- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 1: The 1930s, 40s & 50s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 2: The 1960s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 3: The 1970s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 4: The 1980s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 6: The 2000s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 7: 2000-2016
The French musical landscape of the 90s sees the established musicians of the 70s and 80s still holding a prominent place. But alongside then, a new musical movement develops: the so-called “Nouvelle chanson”, that is, a return to the melodies and poetry of artists such as Brel, Brassens… This new French song’s artists find a wide audience and bring the chanson française back to its best.
The revival of French music of the 90s is also based on the emergence of a new rock scene. New bands, with influences both French and Anglo-Saxon, fill concert halls and appear at the top of the charts.
The influence of american hip-hop is also evident in France: French hip hop slowly becomes mainstream, so does electronic, dance and house music.
These are some of the most representative songs of the 90s:
69) Niagara – “Pendant Que Les Champs Brûlent” (1990)
French duo Niagara achieved popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, placing several singles in the Top 50 chart; their four studio albums have been gold certified. Evolving from a new wave and synthpop style on their earlier albums to a more rock-oriented style on their later ones, they have been frequently compared to the UK duo Eurythmics. This beautiful song (the title means “While the fields burn”) belongs to their third album, Religion.
70) Mylène Farmer – “Désenchantée” (1991)
Arguably Europe’s greatest modern pop star, holding a series of impressive records (French artist who sold most records since 1984, record of diamond-certified albums, artist with more singles in the Top 50, among others), Mylène Farmer is the absolute French diva.
Controversial, enigmatic, rarely appearing in the media, refusing to talk about her private life, she is well known for her meaningful songs (often with double entendre, with artistic or literary references) and her spectacular concerts. This is one of her signature songs (the title means “Disappointed”), which she declared had to do with her own feelings at that time, although many find the song refers to the political situation of France in the 90s.
71) William Sheller – “Un homme heureux” (1991)
“A happy man” was performed by William Sheller in front of a live audience. The song found success as a single, charting for sixteen weeks on the Top 50 in France and winning the Song of the Year award at the 1992 Victoires de la Musique.
72) Mc Solaar – “Bouge de là” (1991)
Mc Solaar is one of France’s most internationally popular and influential hip hop artists, known for his complex lyrics, which rely on word play, lyricism, and inquiry. The song title means “Get out of here”, and was one of the first hip hop hits in France. Other famous songs of Mc Solaar are Hasta la vista and La belle et le bad boy, which featured in the last episode of the series Sex and the city.
73) IAM – “Je danse le Mia” (1993)
Je Danse le Mia was recorded by Marseille rap group IAM. It evokes Marseille nightlife during the 80s; the lyrics are ironic and full of clichés. The song became a major hit in France, and it’s considered the band’s signature song. It uses a sample from “Give me the night” by George Benson.
74) Les Négresses Vertes – “Face à la mer” (Massive Attack Remix) (1993)
Les Négresses Vertes is one of the most representative bands of French alternative rock. Their style was quite unique though, as they incorporated elements of world and electronic music in their songs. Energetic and exotic, their work was widely acclaimed by critics and the general public. Their recognition and commercial success led to several international collaborations; this is a remix of their song Face à la mer by Massive Attack.
75) Alain Souchon – “Foule sentimentale” (1993)
Multi-awarded Alain Souchon denounces in this powerful song (the title means “Sentimental flock”) the emptiness of our consumer society: “we are inflicted desires that afflict us” and “they make us believe / that happiness is having / our cabinets full of things…”
This song is undoubtedly his greatest success, which received a Victoires de la musique award for the song of the year 1994, and a “Victoires des Victoires” award for the best original song of the last twenty years in 2005.
76) Lara Fabian – “Je suis malade” (1994)
Belgian-Canadian singer, Lara Fabian is the best-selling Belgian female artist of all time, but also well-known internationally. This beautifully sad, timeless song (the title means “I am sick”) belongs to Serge Lama, and had also been performed by Dalida, but this version by Lara Fabian is just marvellous.
77) Pascal Obispo – “Lucie” (1996)
Pascal Obispo has been one of French music central figures since the early 90s, being well-known not only for his talent, but also for his continuous charity work and his unconventional personality. In this song he addresses subjects such as childhood, time passing, life and tells us that we must strive to live from day to day, without asking too many questions.
78) Khaled – “Aïcha” (1996)
This song was written by Jean-Jacques Goldman, but he never released it, being originally performed by Algerian, France-based, raï artist Khaled. The title refers to an Arabic female name. In the song she is being wooed by a man, who promises her luxury, but she wants “anything but love”. It was a huge success, becoming one of France’s best selling singles of the decade.
79) Patrick Fiori, Daniel Lavoie & Garou – “Belle” (1997)
This song belongs to the musical Notre Dame de Paris. It was a massive hit in France, becoming the best-selling single of the decade (managing to surpass even the super hit worldwide “Candle in the wind”), and the third best-selling single of all time.
80) Larusso – “Tu m’oublieras” (1998)
The song title means “You will forget me”, and indeed many people may have forgotten Larusso. At that time though, it was a huge success, reaching the top ten best selling singles of the 90s. So uplifting, still nowadays!
YouTube playlist here