The French music scene offers a huge array of styles, accents, genres and legendary haircuts. So whether you’re into pop, rock or disco, you’re bound to find something out there to tickle your fancy. All the more so thanks to little-known online platforms such as YouTube or Spotify, which make discovering (or rediscovering) French tunes fun.
Not only will listening to French music train your musical ear, and possibly cause the boogie-woogie blues, but it will also help you recognize different French accents, registers and intonations. Not to mention how it will improve your speaking skills if karaoke is in your future.
Whether you’re a beginner or advanced learner of French, or just after some hot new tracks to add to your Spotify playlist, here are 5 songs you’ll be putting on repeat, once you find where that button is.
1) Résiste by France Gall
Most certainly one of France Gall’s most famous songs, Résiste is taken from Gall’s 1981 album Tout pour la musique. The song is one of France’s highest-charting songs and also greatly influenced French cinema – the song even gave its name to a jukebox musical in 2016. France Gall will always be remembered as a timeless feminist icon of French song ever since her first single she wrote (and sung) at just 16 years-old, Ne sois pas si bête.
Looking at the language side of things, this catchy song mainly features the imperative form and also uses gender-neutral language (no mark of either the masculine of the feminine form). What’s more, the vocabulary used is fairly simple, and will help you learn words that rhyme with the sound “-iste”. So what are you waiting for? Headphones on.
2) Louxor j’adore by Philippe Katerine
Immerse yourself in the French culture with eccentric singer Philippe Katerine and his addictive autobiographical tune Louxor j’adore – though we cannot be held responsible for the content featured in the 3:21-minute madcap video. The song basically explains what the singer loves (“adore”) about the Louxor, a former movie theatre converted into a nightclub in the animated Barbès area in Paris, a place he used to visit on a regular basis and where he met people from all backgrounds. Spoiler alert: contains purple hot-pants and a floor-length fur coat. If you think you’ve seen some weird video clips in your life, try this one on for size.
Thanks to this song, you’ll be able to learn new vocabulary on jobs and professions, amongst others “boulanger” (baker), “agriculteur” (farmer) and “infirmière” (nurse). If you find you’re having trouble grasping some of the vocabulary, you can read a translation of the lyrics.
3) La Madrague by Brigitte Bardot
Recorded in 1963 by iconic French actress, singer and champion of baby seals, Brigitte Bardot, the oft-covered song La Madrague is the perfect break for any learner of French. The lyrics refer to the property Bardot purchased in the Riviera’s A-list metropolis, Saint Tropez, called La Madrague, a peaceful enclave bereft of paparazzi and distractions. Fun fact: A “madrague” is actually a fishing technique for catching tuna. Now that’s going to come in handy at some point.
Bardot’s soothing, sultry voice will teach you new vocabulary (albeit related to the seaside and your next vacation) in no time. The song is sung at a slower pace than most French tunes, making it easier to follow and to retain.
4) S’il suffisait d’aimer by Céline Dion
If you thought you could learn French without the help of Céline Dion, think again! Chances are you’re more familiar with her English-language hits, however, you’ll be happy to know she has released many albums in her native French-Canadian, targeted at French-speaking audiences. S’il suffisait d’aimer was released in 1998 and was written and produced by French legend Jean-Jacques Goldman. On your next trip to France or Québec, you’re bound to sing along to this song at your poutine party.
We’d advise intermediate to advanced learners of French alike to listen to this track, as it features many conditional sentences – or “if” clauses (using the conjunction “si”) – and uses the conditional tense. You’ll find the lyrics are a very useful way of improving your written skills in French as well as your pronunciation.
5) La Javanaise by Serge Gainsbourg
Singer, songwriter, pianist, poet, painter, actor, screenwriter… is there anything Serge Gainsbourg can’t do? Besides quit smoking. All we know is that he is indisputably the most iconic French singer of the 20th century. The 1968 song La Javanaise – originally written for French actress and singer Juliette Gréco – is actually a play on words and refers to the popular Parisian java dancing and the javanais style of speaking, a type of French slang where “av” is added after a consonant before the next vowel (Paris = Pavaravis). Did you know Gainsbourg wrote more than 550 songs during his career?
As a learner of French, the song will initiate you to the “vous” polite form to address somebody, as well as the passé composé tense. Moreover, we must say that Gainsbourg’s slow and well-pronounced French helps a lot.
Bonus track: Balance ton quoi by Angèle
Pre-millennial songs are not the only cultural references worth something. Far from it actually. 23-year-old Belgian singer Angèle is a perfect example. Welcome to 2019 French feminism with Balance ton quoi, a tune referring to the “#BalanceTonPorc” movement (the French version of the #MeToo movement). Her songs have become anthems mainly because of her sincerity, her entertaining videos and the strong messages she conveys, which resonate with her pre to post-millennial audience.
As far as French is concerned, the song is easy to follow and her slow speech will make you want to listen to more of her anthems. However, some parts might be difficult to follow, an English translation of her lyrics may be appropriate at the beginning. Warning: contains slang and mild to strong language.
Music, no matter the language, is universal, as well as a social, political, and sometimes daring way to convey ideas. If you want to go further in your language learning journey, try Frantastique for free for 10 days here. Fun, short and personalized French lessons in just 10 minutes per day.