When I was learning French, it was hard to enjoy the language outside the classroom (I know, I’m a total nerd).
You can’t really go around talking to yourself, but you can sing to yourself—in the car, in the shower, when it’s just you and the cat. That’s how I had fun with the language, with music. The internet has made is so easy to buy music from around the world, that it’s now easy to add a French touch to your CD collection.
Even if you’re not trying to learn a language, listening to another country’s pop music can be fun. It can up the cosmopolitan factor at a party or a quiet dinner with friends. It can take you back to your last vacation, strolling along the Seine and browsing those famous book stalls. It can also get you even more excited for that upcoming transatlantic trip (especially if you’re planning a trip to Grenoble).
To get you started, I’d like to offer a list of some of my favorite French musicians—it wasn’t easy just to choose a few!
Zazie: Between her first album Je Tu Ils (1992), her most recent 7 (2010), and the eight albums in between, Zazie’s sound evolves but the result is always something uniquely Zazie. Sometimes she uses the classic French accordion, sometimes the latest electronic sound maker. In my opinion the 2006 Rodeo is one of her best. The songs “Zen” and “Rue de la Paix” are some of her biggest hits from earlier albums.
Listen to extracts from her 2008 album Zest of.
Carla Bruni: Also known as Mme Sarkozy, this model turned singer/songwriter is also France’s first lady. Her whispery voice can be rather entrancing, and her hit” Quelqu’un m’a dit” has been included on just about every French compilation CD to come out stateside. Her lyrics can be quite saucy, but sang in that whispy, femme fatale voice, they melt into something truly sensual. And have no shame–just because you like her music doesn’t mean you support his politics.
Listen to extracts from her album Quelqu’un m’a dit.
Indochine: Like me, this group was created in 1981 and is still going strong. They have gone from a 1980s new wave sound to more lyrical rock, with each album being its own little world. The most recent, La République des Météors, is one of the group’s most audacious works, and one of its best. I also listen to their previous album, Alice et June, for days on end at some times.
Listen to extracts from their album La République des Météors.
Olivia Ruiz: This young singer hails from the southwest of France and you can sometimes hear touches of Spanish flair in her songs. Her 2007 album La Femme Chocolat sold over 1.1 million copies thanks to the whimsical world that she concocts—singing “knead my hips with kisses. Let my Nutella hips melt. I’ve got hot chocolate running through my veins.” Who could want to go on a diet with words like that?
Listen to extracts from her album La Femme Chocolat.
Paris Combo : This quintet gets its name from the city that inspires them and the jazz groups—combos—of the 1930s jazz world. Skillfully mixing jazz, chanson, latin, and gypsy influences, Paris Combo’s sound harks back to the Paris jazz clubs of the time between the wars, but with resolutely modern lyrics. I still listen to my copy of their 1999 album Living Room—the first French CD I bought, and on my first trip to France during my freshman year of college.
Listen to extracts from their album Living Room.
This short list hardly covers all of the French music worth listening to. If you know of other noteworthy French groups or singers, please share!