What I’ve loved most about learning a new language is that not only does it connect you to millions of people, it also leads to the discovery of an entirely different world – a world filled with music. Suddenly, I became aware that there were hundreds upon thousands of songs I had never heard before. And that’s just with one language! I can listen to French music all day, every day. And usually I do.
Ask anyone learning French who their favorite artiste français is and they’ll probably say Stromae. He was the first international artist I actively began listening to. I’ll say it now, I love Stromae. He’s popular, unique, and intriguing. So when native French people asked who I listened to, I was proud to tell them that I knew Stromae.
However, the response was immediate and always the same.
“He’s not French. He’s from Belgium.”
Sure, they may speak the same language, but it was made very clear that my apparent knowledge of French music wasn’t up to par. I guess they did the same thing to me when I asked for them to name one of their favorite American singers and someone said Justin Bieber.
If you’ve been reading this entire time thinking “who the heck is this Stromae?” then please please please check him out. I’d recommend Ta Fête and Tous les Mêmes. Be prepared though, watching Stromae videos is one of the first steps to going down the French Youtube rabbit hole.
But we’re not here to talk about Stromae. In fact, I don’t want his name to come up anymore in this post. While he’s amazing (for many, many great reasons), there are other French artists who are just as talented and deserve more international limelight.
Maître Gims (Hip-Hop/Rap)
The French love Maître Gims.
His songs are a super catchy and very popular in the discothèques (French clubs). While he’s considered both a hip hop and rap artist, he mixes many genres, like in his Reggaeton-styled Bella. He was touring last fall and I couldn’t go because it was a Tuesday night. Why have a concert on a Tuesday night?? People have jobs, Maître Gims.
I’ve been listening to her for a few years now after discovering her while studying abroad in Québec. She’s not québécoise, however. Born in Paris, she’s as French as you can get. She’s got an impeccable fashion sense and is just as good during live sessions as she is in the studio. My favorites include Dernière Danse and Tourner Dans Le Vide.
Check out her full album Mini World.
Bring on the backlash. I’m ready for it.
JUL always seems to come with very strong opinions. People either love him, or absolutely hate him and there is to be no in between. I’m not a die hard fan, but I won’t deny that I have a couple (maybe more like 5) of his songs somewhere in my music library. They’re repetitive and pretty easy to understand.
JUL was born and lives in Marseille and, with it being the closest big city to where I was living in France, all of my students were obsessed with him. Go ahead and pick a side for yourself with Tchikita.
He’s even got a hand gesture, like Prince did. It spells JUL – both forwards and backwards. I cracked up when I realized it. It’s either insanely silly or super ingenious.
Boulevard des Airs (Pop)
Taking a step back from the solo artists for a moment, France also has some pretty stellar bands. Take Boulevard des Airs, for example. One of their more popular songs, Bruxelles, is a good place to start.
French rap is very distinct and I actually enjoy it more than I do when it’s in English. I don’t know if it’s the language, the lyrics, or just the overall sound that it has, but French rap is certainly on the rise. My students actually recommended him and, while he’s not necessarily on the top of my list, I like his album Feu. It’s lit. Like fire. Feu. Fire. What? I think I’m funny. That’s all that matters, right?
Check out his YouTube. He’s got over 35M views and around 1M subscribers.
La Femme (Electric/New Wave/Psychedelic Pop)
I’m totally digging the retro/punk style they’ve got going on in this group shot.
Most mainstream French music tends to hover over the rap/pop genre so if you’re in the market for something a bit different, La Femme is certainly the way to go: kind of 80s, sort of synthetic, and cooly hypnotic. Watch a live action version of their hit “Sur la planche” here. Spoiler alert: it has a lot of synchronized head bobbing.
Amine reached the #1 spot on the French singles chart twice. I found him while shuffling a party mix one night.
Technically, he’s French-Moroccan and is known for his mix of R&B and raï, rightly named Raï’n’B. Raï’n’B was a popular music genre in France during the 2000s and is distinguished by its Algerian influence. Here’s one of his relatively recent singles “Tu Verras.”
I discovered MHD while eating pizza in a tiny little parlor on the French Riviera. If the album artwork isn’t enough to win you over, the vibe of Afro Trap Part. 5 certainly will.
Yann Perreau (Pop/Rock/Electro)
Of course I’ve got a québécois on my French playlist. I listen to Faut pas se fier aux apparences on repeat. Though, I will admit, I hadn’t seen the music video until recently and it’s a bit . . . bizarre. On the other hand, I guess I did learn some new vocab.
Loïc Nottet (Indie Pop)
He’s actually from Belgium, hence why he’s not on the list above. However, his most popular songs aren’t even in French – they’re in English. BUT, he was a finalist on The Voice Belgique back in 2014. His amazing single Million Eyes is definitely worth your time.
I discovered him while watching MTV in Nice. (Yeah, they still have MTV.) He’s only 21, which would have made him around 18 when he placed second on The Voice. Not only does he have the looks of an angel, he’s got the sound of one as well.
Manu Chao (Latin Alternative/Reggae/Worldbeat)
Manu Chao was born in France but has Spanish origins. He sings in French, Spanish, English, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese and occasionally in other languages as if those weren’t enough. I like his Spanish/French song, Me Gustas Tu.
A Tip For Finding New French Music:
Start with Apple Music/Spotify/Pandora – whatever’s your poison. Find a station (French Acoustic/French Pop) and hit shuffle. Read other blogs. Ask a Frenchie if you can find one.
You also don’t have to know French to like any of these artists. If I said I understood every lyric to every Maître Gims songs, I’d be lying. Sometimes I can’t even make out Ed Sheeran. The cool thing about music is that it’s universal. Everyone can feel a beat.
Of course I couldn’t name every French artist I listen to – these are just some of many. If I left someone out you absolutely can’t live without, leave them in the comments below.