A Short Guide to French Music {day six}

{day six} A Short Guide to French Music


I’ve talked before about my mostly but not quite hate-affair with French music. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t exactly have a great reputation around the world. Music doesn’t come up in the top 5 ‘best things about France’, and that is mostly, in my opinion, because  the French language doesn’t lend itself to simple lyrics, and simplicity pretty much defines most contemporary music. Instead it is all about poetry and emotions, so singing in French about being ‘in da club’ and what not, is just weird. French lyrics can be very intricate but tend to win over musicality, which doesn’t translate well into music that non-French people can understand. You get a lot of musical poetry, which is great if you understand French, but can be pretty uninspiring otherwise.


That’s not to say that all French music is bad, not by a very long shot, but you may not have heard of most of our most famous artists so today, let me introduce you to them by running through the last 60 years of French classics. All of the artists mentioned are famous and many have had enduring appeal in my home country, including some having reached national treasure status.


If you want to listen to any of these guys, you can check out the Spotify public playlist I’ve made for the occasion.


Note: Some of these artists have careers spanning many decades and I have ‘tried’ to categorise them by genre (if very specific) or by their most popular decade. It was a difficult one to judge so if there are mistakes, they are all mine. I have also had to miss a lot of very popular artists because there are just too many and it could quickly become overwhelming.


 Classic French Music of the WWII Years:

  • Edith Piaf
  • Charles Trenet

French Music of the 50s:

  • Charles Aznavour (still going strong today at 91 yrs old!)
  • George Brassens

French Music of the 60s:

  • Jacques Brel
  • Claude François
  • Jean Ferrat
  • Jacques Dutronc
  • France Gall
  • Mireille Mathieu
  • Sylvie Vartan
  • Françoise Hardy

French Music of the 70s:

  • Serge Gainsbourg
  • Véronique Sanson
  • Michel Berger
  • Johnny Hallyday (the Biggest French star ever)
  • Sheila
  • Michel Sardou

French Music of the 80s:

  • Mylène Farmer (if you’re going to youtube her, she’s NSFW, guys, seriously NSFW)
  • Jean-Jacques Goldman
  • Vanessa Paradis (who made a come back in the 00′)
  • Daniel Balavoine
  • Téléphone
  • Francis Cabrel

French Music of the 90s: (I grew up with these guys!)

  • Patrick Bruel
  • Pascal Obispo
  • Zazie
  • MCSolaar
  • Celine Dion (seriously, her French albums are nothing like her English-speaking ones)
  • Noir Désir

French Music of the 00s:

  • Alizée,
  • Calogero
  • Phoenix
  • M83
  • M

French Music of the 10s:

  • Stromae
  • Indila
  • Cats on Trees
International crossover:
  • David Guetta
  • Daft Punk
  • Air
French metal/less mainstream stuff, as recommended by my husband Badgerman (He Who Knows His Stuff):
  • Gojira
  • Alcest

the ‘local flavour’ album: Brittany has been producing some rather unique stuff over the years, Manau was on the radio when I left France 15 years ago popularising ‘celtic rap’.

The ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about but it exists’ French Hip-Hop and Rap:
    •  L’Entourage
    • Georgio
    • Guizmo

The bonus American but sounds totally French: Madeleine Peyroux

31 days button - Frenchify your life # font x400

9 thoughts on “A Short Guide to French Music {day six}

  1. Although I agree with pretty much anything on that list, I cannot let you talk about that horrible “local” flavour that is Manau. No No No, all they did was ridiculing Brittany. We all hate them over there. There are not really Breton anyway, and they just destroyed that beautiful traditional song (Tri Martolod). Anyway, if you want to talk about Breton artists making it in France around the same time (1996-2000), I suggest you have a listen to Matmatah or Merzhin 🙂 And sorry about my rant but I’m very protective of my region!!!

    1. I was hoping you would drop by actually. I didn’t mean to insult Brittany (I might as well insult my mum, who was born in Lannion). I am definitely not saying they were any good either (god forbid!) but I thought I should mention that Breton music actually exists separate from just mainstream ‘french’ stuf. Manau were indeed terrible but they were massive at the time and did introduce the wider France to music from Brittany.

      1. I should have thanked you for mentioning Breton music, and I’m sure you didn’t mean to insult the region!! Maybe Manau made Breton music more mainstream in France (if we can call that Breton music but that’s another debate!), but they’re not really a good example of what Brittany had to offer!!! And now I have that music stuck in my head ah ah 😉

  2. I love your listing. My collection of French music grows with every trip back to France. I load up on CD’s. One of my favorite CD’s of all time in the universe is a CD I picked up for pennies in a used record shop. Suarez–On Attend. The lead singer is Belge, but honestly, this group is epic! I’m also a huge Dutronc fan–both father and son. And I love Daniel Balavoine–it’s so tragic he died so young…Ohhhhhhh..and my favorite French singer is Laurent Voulzy–“Bubble Star” always puts me in a great mood! Thank you for a great post!

  3. I studied French in a summer program in Quebec, Canada and bought a Celine Dion French album. I was already a fan, but there’s something completely fantastic about listening to her in her native tongue. I was never fluent, so I could listen to the album without understanding everything I heard. #write31days

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