Tsao Hsueh-chin called "Dream of the Red Chamber." CliffsNotes online describes the character this way (edited): "...Tai-yu...is a delicate and outstandingly intellectual girl, although a bit sentimental...her delicate health and sharp tongue keep her from being in favor with [certain powerful women]. She dies for her ideal of love."
- Trevor, St. Augustine, FL
This is a song that Peter talks about and says what it means to him. Why do we have to guess what he means. It is what it means to us.
- Chris, Columbus, OH
Just to clear thing up. "Illegal Alien" is a Genesis song. There are some lyrics "it's no fun being an illegal alien". There is a Sting song called "Englishman in New York" where there are lyrics, "I'm an alien, I am a legal alien". He never says illegal alien. Oh by the way I always thought Peter Gabriel was saying "she's so popular".
- Justin, Woburn, MA
anybody know where the parade is from in the video?? the clip is melancholic! looked at it closely and the buildings are from the middle east and so are the people! managed to get a pic of a flag in the backgrond but nobody knows the origin of this flag! its bizzare! a clip from another world it seems! can anybody help!
- adam, bradford, United Kingdom
It's a knockout, alright. :o)
- Dale, Santa Fe, NM
Jeux sans frontieres!! I don't care what the real lyrics are. Its been "she's so popular" to my ears since 1980 (27 yrs ago!) and its staying as that! I couldn't possibly change it now! Ha-Ha!
- michelle, grantham, lincs, England
To me, the begining of this song sound an awful lot like the stirring pot before a war starts. Hans, Lotte, Jane, Willi, Suki, Leo, Sacha, Britt, and Enrico. The names all come from different cultures; World War II was kind of like that. I normally wouldn't point this out, except for this line; 'Adolf builds a bonfire'. Perhaps a reference to Hitler? The Red flag waving is yet another pointer. Someone without a hill to fly his flag on: nations losing their lands to the superpowers (Berlin is a very good example of this, but that was in the 50's). Good point? The kissing baboons and 'pissing on the goons of the jungle' have left me alooft. Maybe it means the early exploration of Asia and Africa (the kissing of baboons wouldn't be in Asia, unless I'm very much mistaken).
- Milo, Ithaca, NY
'Games Without Frontiers' is a great, funky song with a neat rhythm. Gabriel has always been a creative artist going back all the way to his days with Genesis, although I prefer his solo material more than the material he wrote for Genesis. As for the Gabriel vs. Collins thing, I like them both, and enjoy both of their solo music as well as Genesis (Nursury Cryme to We Can't Dance era). They have different styles (lyrically speaking.) There does seem to be some similarity in some of their music however. Collins is an extraordinarily gifted drummer with a great voice and, although he is much more simple and sentimental than Gabriel, is a great songwriter. Gabriel has a talent for lyricism, although he has been overmatched, in Genesis anyway, by Tony Banks. I especially like Gabriel's work on "Passion" and also on "Ovo". Gabriel has performed some great music, both non-commercial and pop.
- Jibril, Crimora, VA
Ratboy - As everyone else has said Illegal Alien is indeed a Genesis song. You are thinking of Englishman in New York ("I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York") which is by Sting, without The Police.
- Jason, New Orleans, LA
I also thought it sounded like "She's so funky now", though I knew it must be something different. Pretty good song.
- Ryan, Marion, IA
Just to add to the name game, I've always assumed that Enrico referred to Enrico Fermi, who was one of the leading physicists on the Mahattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. Many of the other physicists on the project were expatriate germans who had begun work with the nazi regime (hence, Adolf's bonfire). BTW, I originally heard the lyric as "She's so f***ing mad."
- Chris, Meridian, ID
This is one of my favorite songs and yeah, when I first heard it, I heard something like "she's so popular." somehow I envision kids playing a game that gets way out of hand -- and the fact that they're in a jungle and all -- is it just me and my freshman English class memories, or does that sound like "Lord of the Flies"?
- Marissa, Is this optional?, OH
Top song...am I the only 1 who thought it said "..she's so front-ier" whateva that means :)
By the way, here's the song on You Tube...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTVn08vXsQM

(there should be a link to the clip on YouTube of every song is Sonfacts, hello admins)...

And yeah, the title of this song comes from that European game show based on 'It's A Knockout", see here...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Games_Without_Frontiers
- james, sydney, Australia
I can't remember what I heard "Jeux Sans Frontieres" as, but it wasn't "She's so popular" It doesn't sound ANYTHING like that.
- Mjn Seifer, Not listed for personal reason, England
You are all wrong What Peter is saying is (she so f***able) now you know. What do have to say Know? Rob from Folcroft PA
- robert, folcroft, PA
"Illegal Alien" is a Genesis song, not Police Ratboy !
- Tommy, Flanders, NJ
Does anyone notice that Peter counts in "one, two, four" as well?
- Linus, Hamilton, ON, Canada
I have the Genesis greatest hits cd in my computer, right now, and I'm listening to "Illegal Alien".

But pertaining to these: I always figured there was something political about the names in the song, but I've long given up hope of finding out the truth. I don't think anyone but Peter Gabriel knows for certain what it's about. You can guess, but can anyone really say for certain?
- Jason, Toronto, Canada
Until I read the posts here.. I thought it was "She's so funky now!" Now I have to listen to see if I can hear "She's so popular" knowing full well it is 'jeux san frontieres'
The song takes me back..that's for sure.
-Molly, Toronto, Canada
- molly, toronto, Canada
When I was little I always sang along to this song because I liked the the chorus and when it comes on the radio I still sing along.
- Galina, New London, CT
Hey ratboy. . . Peter Gabriel has done other songs with Kate Bush so it's entirely possible that she sings the jeux sans frontieres bit.
- Cristin, Boston, MA
Oh, yheah, I forgot what I wanted to say about this song. How can that be Kate Bush? It sounds nothing like her. It sounds like Peter Gabriel singing in a high pitched voice. Are you people SURE it's Kate Bush?
- Ratboy, Ratville, NJ
Why do people have to turn this page into Phil Collins era Genesis bashing? Genesis with Collins was my first favorite band and I still love them. What the heck is wrong with them! Not a thing. Maybe they're not quite as bizarre as Gabriel era Genesis, but they rule damn it. And whoever said Illegal Alien was a Genesis song, it's a The Police song (and a good one). Now if you really want to bash someone, bash that new singer they got awhile back... "Take me to the congo". Eegghh.
- Ratboy, Ratville, NJ
I am wondering who some of the poeple in the song are. Chiang Ching is Mao Tse Tung's wife who helped start the Cultural Revolution. It is sometimes spelled Jiang Jing. We all know who Adolf is. Who is Lin Tai Yu? Is this is the same as Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore? Anyone really know?
- glenn, Arlington, VA
to Jason, Boulder, CO

You have heard it, that's in the original version, but there is an edited version that was put on a greatest hits album and is also the one that gets the most radio play... on stations that will still be playing this.
- Thomas, Chicago, IL
I swear I've heard a version of this where the lyric in the bridge is, "Whistling tunes, we piss on the goons in the jungle".
- Jason, Boulder, CO
I never thought Peter said whistling tunes we're kissing baboons in the jungle. I thought he said whistling tunes we're kissing the moose in the jungle! Kissing baboons makes more sense then moose since moose don't live in jungles :D Also, I thought he sang she's so popular
- Sarah, Ottawa, Canada
...she's not "so popular" finally... (!)
- Katerina, Athens - Greece
I had no idea he was thinking of the olympics, but it definately makes sense. i always thought the term 'jeux san frontieres' was when you're playing a game and keep making up the rules as you go along. 'war without tears' means nobody cares about all the suffering that senseless violence causes... everyone just wants their side to win. check out the Massive Attack remix of this song... it's really cool.
- Drew, Philadelphia, PA
I always thought it was "She's so popular"...
- Ed, London, Canada
It was, "She's so funky, yeah" to me, too! My family and I really looked into this song, not knowing it's ties to the Olmypics. We thought it was a song about many wars and how childish they are, also tying in the red flag and communism. Vietnam also was a big one, we felt. We though that if looks could kill, they probably will meant that from the looks of it: Vietnam didn't seem so bad, but ignorance could kill us. HMM... sounds alot like another war I know. Is that Bush, now?
- Andria-Michele, Snohomish , WA
I agree with Mark from St.Thomas(is that St. Thomas Ontario,Canada Mark?)Anyway I love the Gabriel era Genesis stuff the best but Phil Collins who joined in 1970 replacing original drummer John Mayhew was at one time one awesome drummer(and probably still is athough)He fell into that Disney path along with Elton John (who's early albums were brilliant)and Chicago.I do like Trick of the Tail and some tracks like Abacab and Turn it on Again but the split ended up being good for both parties.There is no excuse for what Phil did to ruin the bands name with duds like We can't Dance,illeagal Alien and No Son of Mine which would have been better off on Phils solo records.
- Andrew, Toronto
Gabriel is a musical prophet sent here by God himself. And don't you turkeys forget it!
For me it was "she's so funky, yeah" The footage in the video is crazy. especially the kid dressed like a general with a cigar in his mouth, is that real?
- William, Burke, VA
Jeux sans Frontier was a 1970's television event where teams from small towns in different European countries competed against each other by playing silly games. In the UK this was called 'Its a Knockout', but the original French title translates literally as Games Without Frontiers. Gabriel used the title as a metaphor for whatever it is the song is about.
- Mark, Hereford, England
Heard an interview with Gabriel where he also talked about a secondary meaning for this song, that of aggression - how while it causes War and Crime, it also is what every child needs to rebel against their parents and leave to go out on there own - so an essential part of life. But how to balance it.
- Steve, Belmont, CA
When Gabriel left Genesis, he thought he would have the last laugh. He chuckled when he heard that the drummer, Phil Collins, was going to try to sing lead. Gabriel and his supersized ego thought Genesis would crumble without him and there was no way their drummer could sing lead.
- Roger, Los Angeles, CA
This song had me convinced and still does that it is about war because if you anaylze the lyrics you see confrontation and friendships and then it says "games without frontiers War without tears." it is almost as he is using teh kids to represent countries at war with eachother and their alliances (bonding and breaking. "It's a knockout" gives it away if you think about it. "games without frontiers War without tears." is a comparison beacause we all know war has tears there is no doubt and it is comparing this to the games without frontiers (saying games always have frontiers or conflict). The idea here (to me)is ranging from playing games to killing in war there is always conflict(frontiers) and sorrow (tear)... Just a thought
- Ben, Perth, Canada
I always thought it had something to do with nuclear war. I guess my guess wasn't that far off, seeing whar was in the video.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
Yeah! I was guilty of hearing it as "She's so popular" too.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
Wow, I've been singing a totally different song all these yrs.! I am guilty of the "She's so funky, now" syndrome. Also, I had Cheyenne choosing the blue flag & everyone having hills to fly them on except for Little Ti Yu. Don't know if I can say Jeux San Fronteires...
- Leslie, Baltimore, MD
One of the best by him, and has some interesting lyrics to boot.
- Dee, Indianapolis, IN
The concept of people dressing in strange costumes and competing for prizes moved here to the States in a form of a show called "Let's Make A Deal."
- Patrick, Conyers, GA
Dear Chris,

May I suggest you take a listen to some more old Genesis and solo Gabriel (up to the "So" Album). Gabriel was lead singer and, in my opinion, the creative force behind Genesis. Gabriel is a much more talented and profound artist than Phil (Disney) Collins. Genesis was about pushing boundaries and creating new things. When Genesis began to become stale and corporate Gabrriel did the right thing and left Genesis (as expressed in the lyrics of the Gabriel's solo song "Solsbury Hil" "-I was feeling part of the scenery, I walked right out of the machinery-"). Although Gabriel's music may be less accessable than Genesis/Collins commercial stuff, it is much, much more more creative (i.e. genesis).
- Mark, St. Thomas, Other
I spotted the "Jeux Sans Frontieres" = "It's A Knockout" TV show link years ago and have always wondered if it was just an incredible coincidence. I guess not!
- Martin, Sydney, Australia
I thought it meant that war is child's play or something along that line.
- Alex, New Orleans, LA
Jeux Sans Fronteires - most people hear it as "She's so funky, yeah." Guilty of that - until 2 years ago.

Gabriel is a former member of the band Genesis. Games Without Frontiers is the only song I like of his. I heard him sing one song (Genesis)...I prefer Phil Collins.
- Chris, Hull, MA
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