Over the last few decades, the music scene has been undergoing a kind of renaissance, with the rise of French musicians who have reinvented the chanson.
From playful verses to softly spoken lyrics that can drive a dagger into your heart, talent that has propelled them to being household names, with songs that every French person knows the words to.
So if you are looking to find something new to listen to, you just might enjoy this list of the top French female singers of today and yesteryear. (Don’t worry, we have a list of male singers as well!). So let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
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1. Edith Piaf
We couldn’t start a list of top French female singers without the indomitable Edith Piaf. Her most famous hit, La vie en rose still defines France. Written and sung by Edith Piaf in 1945, it was especially meaningful to the generation that survived the atrocities of World War II.
Another one of her hit songs, Je ne regrette rien, meaning “I don’t regret anything”, is a song in the style of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Edith Piaf was only 44 when she sang this song, but she knew she was close to death. After several years of alcohol abuse, the loss of her daughter and husband, she would die merely 3 years later at 47.
2. Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Paradis may be Johnny Depp’s ex, but she has been a big star in France in her own right for decades. Her 1991 French hit “Joe le taxi” propelled her to international fame at the age of 14, and she has been a staple on the French charts ever since.
With a chevalier de legion d’honneur in hand from the Government of France, a full-fledged acting career, and her latest album hitting the top of the charts, Paradis is not going anywhere. Here is her song about Paris’s river Seine from one of her latest French albums.
3. Josephine Baker
American-born Josephine Baker is first black woman to enter the Panthéon in Paris. She is only the 6th woman to have that honor among 80+ men. A naturalized French citizen, Baker has long been an icon in France.
In addition to being a legendary performer, she was also part of the French resistance during WWII and a civil rights advocate in both the U.S. and France.
Baker was previously awarded the Croix de guerre, the Rosette de la Résistance, and made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by President Charles de Gaulle.
Here is one of her most famous songs, de temps en temps, meaning “from time to time”.
4. Christina & the Queens
Christina and the Queens is not a band, but a French solo pop singer whose real name is Héloïse Letissier.
Hailing from Nantes, this talented writer-performer sings in French, English, and even a bit of Italian at times.
In 2016, Christine was ranked number 1 in Vanity Fair’s list of most powerful and influential French people who “promote French genius”. The next year, Forbes placed her on its list of 30 most influential and talented people under 30, and Time included her on its list of next generation leaders twice – in 2016 and 2018.
Here is one of her top hits, “la marcheuse“, meaning “the walker”.
Isabelle Geffroy, better known by the stage name Zaz, became famous for her breakout hit “Je veux“, from her first album released in 2010. The passionate song about not letting money buy love went double platinum.
Another famous song is her interpretation of Maurice Chevalier’s Paris sera toujours Paris meaning “Paris will always be Paris”.
Born in the city of Tours, she began in a jazz band, before branching out on her own. Her easy pop style makes for easy listening when you just want a little pick me up (and even if you don’t need one!).
Monique Andrée Serf, better known by her stage name Barbara, doesn’t need a last name. Born in Paris to a Jewish family, Monique was 10 when she had to go into hiding during the German occupation of France in World War II.
Years later, she changed her name and entered the music scene, and the rest is music history. Her music influenced a new style (along with Jaques Brel) called the Nouvelle Chanson, a soft pop style with the lyrics front and center.
Here is one of her top hits, “ma plus belle histoire d’amour“, meaning “my most beautiful love story”.
7. Clara Luciani
Clara Luciani is another French singer from Marseille with a wide fan base. Originating from a Corsican family, she studied history and did odd jobs before her breakout as a singer.
Her pop single La Grenade has been played over 45 million times on Youtube.
8. Amel Bent
Amel Bent hit stardom after winning Nouvelle Star 2, France’s version of American Idol. Her breakout hit was “Ma philosophies”, and she’s come a long way since then.
In the song, the singer raises her fist and aims for the moon in this empowering personal anthem.
9. Lara Fabian
French-Canadian and Belgian singer Lara Fabien has sold over 30 million records since her breakthrough in 1994. As a singer, she is a full lyric soprano with a vocal range that spans three octaves from C3 to A5.
10. Camélia Jordana – Non Non Non
Born in Toulon, French-Algerian singer Camélia Jordana rose to fame at the age of 16 after participating in the television show Nouvelle Star, the French version of Pop Idol, in 2009, where she came in third.
Her breakout hit was the song “Non Non Non Non“, where she recounts preferring to sit at home and listen to sad love songs from Barbara rather than go out. It may sound a little sad, but it is a very catchy tune however, despite the dispirited lyrics.
Born in Cairo, Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti would go on to find fame as the renowned French singer Dalida. Finding overnight success with her song Bambino, she would go on to have many other hits.
When Alain Delon, the actor heartthrob of his day, teamed up with beautiful Dalida to sing “Paroles”, everyone knew it was going to be something special.
She holds the world record for the song with the most weeks at the top of the music chart. Selling 170 million singles and albums, she received more than 70 gold records and was the first singer to receive platinum and diamond discs. Tragically, she would take her own life at the age of 54.
12. Carla Bruni
Model and singer Carla Bruni released this single years before she would become First Lady of France. A model and actress, Bruni was born in Italy and moved to France at the age of seven.
The wife of French ex-President Nicholas Sarkozy croons softly about lost love in this song Quelqu’un m’a dit (meaning “someone told me”) that spent over 34 weeks in the top 10.
13. France Gall
King Charlemagne may have been a serious fellow and belong to the history books, but Sacré Charlemagne is a campy french tune that will make anyone smile.
The effervescent Frances Gall was only 16 when she sang this hit written by her father, and it propelled her to enormous success for decades. It was meant to be a kids’ song that blames “bloody Charlemagne” for having invented the French school system.
France Gall would go on to shed her teen pop idol status, writing songs like Resiste about resisting fascism and singing many other hits.
14. Françoise Hardy
Born in Paris during WWII, Françoise Hardy stepped into the spotlight as a 19-year-old searching for love in Tous les garçons et les filles. Comparing herself to her peers, she laments of “all the boys and girls” who have found love when she hasn’t.
Known for her shyness, she would go on to overcome her stage fright to have many other hits. In 2006, she was awarded the Grande médaille de la chanson française honorary award given by the Académie française, in recognition of her career in music.
15. Mylène Farmer
Pop diva Mylene Farmer’s usual style is soft melodies, which is why her song “Oui mais…non” (meaning “yes but…no”) dance hit caught everyone by surprise.
The Canadian-born French singer, songwriter, and occasional actress, has sold more than 30 million records in France.
16. Coeur de Pirate
French-Canadian singer Coeur de Pirate gaining worldwide recognition with her first album Comme des enfants at the age of 18. And with that Béatrice Martin could easily have been labeled a teen pop sensation.
Throwing off the stereotypes with creative and softly sung ballades, this singer and pianist is still only in her 30s, despite being in the music industry for over 15 years.
With several successful collaborations with other French artists like Julien Doré, this francophone singer is here to stay.
Tamara Marthe war born in Trappes just outside of Paris and today is better known as Shy’m. This French singer released her first album, Mes fantaisies, in 2006 and has since released several more albums that have gone platinum.
In 2012, 2013 and 2015 she received the NRJ Music Award for Francophone Female Artist of the Year. Here is one of her top hits “Et alors !” meaning “And so!”.
18. Olivia Ruiz
Olivia Blanc, better known as Olivia Ruiz, gained fame after reaching the semi-finals of the French Star Academy series in 2001. The daughter of a musician, she was born in Carcassonne, but moved to Nantes at the age of 15 to take theater and dance classes.
Finding fame at a young age, she has gone on to release many hit albums and singles, cementing her place as one of the most well-known French femal singers.
If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read about the most famous French songs that changed pop culture. A bientôt!
¹ Featured Image: Brodie Vissers