- 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 5: The 1990s
- 100 Essential French songs you must hear – Part 6: The 2000s
This fascinating trip through French music is over! We arrived to the present time!
It’s amazing to see how French music has changed throughout the years! Having the whole picture in front of my eyes while preparing this series of posts, it really got me thinking on how France’s music scene evolution is, unfortunately, a sign of the times.
From the 1930s till the 60s, France was the absolute trend-setter. French songs were heard worldwide, many times translated into other languages, including English. During the 70s, Anglo-saxons’s influence on France’s music style becomes slowly evident. We start witnessing the decay of la République Française as a music model; nevertheless, many great songs of this period have remained as all-time classics.
From the 80s, globalization becomes omnipresent, and music is not an exception: more and more English music is being heard in France; the 90s widespread availability of the Internet certainly magnifies this phenomenon. In order to preserve the French language and protect it against the “Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion”, the French government takes a decision: the controversial Toubon law is issued. Effective 1/1/1996, this law forces radio stations to broadcast at least 40% of songs in French. But there is a problem: French radio stations believe that, after 20 years of being applied, this 40% quota has become unsustainable. They denounce a lack of quality of contemporary French music, as well the reduction in the number of artists performing in French. As they point out: “Only 242 francophone albums were released in 2014, against 718 in 2003, representing a 66,3% drop in the production of French music in a little over ten years”.
Why this alarming drop-off in Francophone music? Are French artists lacking creativity? The answer is: not at all! They are performing in English!! With the boom in electro pop and house music, a trademark of the 2010s, mainstream artists such as David Guetta, Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar, as well as other remarkable, less-known bands such as The Avener, Synapson, Christine and the Queens, are now singing in English in order to attract a more international audience.
The future of French music doesn’t look bright: recently, as a result of the pressure exerted by the radio stations, the 40% French music quota was reduced to 35%. This is sad! French music should not disappear! This would be a huge loss, not only for France, but for the whole world…
But there is some hope: outstanding Francophone artists, either because of their commercial success, or due to the quality of their work, still insist on being “a cultural exception”. So, let’s all support French music!! Check out this list, go ahead and Frenchify your playlist!
91) Zaz – “Je veux” (2010)
With her gypsy jazzy style and her sultry voice, Zaz managed to have not only France, but all Europe singing the addictive “Je veux”. The album went diamond-certified in France, while the song “Je veux” stayed at the top of most European charts for several weeks. After this massive hit, she became the most listened French singer abroad and, according to an Internet survey in France, the favorite French musician in 2010. Read more about Zaz here.
92) Mika – “Elle me dit” (2011)
Yes, it’s the same Mika of “Relax, take it easy“. Actually, Mika is British-Lebanese, but he has also lived in France. This song (English: “She tells me”) is, according to himself: “about all the horrific things a mother can say to her son to get him to f..k out of her house”. The video features a well-known ensemble of French actors, including the great Fanny Ardant. It was the most commercially successful francophone hit of 2011 in France.
93) Camille – “Le banquet” (2011)
She may not be for everybody’s taste, but no one can deny she’s got a great talent -and an amazing voice. Quirky and original (though at times she may remind us of Bjork), Camille’s all four studio albums are definitely worth listening to. Almost unanimously acclaimed by the critics, her single “Ta douleur” has been also a commercial success. She has collaborated with the band Nouvelle Vague, and composed songs for the soundrack of the films Ratatouille and Le petit prince. This song belongs to her last album Ilo veyou (anagram for “I love you”).
94) Maître Gims – “J’me tire” (2013)
Worshiped by some, snubbed by others, there is no doubt though that Maître Gims is a big thing in France. Already well-known as the leader of the notorious rap group Sexion d’Assault, in 2013 he went solo with the album “Subliminal”. Although the album got mixed reviews from critics, it was a huge commercial success, becoming double-diamond certified. In this song (English: “I withdraw myself”) he describes how he feels sick of fame sometimes, and that he would like to leave and go some place where people won’t judge him.
95) Stromae – “Papaoutai” (2013)
By 2010, when his first album was released, Belgian musician Stromae spread the word: “Life sucks, so let’s dance”. And he got all Europe on its feet, dancing his major hit Alors on dance. But with his 2013 album Racine Carrée, he clearly demonstrated what an accomplished artist he is. Besides the easy-listening, catchy melodies, all his songs deliver a strong social message, whether they talk about AIDS, cancer, relationships, or sexual clichés…The song Papaoutai (“Papa où t’ai/Papa where are you”) talks about absent fathers. It’s really worth watching the amazing music video, where a boy uses a mannequin to replace his absent father. Learn more about Stromae here.
96) Indila – “Dernière danse” (2014)
This song (English: “Last dance”) is the first single from Indila’s debut album, Mini World. The beautiful music video is a short film that takes place in Paris, and describes the story of a young immigrant who is a victim of racism. Mini World would become diamond-certified in France; although the single Dernière danse never made it to the top of the chart (it reached the second place), it became a huge success in many other countries, such as Greece, Israel, Turkey, remaining several weeks at the top of the charts.
97) Louane – “Jour 1” (2015)
Louane Emera, or just Louane, was already well-known since 2013 for her participation in the talent show The Voice. However, she becomes a national star in 2014 with her role in the film La famille Bélier, for which she won a César Award for the Most Promising Actress. This song belongs to her first album, Room 12, which became the biggest selling album of the year 2015 in France (two-times diamond-certified).
98) Julien Doré – “Le lac” (2016)
Another star arising from a talent show, Julien Doré was the winner of Nouvelle Star in 2007. Since then, he has had a very successful career; his three previous studio albums have all reached the top four on the official French Albums Chart. Just now (October 2016) he released his fourth album, “&”, from which the single “Le lac” (The lake) became instantly the most downloaded single in the charts.
99) Céline Dion – “Encore un soir” (2016)
There is actually not much need for introduction: Céline Dion is, without any doubt, a true star. Although already known from the early 80s in her homeland Canada, further recognition came when Dion represented Switzerland in the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest, winning with the song “Ne partez pas sans moi”. Singing with great success both in French and English, by the mid-1990s she became one of the best-selling artists in the world, particularly after the super massive hit “My heart will go on”. After a 4-year break, she’s back! And with a great French album: “Encore un soir”(One More Night) has garnered positive reviews from music critics and topped the charts in France (where it went 4 times platinum), Quebec, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium.
100) Christophe Maé – “Il est où le bonheur” (2016)
Christophe Maé is considered a real phenomenon: since the release of his first album in 2007, all his albums have topped the French charts. And his fifth album, L’Attrape-rêves, which just came out is no exception! In the video of this song (the title means “Where is happiness?”) the 40 year-old singer travels through time, becoming younger or older thanks to very successful visual effects. With his unique voice, he reminds us that we should not run after happiness because it is right in front of us, although but we do not always see it.
YouTube playlist here