Do you want to learn French with music, but don’t know any French artists?
Today is your lucky day!
Here’s a selection of songs in genres ranging from traditional chanson française, to rock and rap. You’re sure to find French music you like – and that will help you learn.
How to use French music to help you practice and learn French
Before we get started, in case you were wondering, let’s talk about exactly how songs can help you learn French.
It’s a well-known fact that music can help us memorize things. You’ve probably experienced this personally. Even if you’ve never used music to help you memorize language-related things, you probably have a few commercial jingles stuck in your head, or maybe songs you regularly sing during religious services, or nursery rhymes you heard as a kid. Something about the rhythm and often repetitiveness of music just helps our brain retain things better.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can learn a foreign language entirely by singing it – we don’t live in an opera, after all. But music can help you learn and remember vocabulary, not to mention grammar rules. Here’s an example: Let’s say you love the Edith Piaf song Non, je ne regrette rien. Piaf repeats this refrain several times in the song; pretty soon you’ll have it memorized, too. Then, when it comes time to use the structure ne…rien in another context, it will probably come easily to you – or if it doesn’t, you might find yourself thinking of the song and using it as a guide for how to make a different ne…rien statement.
In addition to just listening, you can also go the extra mile and study a song’s lyrics. This can help you with pronunciation if you listen to the song while reading along, as well as vocabulary and grammatical structure retention if you’re more of a visual learner. And if a French song you like has complex lyrics and wordplay, you might feel more motivated to decipher them than you would a simple text.
Another way that songs can help you learn French is by teaching you something about French culture. That could be a slang term, an artist’s political views, or the evolution of a musical style, among other things. Some songs are so well-known in France that you might even catch French friends. colleagues, and/or people in movies and on TV making references to them. Et voilà, just by practicing your French in a fun way, you’ll also acquire French pop culture knowledge!
One downside to using music to help you learn French is that with so many Francophone artists working in so many different genres, you may not know where to start. If you look up lists of songs for French learners, they’re often either really short or only seem to cover one genre of music. The goal of our list is to feature options that cover several different genres of music. Most of these songs should be at least fairly easy to understand. If you find one that you like but that you’re having trouble understanding, remember that you can look up the lyrics – and, if you need to, use an online or print dictionary for new words.
Sorted by genre and artist, here’s our list of 64 songs that can help you learn French.
Chanson française and variété française
Reading the name of this first genre, you may be wondering, “But isn’t every French song technically une chanson française”? Yes and no.
When you’re specifically referring to the genre, chanson française is a style of music that originated in the 19th century and puts a lot of focus on lyrics (which are always in French, of course). The musical style itself can vary somewhat but generally ranges from the traditional type of French music you might be imagining (older styles like what Edith Piaf sings, music with accordions, etc.), to folk, rock, or pop sounds.
A slight variant on chanson française is variété française, a musical genre that originated around the mid-20th century. In variété française, lyrics are also always in French, but songs are specifically intended to be crowd-pleasing. This means that there might be less attention paid to lyrical prowess or profundity – it’s more about having a good time.
To put it another way, you could think of chanson française as “French indie” music and variété française as French pop music (although there is actually a French pop music genre, which we’ll see further on).
Still, the differences between these two genres is sometimes quite subtle, and you’ll often find artists’ music classified as both. After all, even if you’re not intending to please a crowd, your music might do just that. That’s why we’ve grouped these genres together.
With a few exceptions, you could say that around 1930-1965 is the classic era of chanson française, featuring the typical sounds and singers most people think of when they think of “French music”. From around 1965-1995, chanson/variété française became noticeably influenced by international music trends like rock and pop.
Some of the music from this era still holds up, while other songs have a certain dated or “cheesy” feeling, even if their lyrics are often still worth listening to.
From around 1995 to the present, chanson/variété française artists sometimes return to their musical roots, while others continue to be influenced by other musical styles, including more recent ones like rap/spoken word and electronica.
Again, this is just a general summary, but it might also help you determine which of these French songs might interest you.
Here are some notable chanson française and variété française artists and songs:
Belgian-born Brel (1929-1978) is one of the most famous French singers and lyricists of all time. Some of his songs have an upbeat rhythm, but often his lyrics and subject matter are sad and/or thought-provoking. His most famous performance is probably the heartbreaking “Ne me quitte pas.”
Born in Paris in 1943, singer, songwriter, and Cesar-winner Dutronc has had a career spanning decades.
His songs are catchy, often with an upbeat rhythm and a little bit of the gritty spirit of rock.
His most famous song is probably “Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille”. Another famous one that you’ll often hear on French TV shows is “Fais pas ci, fais pas ça”. This song is a bit slower and full of a lot of helpful vocabulary and grammatical structures for learners.
The same can be said for “L’opportuniste,” a song featured on Dutronc’s official YouTube account.
Franco-Swiss singer Alain Souchon’s songs are more pop- or rock-like than those of the artists we’ve listed so far, but his lyrics are still full of meaning.
His most famous songs are the award-winning “Foule Sentimentale” and “…Et si en plus y’a personne”.
Carla Bruni may have one of the most unusual lives of all of the musicians on this list. Born in Italy in 1967, she worked as a model when she was in her twenties, and then stopped and became a songwriter.
She released Quelqu’un m’a dit ,her first album as a singer/songwriter in 2002. It was a hit (understandably, in my humble opinion -it’s one of my favorite albums by a French artist).
In addition to continuing to make music, Bruni married then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2008 and was France’s First Lady until his term ended in 2012. Bruni’s clever lyrics and slow, breathy delivery make for excellent listening practice.
Another Italian-born artist on our list, Montand (1921-1991) grew up in Marseilles and ended up becoming one of France’s most iconic singers.
Being a First Lady of France, like previous entry Carla Bruni, is a unique honor in life, but even more so is getting the legendary Edith Piaf’s approval as a singer, and that’s exactly what happened to Montand.
Piaf discovered him in 1944. In the following years, he not only made music, but also a number of films and made up a celebrity power couple with wife Simone Signoret.
Listening to a song like “Les Grands Boulevards”, you can tell why Montand was so successful – his voice is smooth and pleasant but still filled with personality. He articulates extremely well, which also makes this song a great one for French learners.
Born in France in 1980, Zaz (a nickname for “Isabelle”) represents a new generation of chanson française artists.
Her lyrics are thoughtful and many of her songs have a strong jazz influence. Her most famous song is “Je veux”.
Born in Belgium in 1985, Stromae is a burst of energy and uniqueness in the chanson française landscape and has risen to international fame and acclaim.
His songs are influenced by hip-hop and electronica, among other genres. He’s also cultivated a unique look, with bright patterns and tailored clothes.
“Papaoutuai” is one of his most famous songs. The title is a phonetic portmanteau of the question Papa où t’es?, and the upbeat melody belies its sad message.
This title also shows Stromae’s playfulness with words; in fact, his stage name is verlan (backwards slang) for “maestro.” The video for the song goes along with Stromae’s typical aesthetic.
Born in France in 1969, Benabar’s stage name is also derived from verlan.
Many of his songs have a sense of playfulness to them, and in addition to being enjoyable to listen to, they’re usually very easy to understand, since he articulates more than many other musicians.
One of Benabar’s most famous songs is “Le dîner”, which is a funny but-oh-so-true anthem to the glory of canceling plans and staying home.
Legendary lyricist, poet, and singer Georges Brassens (1921-1981) can be tricky to listen to for beginning French learners, since he often sings quickly, rolls his r’s, and engages in very advanced wordplay.
But read along to his lyrics and you’ll discover so many amazing lines. And sometimes shocking ones, too.
His songs “La gorille” and “Quand je pense à Fernande” are still notorious in France today – check them out if you like naughty humor. Here’s one of his most well-known songs, “Chanson pour l’auvergnat”
Charles Trenet (1913-2001) was one of France’s most prolific songwriters. It’s estimated that he wrote a thousand songs, many of which were performed by other artists.
Several of his creations are iconic in France today. These include “Y’a d’la joie,” “La Mer” (whose English adaptation is the classic “Somewhere Beyond the Sea”), and “Douce France”. Here’s “La Mer”.
For those familiar with the song in English, it could be interesting to see how this original version’s lyrics compare to it (or to whichever version you’re most familiar with– it’s been translated into several other languages ).
Singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991)’s music is just as famous as his badass, rebel persona.
His most famous songs include “Je t’aime…moi non plus”, “Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais”, “Bonnie and Clyde”, and the not-very-rock “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas”, a famous early song of his about a ticket puncher in the Paris Metro station Porte des Lilas.
Unfortunately, we’re not able to embed many official Serge Gainsbourg videos here, but I highly suggest listening to this latter and then comparing it with his later, daring songs like the international hit “Je t’aime…moi non plus”.
If you’re learning French or simply love France, you probably know Edith Piaf (1915-1963).
All of the tragedy of Piaf’s life seems to have sunk into her voice, giving it a unique profundity and beauty.
So many of her songs are classics both in France and abroad, and I’d recommend listening to every single one you can.
The most famous include “La vie en rose”, “l’hymne à l’amour” (which earned the top spot in a recent survey of the French’s favorite love songs), “Non, je ne regrette rien”, “La Foule”, and “Mon dieu”, which is one of the saddest songs ever.
If you want to cry, listen to Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” followed by “Mon dieu”. You can listen to “Non, je ne regrette rien” here.
Rebellious, punk-influenced poet and singer Mano Solo (1963-2010) had a surprising gentleness and sincerity to his voice, all the same.
You can listen to many of his songs online, including the beautiful and haunting “Rentrer au port”
He may be known for his extreme Left, even anarchist, political leanings, but many of prolific singer-songwriter Ferré’s (1916-1993) songs would speak to anyone.
His most famous is probably the heartbreaking “Avec le temps”.
During the Second World War, Ferrat’s Russian Jewish father was deported to Auschwitz.
Ferrat would never see him again. Although Ferrat wrote many songs, his moving “Nuit et Brouillard”, which describes the train that took his father and other victims of the Holocaust away, is his most famous.
Unfortunately, we can’t find an official version that we’re allowed to embed in this article, but an online search will easily let you give this song a listen.
Renaud (born in 1952) is another chanson française artist with a rocker’s soul and edge.
He’s (rightfully) known for being a talented lyricist. His single most famous song is probably “Mistral gagnant”.
Interestingly, as this article points out, the song’s depiction of nostalgia and the fleeting nature of time are all the more poignant because a mistral gagnant was a type of candy that was no longer for sale when Renaud’s song was released.
It’s kind of surprising — and inspiring for us non-native speakers — that the iconic French singer Charles Aznavour actually wasn’t French!
Although he was born and grew up in Paris, Aznavour’s family was Armenian and he identified as such, keeping close ties to his family’s native country throughout his life.
Still, his voice, lyrics, and performances are a quintessential part of the history (and ongoing popularity) of chanson français.
Another artist who was encouraged and supported by the great Edith Piaf at the start of his career, Aznavour recorded more than a thousand songs. Among the most famous are “Emmenez-moi”, “La bohème”, and “Je m’y voyais déjà”, which you can listen to here.
Maxime Le Forestier
Born in Paris in 1949, Le Forestier began his songwriting career fairly early, and released his first album, Mon Frère, in 1972. This album is a classic, especially for the generation who listened to it as teens and young adults.
Fun fact: In the song “San Francisco,” about the time Le Forestier spent living in said city, he mentions a blue house. The house has become so famous among the French that it was restored to its blue color and marked with commemorative a plaque in 2011! In addition to “San Francisco,” some of Le Forestier’s other famous songs include “Mon Frère” and “Education Sentimentale”.
Quebecois artist Lynda Lemay’s songs drip with earnestness, and often deal with family relationships.
Her dramatic and pretty voice would be perfect for the French (or French Canadian) version of a Disney movie.
Lemay’s most famous song is probably “Le plus fort, c’est mon père”, which is also a really good song for French learners, since Lemay sings the words slowly and very clearly.
One of France’s most popular and successful artists, singer/songwriter/actor Michel Sardou (born in 1947) is sort of like that great-uncle who has a lot going for him but also has some political views you might not agree with.
Regardless, born into a family who’s been in show business for generations, Sardou is a crowd-pleaser. Some of his most famous songs include “En chantant”, which we’ve embedded here. “Le lacs de Connemara” is another famous song of his that might interest French learners, since Sardou sings very slowly and clearly.
Pascal Obispo has a sensitive, heartfelt voice and is known for participating in many charitable causes in real life.
Born in 1965, his career has spanned several decades, and his musical style often reflects current trends. The constant is the emotion. Here’s his song “L’important c’est d’aimer”.
Despite his many iconic French songs, Joe Dassin (1938-1980) was actually…American!
Yet another famous and (very!) successful singer on this list who can inspire us French learners and non-native speakers with hope.
Dassin was born in New York City, but when his director father was a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist, they moved to Europe. Dassin returned to the US several years later, and encountered musicians like Bob Dylan.
His music, like that of most chanson/variété française artists of his era, doesn’t sound particularly “French” but more like “easy listening”.
Many of his songs are iconic in France today, including “Les Champs Elysées” (which just about any Francophile has heard at least once) and L’été Indien, which is a MOOD. You can listen to that one here.
Born in Belgium in 1954, Roger François Juret’s story is as strange as his stage name.
He’s been writing, composing, and performing music for decades, but his most famous song is the 1977 international hit “Ça plane pour moi”.
Although Bertrand has continued to perform this song at concerts and other events for many years, he recently confessed that the original recording was actually sung by its composer, Lou Deprijck. Regardless, it’s a megahit that you might have heard in movies and on radios around the world.
Born in France in 1975, Christophe Mae has a soulful yet very particular voice and his music has a pleasant, easygoing sound, similar to artists like Jack Johnson, but with a pop/rock bent.
His best-known songs include “On s’attache” and “Parce qu’on sait jamais”. The video we’re featuring, “J’ai laissé” is a good introduction to his style and sound.
Renan Luce’s music is all about clever lyrics and catchy guitar rhythms. Shortly after its release in 2008, his delightful “La Lettre” became THE song for candidates to sing when trying out for Nouvelle Star (the rough equivalent of American Idol in France).
Known to most Americans as Johnny Depp’s ex-wife, Vanessa Paradis is rightfully viewed as so much more than that in her native France.
She’s been singing since childhood and had her first major single in France when she was only 15 years old. Paradis has a breathy voice and favors interesting, often playful lyrics.
Her most famous early song (and music video) in France is “Joe le taxi”. Although she’s changed a lot musically and style-wise since then, you can see that her loose, wavy way of dancing has remained the same.
Paradis has had a number of other hits, including the addictive “Divinidylle”.
The song we’re featuring here, “Mi amor”, perfectly shows Paradis’ musical (and dance) style.
As a bonus, I encourage you with all my heart to listen to “La Seine,” a wonderful, whimsical play on words that she performed with fellow French singer M. (also worth checking out) for the 2010 movie “Un monstre à Paris”. When you write lists like these, you try to be objective, but I will say that personally, this is my all-time favorite French song.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Garou’s music, you cannot deny that the man has a powerful, unique voice.
Born in Quebec in 1972, he’s become a major presence not only in the music world in France, but in the pop culture landscape in general.
He starred in the hit French musical Notre-Dame de Paris and was a coach on several seasons of the French version of The Voice (he’s currently a coach on the Canadian version).
Some of his most famous songs include “Belle” (from the musical Notre-Dame de Paris), “Sous le Vent” (a duet with fellow French-Canadian singer Celine Dion), and “Je suis le même”, which we’re featuring here.
Born in France in 1942, Eddy Mitchell is considered the first mainstream French rock star.
He founded what’s considered France’s first rock band, Les Chaussettes Noires, in 1961, and quickly began a solo career, as well. Despite his rocker roots, Mitchell has worked in a number of musical genres over the decades, including country and slower, emotional ballads.
By the 1970’s, the ballads had won out. If you ask most French people born in the 1970’s or after, Mitchell is more of a crooner than a rocker.
Here’s a typical ballad by Mitchell, with a nod to his passion for America and the West.
Bonus: If you’d like to see Mitchell hanging out and singing with many of the other artists on this list, watch the video for his song “Ma Tribu”.
Born in Paris in 1944, singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy was one of the main faces of the Yé-Yé Movement – that is, a wave of young French artists in the 1960’s influenced by British and American pop and rock music.
You can hear this influence in one of her early singles (and one of her most popular songs), “Tous les garcons and et les filles”.
If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you might recognize another one of her songs from this era, “Le temps de l’amour”, as the song Sam and Suzy dance to on the beach in Moonrise Kingdom.
Hardy’s style has evolved, and her recent work has a contemporary easy listening feel, but with a cool edge to it, as you can hear in this song, “L’amour fou”.
Michel Jonasz could arguably be described as Billy Joel meets generic easy listening – if that makes sense…
His famous songs include “Super nana” and “Les vacances au bord de la mer”. The latter is easy to understand for French learners and could be worth a listen. Unfortunately, we can’t embed it here, but it’s easy to find online. Here’s a recent song from Jonasz’s official YouTube account.
Born in France in 1946, Bernard Lavilliers had a tumultuous, ill-spent youth, including a stint in juvenile detention and a fugue to Brazil…or maybe not.
Apparently, some of these events might just have been made up or exaggerated to add to his somewhat badass persona.
Wherever the truth lies, Lavilliers’ music is known for its rhythmic beats and he’s known for being politically engaged and rebellious. Here’s one of his popular songs, “Idées Noires”.
Born in France in 1949, Véronique Sanson has been recording music since the late 1960’s. Her most famous song is “Amoureuse,” released in 1972. It’s been translated into several languages and performed by many singers around the world. Here’s the original.
Imagine if you took Britney Spears’s sexy girl next door schtick at the beginning of her career and tinged it with a Goth edge? That’s how pop singer Alizée (born in Corsica in 1984) started.
Her notorious debut single “Moi…Lolita”, released in 2000 sums up that early image.
Over the years, Alizée’s style has changed and she’s also gained some renown as a dancer. In 2013, she won Danse avec les Stars (the equivalent of the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing or the US’s Dancing with the Stars). If you like “Moi…Lolita”, which we’ve embedded here, check out eccentric French star Julien Dore’s gender-flipped version of the song.
Pop music came into French mainstream culture around the same time as rock and roll – the mid-1950’s to early 1960’s, mainly influenced by US pop stars.
Today, French pop has become as diverse as it is in most other countries, with different artists incorporating influences of other musical genres.
France Gall is an iconic star who started her career in the 1960’s, with a sort of Nouvelle Vague schoolgirl charm.
You can see that in this old performance of her awesome song “Laisse tomber les filles”, whose melody you may recognize from a number of movies and commercials .
But Gall’s style has (understandably) evolved over the years, as you can see from her 1987 hit “Elle l’a”. One thing that hasn’t changed: Gall’s girlish, cheerleader-like voice.
Born in France in 1984, Indila comes from a diverse background. This comes out in her songs, which range from rap to the compelling and surprising “Dernière danse,” which seems like it’s going to be a sugary-sweet song but in fact is about indifference and cruelty in the world and/or pining for and recovering from a lost love (depending on who’s interpreting it).
First thing’s first: Although Yelle is the nickname of singer Julie Budet, Yelle is also the name of the band that she fronts.
Yelle’s sound is poppy, silly and bright, and appreciated around the world. Here’s what’s probably their most famous song, the hilariously naughty “Je veux te voir”.
Cookie Dingler is a French band with a silly name, based on lead singer Christian Dingler’s nickname.
The group is probably best-known as a one-hit-wonder. That hit is the 1984 song “Femme libérée”.
Camille’s music is unusual, catchy, experimental, and full of wordplay.
Here’s the single that made her famous on the French music scene, the strange, yet relatable, Je veux prendre ta douleur.
Because of Camille’s way of playing with expressions and words, it might be hard to understand all of it, so you may want to look at the lyrics. But the payoff is worth it.
As you might have guessed from her name, Jane Birkin is another French music star on our list who’s not French. Birkin was born in England in 1946, but has made France her home since the 1970’s.
Another distinction that sets her apart from the other artists on this list: She’s the only one who’s got a famous purse named after her: Hermès’ Birkin Bag.
Not only has Birkin made a home and musical career in France; she’s even been awarded the highest honor in the French music industry, a Victoire de la Musique.
That being said, musically she’s probably best known for her notorious duet with her then-boyfriend Serge Gainsbourg, “Je t’aime…moi non plus”. Unfortunately, we can’t embed any of Birkin’s music here, but to get a sense of her breathy delivery, I’d recommend the fun “Di-doo-dah”.
Born in 1956, Daho is another French music star whose career has lasted for decades. His rich voice adapts itself to sounds of each era, or of whatever’s in his own mind. Here’s a recent single, “L’Etincelle”.
Rock music came into French mainstream culture around the same time as it did in the UK and US: the mid-1950’s and early 1960’s.
Rock, however, wasn’t native to France, but was inspired by artists from the US and UK.
In fact, many early adopters of rock in France, like Eddy Mitchell and Johnny Hallyday continue(d) to have a sort of aura of Americanness about them throughout their decades-long careers.
Alain Bashung (1947-2009) was one of France’s most popular and awarded musicians.
If you’re a fan of rock, you’ll like him – there’s a real rock style but, more importantly, rocker soul to what he does.
That said, he can be a bit harder for French learners to understand than many other artists on this list (rock isn’t about enunciating!).
His famous songs like “Gaby oh Gaby” and “Osez Josephine” are worth a listen, but of his well-known singles, “Ma petite entreprise” is probably the easiest to hear.
A French rock band that formed in the late ‘80’s and released many good songs.
Sadly, their success story – and a human life – tragically ended in the 2010’s, in the aftermath of a drunken argument between lead singer Bertrand Cantat and his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant. Cantat ended up beating Trintignant to death, and received a prison sentence.
After his early release for good behavior, the band tried to continue making music but ended up parting ways. Luckily, their music doesn’t reflect or promote violence, so the art can be separated from the lead singer’s actions. One of their most famous songs is the one we’re featuring here, “Le vent nous portera.”
Do you like ‘90’s rock and grunge music? So do the members of Kyo, a French rock band formed in 1994.
The group has had its ups and downs, awards, special projects, and through it all, they’ve remained a steady source of music that evokes one of the coolest eras of rock and roll. Here’s a typical Kyo song.
Les Cowboys Fringants
Formed in 1995, this Quebecois group’s style is a combination of country, folk, and rock.
Many French-Canadian singers’ accents are hard to notice (at least for non-native French speakers), the same way Australian or British accents usually sound American when a person sings.
But I personally find that it’s a lot easier to hear the Quebecois accent in Les Cowboys Fringants’ songs. Part of this is the fact that, as French Canadians, they pronounce English-language words (even ones borrowed into French) like anglophones, instead of with a French accent.
Les Cowboys Fringants are popular around the francophone world. Behind their pleasant sound often lies political lyrics, as you’ll see in the song we’re including here.
Formed in 1976, this French band only stayed together for ten years, but what a decade it was!
Numerous catchy singles and opening for The Rolling Stones at several stops on their world tour! It may be nearly 24 years since the band broke up, but mention Téléphone now, and French people who listened to them back in the day will have eyes sparkling with nostalgia.
The group’s most famous songs include “Un autre monde”, “Métro c’est trop”, and the energetic, fun “Ça c’est vraiment toi.”
Born in 1961, Manu Chao grew up in the wealthy suburbs of Paris after his family fled Franco’s regime in Spain.
He was inspired by the diversity of his roots and of the people he met. He sings in a number of different languages and his music is vibrant and feels universal. Not all of his songs are in French, but here’s one that will get a few useful phrases stuck in your head.
Les Rita Mitsouko
Formed in the early 1980’s by couple Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin, with a name inspired by the diversity of their musical influences, Les Rita Mitsouko is beloved by many French people and is as much known for their music as for their eccentric videos.
The group ended in 2007 only because of Chichin’s death from a fast-moving cancer. Today, Ringer still performs as a solo artist.
Les Rita Mitsouko made a name for themselves internationally, and many of their songs are in English. But the most famous you’ll come across in France include “Marcia Baila”, “C’est comme ça”, “Andy”, and my personal favorite, “Les Histoires d’A.”, which contains the statement “Les histoires d’amour finissent mal en général,” which is true on many levels, when you think about it.
Founded in 1981,this French pop rock/New Wave band has some iconic hits for anyone who loves the ‘80’s. The ones you’ll most commonly hear (or hear referenced) are “Trois nuits par semaine” and “3e sexe”.
If you’re not a fan of the ‘80’s, Indochine is still worth a listen at least for their beautiful 2002 song “J’ai demandé à la lune”, which is very different stylistically and was also a huge hit. Its slow rhythm makes it easy to hear the poetic lyrics, which is why we’re featuring it here.
Founded in 2000, this group of young French rockers released some very catchy songs and met with critical and commercial success early on.
While their early music was heavily influenced by groups like The White Stripes, their more recent work seems influenced by many of the artists on this list who were creating music in the ‘70’s-early ‘90’s.
Their breakout single “Dis-moi” is just a great 2-minuntes-or so with some interesting grammatical structures for French learners, to boot.
Definitively emerging as a musical style in Jamaica in the 1960’s, it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that reggae became a musical genre performed and widely listened to in France. Although it remains a somewhat niche genre here, in the subsequent decades, French reggae artists have become visible parts of the music scene and have won awards internationally, as well.
Founded in France in 2000, Broussaï is one of France’s most popular reggae groups. Their songs include “Ne Regrette Rien”, “Pile ou Face”, and “Contraste et couleurs”, which we’re featuring here.
Formed in 1995, Tryo is a very popular French reggae/ska band.
Their lyrics can sometimes be funny, sometimes political. Oh – and they’re not a trio, but a group of four, plus a very involved producer.
Some of Tryo’s most popular songs include “L’hymne de nos campagnes” , whose super-upbeat and catchy rhythm clashes deliberately with its cynical lyrics, the pro-cannabis anthem “La Main Verte”, and “Désolé pour hier soir”, a funny slice-of-life song that’s probably the easiest to use for French learning practice.
Founded in a banlieue of Paris in 1995 by members from Cape Verde, Martinique, and the Republic of the Congo, the group’s name is an abbreviation of the term nègre marron, which meant “runaway slave” in the Colonial era.
Many of their songs are great, but for French learners, “Tout le monde debout” is especially so, since many of its lyrics are relatively easy to hear and understand.
Taking its name from a desert in Ethiopia, this French reggae group formed in 2000.
Their style mixes reggae and world music, and their lyrics often address important issues like inequality and climate change.
Among their best-known songs are their reggae adaptation of Edith Piaf’s classic song Non, je ne regrette rien and “Quitter Paname” (“Paname” is an old slang word for Paris and can be used by any social group).
Due to rights issues, we can’t embed any videos here, but you can find those as well as many other Danakil songs online.
Created between 2006 and 2007, Datune is a French reggae/dancehall group.
You can listen to some of their songs on YouTube and other online platforms. The song “Changer d’air” is an excellent one for French learners to start with.
Cœur de Pirate
Born in 1989, French-Canadian singer and musician Béatrice Martin, whose stage name is Cœur de Pirate, has a sweet voice and girl-next-door look – but look closer and you’ll see that she’s covered in tattoos.
Listen closer, and you’ll find not only sweet lyrics but also bittersweet, rebellious, and funny ones, too.
Cœur de Pirate’s breakout single was the ultra-catchy “Comme Des Enfants”. The one we’re featuring here, “Adieu”, is a bit more recent.
Also born in Canada (in 1990), Lisa Leblanc is Acadian, which is a separate French-Canadian culture and dialect from Quebecois.
Leblanc often plays up a sort of country kitsch vibe in her songs and exaggerates her accent and expressions, which can make it a bit hard for French learners to understand her. But her music is so catchy that it’s worth the effort!
Emerging in France in the 1980’s, influenced by the US rap scene, rap is one of the most popular music genres in France today.
In fact, a recent news report (which also features some interesting video extracts and interviews with current French rappers) claims it’s the most listened-to musical genre in France.
In addition to listening to (and, for some artists, being influenced by) rappers in countries like the US, the French have their own very impressive rap scene, with a range of styles and subgenres. Some artists, like Maître Gims, have even become internationally known.
Born in France in 1969, MC Solaar is one of France’s first and most famous rappers, and is acclaimed for his talented wordplay.
Formerly a member of the hugely popular French rap group Sexion d’Assaut, Maître Gims is a rap megastar in his own right.
He’s also probably the most popular rapper among France’s younger generations. He’s collaborated with a number of international stars, including Lil Wayne and Sting.
Generally, Maître Gims’ raps have a sensitive side to them, which is why they may have so much mass appeal. Here’s an example.
Born in Mali in 1974, Oxmo Puccino grew up in Paris’s diverse 19th arrondissement.
He’s collaborated with countless rappers and stars in other musical genres. What makes him stand out is his often surprising wordplay. Here’s a recent single about his career and people’s expectations of him.
Grand Corps Malade
As his stage name indicates, 6-foot-four Fabien Marsaud was in an accident that left him partially disabled, walking with a crutch.
Although he’s collaborated and worked closely with many people on the French rap scene, and is often considered part of that community, his work is better described as hip-hop slam poetry.
This means compelling lyrics and a format that’s fairly easy for French learners to understand. Have a listen to this one – you’ll probably be surprised by the style and also by Marsaud’s deep voice.
Manau is a Celtic-influenced French rap group formed in 1998. Its members all have roots in Bretagne (Brittany), which is known for its Celtic culture.
This said, if you’re a fan of Celtic music, you won’t necessarily get your fix from a typical Manau song. Still, it’s interesting to hear bribes of Celtic rhythms and melodies from time to time in their music.
Those of you French Together readers who are Disney fans, we haven’t forgotten you! Disney movies and their songs are pretty much as popular in France as they are in places like the US. Most people know at least a few songs from the Disney movies they watched growing up, and a few Disney songs even entered into popular culture enough to be widely recognized.
Disney’s animated features tend to be very well translated and dubbed. Often, song lyrics may be slightly different from the ones in the original version, but overall, the songs express the same thing.
An excellent example of this is the title of the song “Let It Go” from “Frozen”. In French, it’s “Libérée, délivrée”. This choice was partially made for rhythmic reasons, and partially because Laisse tomber is a bit too informal a phrase in French for a character like Elsa.
Here are three Disney songs in French. If you’re looking for another one, you can find most Disney musical numbers on sites like YouTube, by doing an online search like “[song title] in French”.
“Prince Ali” (from Aladdin)
“Libérée, délivrée” (from La Reine des Neiges (Frozen))
“Hakuna Matata” (from Le Roi Lion (The Lion King))
Where to find more French songs?
Hopefully, this list has helped you discover (or rediscover) some French songs and artists you want to listen to. But if you didn’t find anything here, or if you want even more songs, you can do online searches for things like “chansons françaises”, a particular French artist, or another genre (for example, “musique jazz en français” or “groupes de punk rock français”).
You can also look at sites like this one that show the bestselling singles in France every week. Many of the songs will be in English, but there will always be at least a few in French, as well.
Another source of French music suggestions is right under your nose…pretty much literally if you’re reading this on your phone. You can find lots of other French song recommendations In the comments section of this very article! Have fun reading and discovering even more artists, thanks to the French Together community.
And of course, feel free to add your own. As far as ours go, French Together founder Benjamin Houy loves Grand Corps Malade and Danakil. I’m a big fan of several artists on our list (including Edith Piaf, Carla Bruni, Vanessa Paradis, Yelle, and Camille), as well as a few that we didn’t include, like Sanseverino, Sayan Supa Crew, Louise Attaque, Olivia Ruiz, and M. Some of my favorite French songs are “La Seine” by Vanessa Paradis and M.; “La vie, l’amour” by Edith Piaf, “Le dîner” by Benabar, “Si tu n’étais plus là” by Sheryfa Luna, and “Ce matin va être une pure soirée” by Fatal Bazooka.
Who are your favorite French artists? What are your favorite French songs?
Photo credit: Jefferson Santos – Unsplash