Whether you are learning French or not, you cannot understand France without hearing its music. We all know the famous French artists and musicians such as Edith Piaf, David Guetta, and Daft Punk, but to really get into the culture, it can be necessary to go beyond that.
That being said, if I thought narrowing down the best famous French songs was difficult, it is even harder to narrow down to the French musicians that are easy to listen with enough variety, musicality, and popular acclaim.
So to put together this guide, I’ve started with the classic incontournables along with newer artists as who has been rockin’ it for the past few years.
Table of Contents
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, a duet with that other French legend, Brigitte Bardot.
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 hit “Joe la 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 her latest album.
3. 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 albums and sold over 110 million records.
4. Maître Gims
Maître Gims, which translates to “Master Gims”, is the French artist of the moment. The Congolese singer, rapper, and composer may sing in his native French but he is so popular he has transcended the barriers of language to collaborate Sia, Pitbull, and Lil Wayne among others. Here is his duet Reste (“stay”) with Sting.
5. Noir Désir
The rock band from Bordeaux has been active since the 1980s. Their iconic hit remains “Le vent nous portera” which is a softer ballad than some of their other hits.
Another emblematic French rock band, 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.
Stromae is Belgian, not French, but we are not one to discriminate. A singer, rapper, and songwriter, his music is 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.
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French singer and rapper Soprano is reputed to be the only singer after Johnny Halladay who could fill the famous Stade Velodrome in Marseille. Integrating various musical influences, his distinctive voice is very easy to listen to.
9. Coeur de Pirate
Gaining worldwide recognition with her first album Comme des enfants at the age of 18, she could easily have been labeled a teen pop sensation.
Throwing off the stereotypes with creative and softly sung ballades, this Quebecois pianist is still only in her 30s, despite being in the music industry for over 15 years.
10. Christina & the Queens
Christina and the Queens is not a band, but a solo artist 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.
11. 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 charts and he has remained an interesting artist ever since.
12. Big Flo et Oli
The 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.
13. Black M
Hip hop artist Black M is of Guinean origin and grew up in Paris’s 13th arrondissement. He used to be part of the legendary French rap group Sexion d’assaut, along with other famous artists like Maître Gims and Soprano who also belonged at various points in time.
14. Clara Luciani
Clara Luciani is another singer from Marseille with a wide fan base. Still only in her 20s, her single La Grenade has been played over 45million times on Youtube.
15. Thérapie TAXI
One way to describe Thérapie TAXI’s music is eclectic. With a mix of pop, hip hop, and rock, their songs have an easy musicality that is a must for any playlist.
So who are you listening to at the moment? Any favorite French musicians that I’ve missed? Comment below and let me know.
¹ Featured Image: Sarah Pflug
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