The musical scene in France is known for being one of the most prolific and innovative in the world. From rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, folk and pop, there are plenty of talented musicians bringing a distinctly French flavour to the country’s cultural landscape.
Many of these French bands and artists have successfully achieved international fame and critical acclaim, while some are just getting started at gaining recognition outside of France. Without further ado, let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
One of the most emblematic French rock bands, the band members of Indochine are almost as famous for having a turbulent relationship with each other and the press.
That hasn’t stopped them from pumping out the hits, and the band is still much in touch with its fans today.
One of the standard-bearers for French rock, their biggest hit remains L’aventurier where Indochine pays tribute to the book series Bob Morane.
Naming several popular characters, the song sings the praises of this fictional character who is an RAF fighter during WWII, with a black belt in karate and an amazing ability to get out of sticky situations. The French version of James Bond, if you will.
Another very popular hit is “La vie est belle”, which traces the life of a man from his birth until his death. After a difficult childhood, the adulthood is “beautiful and cruel at the same time” according to the lyrics of the song.
2. Noir Désir
One of the best French rock bands of their day, Noir Désir originates from Bordeaux.
Their biggest hit undisputedly is Le vent nous portera, meaning “the wind will carry us”. It is a very moving song about two characters that are inseparable (that the wind will carry off together).
French hip hop band IAM wrote this song that became the anthem for Marseillais of their generation. The band from Marseille song was released in the months following the local football (soccer) team Olympique de Marseille’s Champions League victory, setting the stage for a very long party.
One of their classic hits is Je danse la Mia, which remains one of the most recognizable songs in France today for the younger crowd. For those wondering, mia is a play of words on their name IAM.
4. Sexion d’Assaut
Sexion d’Assaut is not so much a band, as it is a collective. Its founding members in 2002 were rappers L.I.O. Pétrodollars, Black M, Maska and Lefa.
Since then it has included about 69 rappers with many artists being launched within the group and then finding success as hip hop artists and rappers. Among the most famous games are Black M, Maître G, Soprano, and many more.
5. Daft Punk
We couldn’t talk about French bands and not include Daft Punk. Formed in 1993 in Paris, they are widely regarded as one of the most influential acts in dance music and one of France’s most famous exports.
They are so well known, a French military marching band played a Daft Punk medley was played at the 2017 Bastille Day parade in front of French President Macron and his many guests, including the US President.
6. Therapie Taxi
One way to describe Thérapie TAXI’s music is eclectic. With a mix of pop, hip hop, and rock, their French songs have an easy musicality that is a must for any playlist. This up and coming band has been active since 2017, with their biggest hit to date being Hit Sale.
With two lead singers Adélaïde Chabannes de Balsac and Raphaël Faget-Zaoui, and 3 talented musicians accompanying them (Renaud Bizart, Vincent Duteuil, Ilan Rabaté), this French band has a flexibility of range that is easy to get into.
Formed in 1976, Téléphone became one of the greatest French rock bands of all time, selling over 10 million albums to date. The band consists of Jean-Louis Aubert, Louis Bertignac, Richard Kolinka, and Corine Marienneau.
One of their biggest hits is this melancholic song about Cendrillon (“Cinderella” in English). The song starts with her as a young and beautiful dreamer in her 30s, before slowly losing her dreams as she hits her 30s.
Her husband leaves, she is managing the children by herself, and then by her 40s is a drug addict and prostitute. Not quite the fairytale imagined by a “happy ever after”.
8. Debut de soirée
The disco era is in full swing with this one. The band’s name is Debut de soirée which means “start of the evening.”
So it makes sense that their biggest hit was a song about the nightlife in the city, and partying it up on a nuit de folie (night of craziness).
9. BB Brunes
In 2000, Adrien Gallo and Karim Réveillé, who were childhood friends, formed the band “Hangover” with songs exclusively in English.
Later joined by Félix Hemmen and Bérald Crambes, the band changed their name to BB Brunes from French legend Serge Gainsbourg’s song “Initials BB” and started singing in French.
With appearances on TV shows like Star Academy and Nouvelle Star, this is a band quite familiar to French audiences.
10. Louise Attaque
Formed in 1994, Louise Attaque has also become known as the launching pad for male solo artist Gaetan Roussel. In the beginning, it was a band formed by Gaëtan Roussel and Robin Feix who went to high school together, before being joined by other band members.
This is one French band that has put out albums in fits and spurts, going on hiatus several times as each member of the band pursued individual projects.
Nevertheless, it is a band that has found much success, with one of their biggest hits being “Je t’emmène au vent”.
11. Les Fatals Picards
Representing the Picardy region of France, the Fatals Picards became famous after representing France in the Eurovision Song Contest 2007 with the song “L’Amour à la française”.
Many of their songs are of a humorous nature, although some are much more sober such as Le jour de la mort de Johnny (“the day of the death of Johnny”), about French rock musician Johnny Hallyday.
Here is one of their big hits, “Le retour à la terre“, meaning “the return to earth”.
There are not many top girl bands in France, with many female singers performing as solo artists. The folk duo Brigitte however, strays from the norm.
Formed in 2008 by Sylvie Hoarau and Aurélie Saada, the name of the band pays tribute to the famous French Brigittes of the past, including Brigitte Bardot and Brigitte Lahaie.
With several albums and awards under their belt, they have also been recognized as Chevaliers de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
13. La Femme
Current members include Sacha Got, Marlon Magnée, Ysé Grospiron, Sam Lefèvre, Noé Delmas, and Nina Giangreco. Singer Clara Luciani also used to be a member. Here is one of their biggest hits, Ou va le monde, meaning “where is the world going”.
Justice is a French electronic music duo consisting of Gaspard Augé from Besançon, and Xavier de Rosnay from the Seine-et-Marne area. The band was formed in 2003 and has put out several hit records since then.
They also routinely license their music out to video games, movies, advertising and other commercial activities, meaning that you have likely heard their songs, even if you don’t know their name.
Formed in 1996, Gojira is a French heavy metal band from Ondres in the Nouvelle Aquitaine. It was formed by brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier, Christian Andreu, and Jean-Michel Labadie.
With most of their songs in English, Gojira has released several hit albums to date, and is one of the first French bands to top the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart.
Originally from the town of Versailles, the band Phoenix consists of Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai, and Laurent Brancowitz.
Having been around since 1997, their albums are mostly in English. In 2010, they were awarded the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Some of their biggest hit singles have included “If I Ever Feel Better”, “Lisztomania”, “Too Young” and “1901”.
17. Ultra Vomit
Ultra Vomit is not quite as well-known as some of the others on this list, until they made an appearance recently in the 2022 French presidential campaign.
With their humorous and rather absurd lyrics, this emerging French band was invited to play a hard-rock version of the national anthem in front of the French President and a couple of youtubers.
Here is one of the hit songs, with a play on words in the title, Evier metal. (Evier means “kitchen sink” in French, and also sounds like “heavy”.)
18. Big Flo et Oli
The French rapper duo Big Flo and Oli are two brothers from Toulouse, Florian and Olivio. Their father is Argentian and their mother French, a mix of influences that is quite apparent in their music.
Their debut album La Cour des grands was released in 2015 and received a gold record award less than four months after being released, and then went platinum, making them the youngest French rappers to receive this award.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about famous French songs that changed pop culture. A bientôt!