You could say that French music has had a bad press over the years.
It doesn’t help that a huge chunk of the world now listens to British and American music, or to musicians who sing only in English. Quel dommage.
So perhaps there isn’t much of an appetite for songs sung in French …. or is there?
The huge success of the singer Stromae in his native Belgium, France and the UK suggests that our interest in Francophone music is changing.
Or, at least, it’s expanding beyond humming along to Gallic songstress Vanessa Paradis and being united in our oh-so-British disapproval of Serge Gainsbourg whenever Je t’aime … moi non plus comes on.
Read on in case you need persuading that French music is about so much more than ambient film soundtracks and Édith Piaf.
1. HK et les Saltimbanks
This group, who count world music and klezmer music among their influences, appeared on the soundtrack of the French film Blue is the Warmest Colour.
On Lâche Rien, the song used on the soundtrack, is the perfect protest song. With its feverishly indignant lyrics, energetic accordion playing and an exuberant chorus complete with whooping, it’ll make you want to dance down the streets of Paris to the Place de la République clutching a brightly coloured protest banner. ¡No pasarán!
If you like this, why not try: The group’s cover of Juliette Gréco’s Sous le ciel de Paris or their song Sans haine, sans armes, sans violence?
A little different to the insanely danceable music of HK et les Saltimbanks, Indila's songs are a three-minute snapshot of high drama and romantic heartbreak to an electro accompaniment.
Also listen to: Boite En Argent or Tourner Dans Le Vide from her latest album Mini World.
His gangly frame, searingly direct lyrics and intense live performances have seen him compared to fellow Belgian singer Jacques Brel.
So far, his songs have touched upon topics like:
- The economic crisis
- Domestic violence
- What love and romance means for the Facebook and Twitter generation.
Check out: Alors On Danse or Summertime for one of the most downbeat (but still very danceable) songs about summer possibly ever written.
And below is Formidable, which was so popular when it was released that it basically broke YouTube.
4. Cœur de Pirate
Hailing from Montreal in French-speaking Canada, Cœur de Pirate (the pseudonym of Béatrice Martin) is a pianist and singer-songwriter.
Her lyrics are evocative lyrics and she plays the piano beautifully.
Try out: Her songs Printemps, Place de la République or Comme des Enfants (embedded below), which featured, appropriately enough, in a recent Pampers advert in the UK.
Louane, the stage name of Anne Peichert, starred in the French film La Famille Bélier as a teenager who interprets for her deaf parents and brother.
She sang in the film, and has since released an album of her own music and covers of material by the French singer Michel Sardou (on a side note, his joyous and crazily fast-paced song Les Lacs du Connemara appears to be an obligatory closing song for any party you ever go to in France, from family weddings and anniversaries to birthday nights out and student celebrations. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …)
Why not listen to: Jour 1 from her album, or her cover of Michel Sardou’s Je Vole.
The upbeat songs of Bénabar (real name Bruno Nicolini) make for a great summer soundtrack – and it’s easy to see what he means in Paris by Night when he admits that the best nights out are never planned. So true.
Have a listen to: His song Y’a Une Fille Qu’habite Chez Moi (below).
Taken from the first initials of its three members, L.E.J. is made up of Parisian musicians Lucie, Élisa and Juliette. They released a fab close harmony cover of Tous les mêmes by Stromae in 2014 and haven't looked back (see below).
Since then, they’ve turned their hand to Rolling in the Deep by Adele, Macklemore‘s Can’t Hold Us and brought out a cover of Seine-Saint-Denis Style by French rapper Grand Corps Malade.
Have a look at: Their cover of Get Lucky by Daft Punk.
8. Vincent Delerm
And finally…. With his salt-and-pepper hair and Woody Allen specs, the singer looks like an arty bohemian intellectual. The son of French author Philippe Delerm, Delerm Jnr. writes and performs his own songs and accompanies himself on the piano.
His first album, which came out in 2003, has an experimental feel to it, going from string quartet arrangements on his song Châtenay Malabry to playful twenties-style piano music on Fanny Ardant et Moi (see it below).
Try: His song Tes Parents, which he improvises to with hilarious new lyrics here during a concert in Paris.
By Emily Handley, a self-confessed lover of France, who currently lives in the UK. Read her blog French Affliction here.