Best French singers
7 French Artists To Listen To
Ever wondered who the best French singers were?
The French are very proud of their cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. This pride for the French way of being naturally extends to their music. When you listen to French radio, you may find that there are a lot more songs played in the language of the country than would be the case in other European nations. This is because French radio stations must fulfil a quota when it comes to the music they choose to play: 40% of the songs must be in the French language, of which 20% must be new talent.
We’ve taken it upon ourselves to introduce you to the most familiar voices that you’ll hear on the radio whilst in France. We’ve gathered together some of my top 7 French artists, as well as their (in our opinion), best songs.
Angèle – Best French Singers
Angèle is a Belgian recording artist whose début album, ‘Brol’, made waves in francophone and English-speaking countries alike. Her songs tend to be more on the minimalist side, and her lyrics are so well-crafted and complex that they are definitely worth looking up and analysing for anyone learning French or seeking to improve their knowledge of francophone culture. One of the most stand-out songs on this album is ‘Balance ton quoi,’ a play on ‘Balance ton porc,’ the French equivalent of the #MeToo movement. As suggested by this song, Angèle is an artist who is naturally engaged in the modern world, her evocation of subjects like social media and being drained feel effortless and are beautifully sung.
Angèle’s online presence is prolific and on her Instagram (@angele_vl) she is candid and entertaining to follow. Check out Angèle online and through her music for an insight into what young francophones are engaging with.
Stromae – Best French Singers
Stromae is another Belgian singer, known for his witty lyrics, catchy beats, as well his strong attention to the visual storytelling elements of his work. A nom de guerre, Stromae is verlan (French slang using inversion) for maestro, a title that can certainly be understood if you watch his performance at the French radio station NRJ awards in 2011, where he performs his club hit ‘Alors On Danse,’ accompanied by an orchestra. Stromae doesn’t limit his artistic endeavours to the stage however, he started out with a youtube series, calling each song he performed a ‘leçon,’ and singing in various locations including a Venetian gondola, an empty football stadium, and the aisles of a supermarket.
Stromae fully embodies each character he portrays, switching effortlessly between voices in his various songs: in ‘Papaoutai,’ he is a young boy whose father has abandoned him, whilst in ‘Tous les mêmes,’ he flips between the man and a woman in a soured relationship. These embodiments extend to his visual storytelling, as in his music videos and live performances alike, he dresses as the characters he is portraying, right down to his choice of hair and make up.
A recently formed pop duo from Nantes, composed of couple Adèle Castillon and Matthieu Reynaud, their songs have been doing the rounds on TikTok recently, and are a favourite among Gen Z. Their sound is electro/80s pop and the videos to their singles ‘Amour Plastique,’ and ‘Euphories,’ also embody this playful 80s vibe, whilst also showing off their romance as they star in the videos.
Edith Piaf – Best French Singers
If pop music isn’t your thing, why not check out one of France’s most well-known singers? Piaf, known as ‘La Môme,‘ in France, lived a life marked as much by professional success as by personal tragedy. Her life story can be seen on the big screen in the biopic ‘La vie en rose,’ starring Marion Cotillard, which is a compelling watch, as well as a great introduction to her most famous tracks, as they are grounded in her personal life.
Piaf’s songs are in the style of chanson française, where each syllable is well articulated and in a well-established format. Her songs ‘Je ne regrette rien,’ and ‘La vie en rose,’ are staples in TV shows and film, and will undoubtedly be familiar on a re-listen.
Whilst rock music is certainly not as popular in France as it is in the UK or in the US, France still has its fair share of rock bands. One of the most famous rock bands is Noir Désir (Black Desire in English), a band from Bordeaux that were active during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, and have had two albums certified double platinum in France and three certified gold. They are known to have been influenced by the punk rock and post-punk movements, taking inspiration from bands such as The Doors and MC5. Their top hits include ‘Le vent nous portera’ (The Wind Will Carry Us), which made it onto the charts across Europe, and ‘Un jour en France’ (A Day in France).
Christine & The Queens
Despite the name, Christine and the Queens is not a band but a solo artist. She has had success in the English and French music scene, partly owing to her release of singles in both languages. Her lyrics are to be deciphered, and are rich in metaphor whilst simultaneously catchy, accompanied by experimental pop melodies.
Her live performances are also worth the watch. Often accompanied by professional dancers, Christine uses this medium to complement her music and illustrate her lyrics.
If indie music is more your style, then Phoenix is the perfect band for you. Despite being from France, they sing mostly in English. The band was formed in the late 90s, and continues to produce hits today. They are best known for their singles ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘Too Young’. Phoenix have played at numerous festivals including Paris’s famous Rock en Seine, and won multiple awards including the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and the 2014 Victoires de la Musique Rock Album of the Year for their album ‘Bankrupt!’.
So there you have it, there are our top picks of Francophone artists. Go have a listen and see which you like the best! For an extra challenge, why not try to translate one of these artist’s songs (the ones that sing in French of course!).