When I’m asked how I learned French quickly as an adult, I tend to slide the credit over to my move to Paris. However, the truth is, my first year in Paris was spent primarily speaking English with other expatriates I crossed paths with, or conversing with newly acquired French friends whose English majorly trumped my fledgling French.
While living in the city certainly expanded my vocabulary, truly improving my French took effort beyond embarrassing myself at parties and studying text books; I immersed myself into French pop culture by way of music.
I’ve compiled an edit of my favorite French songs that helped me make sense of this gorgeous language, and had me tapping my feet at the same time. I invite you to bop along with the selection, which I assure you will be a fabulous accoutrement to the burgeoning spring season.
Florent Marchet – “Space Opera”
I discovered this catchy and dramatic song by Florent Marchet on a monthly Inrockuptibles compilation gifted to subscribers of the French rock magazine, and was immediately hypnotized by its impressive layers of sound. Pairing unlikely instruments, like hard-hitting bells and silky sitars, with the urgency of the lyrics creates a potent and daring sound fitting for French pop music.
Bertrand Burgalat- “L’Observatoire”
A darling of the Parisian hipster and fashion set, Bertrand Burgalat can be found performing at private fêtes at the iconic house of Roger Vivier or with his group A.S Dragon at intimate clubs up in Belleville. Forging his own take on the celebrated “French Touch” sound with the use of vintage synthesizers and playful lyrics, intoned by his signature lounge-singer vocal styling, paints the perfect picture of Paris in the springtime.
Housse de Racket – “Synthétiseur”
This is one of the first videos I ever caught on French television and I still don’t think I have fully recovered. A throwback to the 80s with nods to 70s progressive rock, Housse de Racket shamelessly supplies their brand of French pop by way of nerd-pop. With computer-altered vocals reminiscent of early of video games, heavy reliance on keyboard effects, and skilled harmonies, I can’t help but compare them to the French chart-toppers Air and Daft Punk, but perhaps as their caffeinated and rambunctious little cousins.
-M- – “Onde Sensuelle”
The powerhouse that is Matthieu Chedid, who feels like the French Jack White, has surprisingly never made much of a crossover to the States. In France, his arena concerts (which usually require additional dates to be added due to popular demand) sell out as fast as they go on sale, and deservingly so. One of France’s most versatile and talented artists, he has managed to create and brand his own sound, producing a vast catalog of challenging and diverse work.
François and the Atlas Mountains – “Les Plus Beaux”
This dreamy and hypnotizing melody by French/British indie act François and the Atlas Mountains carries a soft innocence that French pop music isn’t exactly heralded for, making it a perfect accompaniment to lingering spring picnics, perhaps along the Seine.
Thomas Dutronc – “J’Suis Pas D’Ici”
Destined to make his mark on French music history, the son of legendaries Jacques Dutronc and Françoise Hardy produces retro-sounding radio-friendly pop with the assistance of his jaunty acoustic guitar and charismatic voice, transporting you to the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Jamais”
Another heir of French melody-making royalty, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin is the already-iconic Charlotte Gainsbourg. Taking a page out of her parents’ playbook, she delivers breathy vocals reminiscent of her mother and sharp, Serge-like lyrics that play on metaphors and rhymes. As if she wasn’t cool enough, her first album titled 5:55, was produced by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and French dream team Air.
Nouvelle Vague – “Marcia Baila”
This French cover band is known for reconstructing 80s new wave hits into breezy cocktail hour bossa nova tunes. In this instance, the party classic by the eccentric Les Rita Mitsouko has been updated from its original, spunky state to a bohemian jam that you can’t help but nod and sing along to.
Brigitte – “Ma Benz”
Current faces of French fashion brand Gérard Darel, the singing duo prove to be much more than pretty faces gracing métro ads. Their sultry take on 90s French rap classic “Ma Benz,” performed by the notorious NTM, Brigitte takes an otherwise rugged song and smoothes it out, transforming it into purring lounge music that found its way onto a legendary Hotel Costes soundtrack.
Christine and the Queens – “Science Fiction”
An act that is making its crossover to the States as the next big thing to come out of France, the Nantes native produced the dance party album of the year with her first major release Chaleur Humaine. “Science Fiction” is not an officially released single, but has enjoyed a healthy rotation on France’s eclectic FIP station with its mélange of French and Italian lyrics over electro-pop beats.
Benjamin Paulin – “J’ai Marché Dans L’Amour”
What I have lauded as a sunny afternoon classic, the handsome native Parisian Benjamin Paulin claims he just “walked into love” with this impish and fun little number. With the assistance of longtime friends of pop music – handclaps, horns, flutes and flirtatious lyrics – this song incites that extra spring in your step.
Air – “Ce Matin-Là”
From the esteemed Parisian suburb of Versailles, Air is often likened to other local acts Daft Punk and Phoenix, most notably for bringing the sound that has been coined as the “French Touch” to American mainstream music. Visionaries who patented the retro-cool melodies, the quixotic sampling paired with horns creates a 1960s nostalgia, even for those of us who never even lived through the decade.
- Lisa also reviews the wine bar and art gallery Ici-meme + Gallerie Graphem in the 12ème.
- Another great way to perfect your French is by going to the movies. Catch a French film at one of these well-loved Parisian cinemas.
- Pining for Paris cafés and strolls along the Seine? This great France playlist from Carry On To will get you in the mood.
Written by Lisa Czarina Michaud for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.