There is something about listening to a song in French, even if you don’t entirely understand what is being said. (Let’s face it, I don’t always understand a song in English either!)
But no matter the musical genre, there is something undeniably unique about French music. There is a typical lyricism that French musicians have, even if their styles are completely different.
If you are looking to find something new to listen to, you just might enjoy this list of the top French male singers of today and yesteryear. (Don’t worry, we have a list of female singers as well!). So let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
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1. Serge Gainsbourg
Legendary French musician Serge Gainsbourg may not be well known outside France, but he is the French version of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Sting combined. With provocative lyrics, Gainsbourg’s songs still push the envelope today, years after his death.
His personal and musical partnership with British actress Jane Birkin (of Birkin bag fame) made them the IT couple of their time.
Here is one of his most famous songs, Bonnie and Clyde, a duet with that other French legend, Brigitte Bardot. (They had an affair as well, which only lasted 3 months, because Bardot was married at the time.)
2. Johnny Halladay
Johnny Halladay may sound like the quintessential American rock-n-roller, except for the fact that his songs are in French. Over 55+ years, he released 79 French albums and sold over 110 million records. A French superstar indeed.
Hallyday was married five times (including twice to the same woman), regularly appearing in the tabloids and the press. He died in 2017 at the age of 74. Here is one of his top hit songs, “je te promets“, meaning “I promise you”.
3. Julien Doré
Julien Doré’s breakthrough came as the winner of Nouvelle Star (the French version of American Idol) that he auditioned for on a lark, to get exposure for his band.
After winning, a duet with Coeur de Pirate in Pour un infidéle hit the top of the pop charts and he has remained one of the top interesting French musicians ever since. Here is one of his top hit songs “le lac“, meaning “the lake”.
4. Patrick Bruel
French singer-songwriter and actor (and professional poker player) has a prolific portfolio of hits whether it be on top of the charts, at the movie box office or on TV. Resembling a French George Clooney, here is a guy who can do everything. And he can sing to boot.
With several hits to his name, from the famous Casser la voix to his love ballad J’te l’dis quand même, you could listen to his music for hours. Here is another one of his hit songs after the famous street in Paris, Rue Mouffetard.
5. Jacques Brel
If there is one French singer who always tops the charts of most beloved French songs, it is Jacques Brel. With his passionate reciting of lyrics, he fills you with emotion as he sings. His songs are quite theatrical, which makes sense when you realize that he was a gifted actor as well, appearing in several films.
Many a musician, from David Bowie to Frank Sinatra have said they have been influenced by him. He may have passed away at the age of 49 in 1978, but his musical legacy lives on. Here is one of his top hit songs, Amsterdam.
6. Gaëtan Roussel
Singer-songwriter Gaëtan Roussel lets us imagine walking the streets of Paris, madly in love his break out hit dis-moi encore que tu m’aimes, meaning “tell me again you love me”. What could be better?
Born in the small town of Rodez in Occitanie (south of France), Roussel was previously in the band Louise Attaque before becoming a solo singer.
Born in Paris, Renaud Pierre Manuel Séchan, is now just known as the legendary Renaud. With his distinctive “broken” voice, he has had so many hits it is almost impossible to narrow it down.
Several of his songs are popular classics in France, including the , the irreverent “Laisse béton“, the ballad “Morgane de toi” and the powerfully nostalgic “Mistral gagnant“.
In “Dès que le vent soufflera” (meaning “when the wind blows”) with his signature cracked voice, Renaud sings about the sailor’s love of the sea and open air.
8. Charles Aznavour
Born in the small provençale town of Mouriès, French singer, Charles Aznavour was known for his distinctive vibrato tenor with gravelly low notes.
One of France’s most popular and enduring singers, Aznavour sold around 180-200 million records during his lifetime. making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He was dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra,
Here is a signature tune by Aznavour that tells the story of his days as a young starving artist in Montmartre in La Bohème.
9. Claude François
If you listen to the song Comme d’habitude, you will recognize immediately the melody of Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Claude François sang the French version of this classic hit, two years before Frank Sinatra’s hit. Paul Anka wrote the English version for Frank Sinatra, after hearing it on the radio.
Other popular hits would be Chanson Populaire, meaning “Popular song”. and a French remake of the 1963 hit “Oh what a night” by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
In addition there was Alexandrie Alexandra, which is not unlike the French nursery rhyme “Allez crocodiles”, which also is about the Nile, although that features crocodiles and elephants fighting, while this song is about girls and finding love. (Almost the same, no?)
François sold some 70 million records during his career (and after his death) and was about to embark for the United States when he was accidentally electrocuted in 1978 at age 39.
10. Francis Cabrel
Francis Christian Cabrel is considered one of the most influential French musical artists of all time. Several of his songs, such as “L’encre de tes yeux“, “Le chêne liège” and “La corrida“, have become enduring classic favourites in France, selling over 25 million albums.
One of his biggest hits, “Je l’aime à mourir” was even reinterpreted by Shakira in concert. The song written by Francis Cabrel was originally released in 1979.
In “Je l’aime à mourir” meaning “I love her to death”, he describes a woman with with plenty of strength of character and personality, who loves to how to enjoy life and have fun.
11. M. Pokora
Matthieu Tota, who first changed his name to Matt Pokora, and then M. Pokora is, these days, one of the most well-known French singers and songwriter.
A mainstay on television, in 2016, he became a coach for The Voice Kids France and The Voice: la plus belle voix. Here is one of his biggest hits “tombé”, meaning “fallen”.
12. Jean-Jacques Goldman
Pop-rock musician and singer Jean-Jacques Goldman is regularly voted one of “France’s favorite personalities“.
He also wrote successful albums and songs for many artists, including D’eux for Céline Dion, which is one of the most successful French language record to date. He has also won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1997, as a co-author of three tracks on Céline Dion’s Falling into You.
Here is “Au bout de mes rêves“, meaning “at the end of my dreams” which was one of the biggest hits on his debut album.
13. Joe Dassin
Joe Dassin was born in New York City to American film director Jules Dassin and his French wife Béatrice Launer. After his father was blacklisted by Hollywood, the family moved to France where Joe Dassin grew up.
Initially finding work as an actor, he became one of the first French singers signed by an American record label. One of his biggest hits is about that famous avenue, the Champs Elysées, which is sure to get you humming along.
Stromae is Belgian, not French, but we are not one to discriminate. A singer, rapper, and songwriter, his francophone hits are impossible to put into a particular category. The repetitive refrains of the minimalist Alors en dance were a club massive hit, and he could have stayed in that genre.
Following up with the doleful Papaoutai, he showed how much deeper his range was, with a mournful cry for the father he lost during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
15. Manu Chao
French-Spanish singer Manu Chao was born in Paris, but sings in French, Spanish, English, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Greek, and occasionally in other languages.
A very multi-talented (and multi-lingual) singer with a mix of musical styles, it is hard to pigeon hole this French music artist. Here is one of his hits “Me Gustas Tu“, which is a mix of French and Spanish.
16. Michel Sardou
Born in Paris, Michel Sardou is regularly voted as one of France’s favorite singers. He is known not only for his love songs (“La maladie d’amour“, “Je vais t’aimer“), but also for songs dealing with various social and political issues.
At the height of the Irish Conflict, Michel Sardou wrote a beautiful ballad “les lacs du Connemara” about the wars between Catholics and Protestants. Connemara is a region in Ireland and is emblematic of the country’s gaelic heritage.
The song became one of Michel Sardou’s biggest hits, but interestingly, he had never actually visited the area until after the song came out.
17. Christophe Maé
Christophe Maé was born in Carpentras and graduated high school with a patisserie degree. But he quickly moved on the musical theatre and realizing his dreams as a singer.
His first album sold over 1.5 million copies, featuring Belle Demoiselle and as well as many other hits albums and singles.
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: Rahul Pandit