Home to its iconic landmarks, beautiful structures, and buildings, fascinating art and culture, stunning beaches, ritzy ski resorts, delectable food, gorgeous countryside, and rich history, there’s no wonder why France consistently ranks as the most visited country in the world.
Yet, not many know that it also produced plenty of musicians and artists who offer an interesting and diverse range of songs. From rap to electronica, classic rock, and surefire pop hits, there’s a song to captivate any type of listener.
So, if you’re looking for some new tracks outside your usual Spotify radar, here are the famous French musicians you would want to add to your playlist.
1. Johnny Hallyday
There’s no better way to start if not with the French rock n’ roll legend Johnny Hallyday. He debuted in 1960, had a career that lasted decades, produced hundreds of songs, and went on to sell 110 million records, marking his phenomenal success in the French-speaking world. Some of his best songs to listen to include “T’aimer follement,” “Gabrielle,” “Je suis né dans la rue,” “Le pénitencier,” and “Je te promets.” While his popularity didn’t cross borders, Hallyday is the quintessential French superstar you simply shouldn’t miss hearing of.
2. Vanessa Paradis
Many people know her as Johnny Deep’s ex, but Vanessa Paradis is a celebrated singer by herself. At the mere age of 14, she catapulted into international fame with her hit “Joe le Taxi.” Since then, Paradis has never left the charts, received many accolades, and has also established a successful career on the big screen. “Be My Baby,” “Sunday Mondays,” and “Just as Long As You Are There” are her other songs worth adding to your repertoire.
3. Christine & the Queens
While the name sounds like a band, Christine & the Queens is a female pop singer and songwriter named Héloïse Letissier, hailing from Nantes, France. Her eclectic music is dubbed as “freakpop” which takes the out of the ordinary to one’s heart and finds the silver lining in the ignored and the taboo.
In 2014, she released her debut album “Chaleur humaine,” which received critical acclaim and reached certified diamond in France. Start discovering her music with her famous and much-touted tracks “Girlfriend,” “La Vita Nuova,” and “People, I’ve Been Sad.”
4. Serge Gainsbourg
Think of combining Sting, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie and you’ll have the iconic French singer Serge Gainsbourg, who became one of the country’s most significant and proudest artists from the ‘60s to the ‘70s. His biggest anthems like “Le Poinçonneur des Lilas,” “Comme Un Boomerang,” “La Chanson De Prévert,” “La Javanaise,” and “Bonnie and Clyde” were brimmed with provocative lyrics and cynical wit flared with a sensible touch of sensuality.
Boasting a diverse musical arsenal, Gainsbourg’s works fall in the genres of chanson to jazz, yé-yé, reggae, funk, electronica, and rock. Adding his decadent life and clever songwriting, he quickly reached legendary stature and became one of France’s most important and well-loved public figures.
5. Noir Désir
Noir Désir is arguably France’s most famous rock band. Originating from Bordeaux, the band had many chart-topping hits in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 2000s. Their most popular track““Le Vent Nous Portera,” a softer ballad compared to their other more punk-rock-inspired songs, is a moving and nostalgic song revolving about the universe, our ever-changing life, and how the wind will simply carry us. Though the band disbanded in 2010, their songs are imprinted in the French musical landscape.
6. Maître Gims
Gandhi Bilel Djuna, more popularly known as Maître Gims, is a Congolese-French singer-songwriter and ex-rapper. He first started with the hip-hop group Sexion d’Assaut during his collegiate years before releasing his first major album in 2013, entitled “Subliminal,” which sold over a million copies. A true chart-topper, his 2018 song “La même” peaked at number one and became the most performed hit in the same year. Veering away from rap, he now uses his deep and mesmerizing voice to produce more compelling music.
7. Black M
Banking on his witty lyrical style, tongue-twisting wordplay, and vibrant personality, Alpha Diallo, better known as Black M or Black Mesrimes, rapidly ascended to fame in France after his 2014 hit, “Sur ma route.” His songs are characterized by mixed rap and pop plus some ballads. Ones that are infectious enough to keep your head bobbing or your foot tapping while backpacking in France or simply enjoying French music anywhere in the world.
French rapper Soprano holds the distinction as the only performer aside from Johnny Hallyday to fill Marseilles’ Stade Vélodrome. He began his career being a part of the rap group “Psy 4 de la Rime” but went on to go solo with the release of his own album “Puisqu’il Faut Vivre.” A diverse artist blessed with a distinctive voice, Soprano transcends different genres and steadily experiments on his sound. Some of his best hits include “Cosmo,” “Le Coach,” “Crown,” “Roule,” and “Ninja.”
Stromae is Belgian, but the French people don’t discriminate and have already embraced the singer, rapper, and songwriter as one of their own. Paul Van Haver in real life, his stage name is a clever inversion of the word “maestro,” perfectly characterizing the quirkiness of his music and stage persona. He can keep you jiving with his massive hit “Alors on dance” but can touch your heart as well with his doleful song for his father “Papaoutai.” Stromae has already sold 8.5 million records, a true household name not only in France but also across Europe and certain parts of the United States.
10. Claude Debussy
Capping this list is Claude Debussy, highly regarded as one of the best and most seminal composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He revolutionized piano music by breaking rules and devising an original musical structure and harmony, which serves as the incarnation of modern, French music. Some of his masterpieces include “Clair de lune,” “Arabesque No. 1,” “Reflets dans l’eau,” “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune,” and “La Mer.” Add them to your playlist and be amazed by these distinctive and appealing works from this musical genius.