You could say that French music has had a bad press over the years.
It doesn’t help that a huge chunk of the world now listens to British and American music, or to musicians who sing only in English. Quel dommage.
So perhaps there isn’t much of an appetite for songs sung in French …. or is there?
The huge success of the singer Stromae in his native Belgium, France and the UK suggests that our interest in Francophone music is changing.
Or, at least, it’s expanding beyond humming along to Gallic songstress Vanessa Paradis and being united in our oh-so-British disapproval of Serge Gainsbourg whenever Je t’aime … moi non plus comes on.
Read on in case you need persuading that French music is about so much more than:
To change your mind, why not have a look at this list of the best current French-language musicians (in my very humble opinion)?
Oh, and before we proceed, please don’t sue me for any sweeping generalisations I may have made above.
Unless, in lieu of money, you’ll accept …
- a battered old laptop
- a temperamental coffee machine
- two cantankerous cats who would prefer to be kept apart.
Now that that’s all cleared up, here’s my rundown of the top French-language musicians du moment:
1. HK et les Saltimbanks
This group, who count world music and klezmer music among their influences, appeared on the soundtrack of the French film Blue is the Warmest Colour, which I write about here.
On Lâche Rien, the song used on the soundtrack, is the perfect protest song.
With its feverishly indignant lyrics, energetic accordion playing and an exuberant chorus complete with whooping, it’ll make you want to dance down the streets of Paris to the Place de la République clutching a brightly coloured protest banner. ¡No pasarán!
A little different to the insanely danceable music of HK et les Saltimbanks, Indila‘s songs are a three-minute snapshot of high drama and romantic heartbreak to an electro accompaniment.
His gangly frame, searingly direct lyrics and intense live performances have seen him compared to fellow Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
So far, his songs have touched upon topics like:
- The economic crisis
- Domestic violence
- What love and romance means for the Facebook and Twitter generation.
And I’ll leave you here with Formidable, which basically broke YouTube when it came out (with 148 million views!)
4. Cœur de Pirate
Hailing from Montreal in French-speaking Canada, Cœur de Pirate (the pseudonym of Béatrice Martin) is a pianist and singer-songwriter.
I first got into her music while on my year abroad – I love the evocative lyrics in her songs, and she plays the piano beautifully.
Louane, the stage name of Anne Peichert, starred in the French film La Famille Bélier last year as a teenager who interprets for her deaf parents and brother.
She sang in the film, and has since released an album of her own music and covers of material by the French singer Michel Sardou (on a side note, his joyous and crazily fast-paced song Les Lacs du Connemara appears to be an obligatory closing song for any party you ever go to in France, from family weddings and anniversaries to birthday nights out and student celebrations. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …)
I have to admit I’ve come late to the party … my sister introduced me to Bénabar (real name Bruno Nicolini) earlier this year, so I’ve had a whole back catalogue to work through. His upbeat songs make for a great summer soundtrack – and it’s easy to see what he means in Paris by Night when he admits that the best nights out are never planned. So true.
Have a listen to: His song Y’a Une Fille Qu’habite Chez Moi.
Taken from the first initials of its three members, L.E.J. is formed of Parisian musicians Lucie, Élisa and Juliette. On the Internet two years ago they released a fab close harmony cover of Tous les mêmes by Stromae.
Have a look at: Their cover of Get Lucky by Daft Punk.
8. Vincent Delerm
With his salt-and-pepper hair and Woody Allen specs, the singer looks like an arty bohemian intellectual. The son of French author Philippe Delerm, Delerm Jnr. writes and performs his own songs and accompanies himself on the piano.
His first album, which came out in 2003, won a prize at the Victoires de la Musique (France’s version of the Brit Awards).
It’s got an experimental feel to it, going from string quartet arrangements on his song Châtenay Malabry to playful Twenties-style piano music on Fanny Ardant et Moi.
His narrator reimagines French actress Fanny Ardant as a tiny black and white figurine on his bookshelf who he even takes along to meet his parents. Nope, I’ve no idea why either.
Try: His song Tes Parents, one of my favourites, which he improvises to with hilarious new lyrics here during a concert in Paris.
How about you?
Who are your favourite French-language singers and groups?
And what are your favourite French songs?
Let me know by leaving a comment below 🙂