A beginner's guide to popular French music for 2020

French rapper Black M photographed by Ludovic Etienne in our guide to popular French music 2020
French rapper Black M photographed by Ludovic Etienne

Brave a maligned music scene with our guide. It's better than you think...

We’ve all heard of Johnny Hallyday, Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour, but we might be a bit hazy when it comes to keeping up with modern French music – perhaps even the idea of listening to the current charts music is daunting.

But it is easier to understand than you might expect... especially if you Google the lyrics before you start listening on YouTube.

What follows is a personal stroll through popular French music – a round-up of every significant artist and every fabulous song would fill an entire book. This is just a taster to encourage you to follow your nose and explore on your own.

Modern French pop 

Guide to modern French pop; French band Tryo
French band Tryo performing live.

Modern French pop, on the whole, gets a bad press in the English-speaking media – which is a little unfair. You just have to look a little more closely. There is little doubt you will have heard the reggae/folk/rock ‘sounds’ of Tryo, for example. They are one of the most popular mainstream pop bands in France. Their music is absolutely recognisable. To some, their lyrics are more profound than the French constitution. Their message is peace, love and saving the planet.

If you don’t know them, start with Toi et Moi, a cute number about love being more important than pollution or money. Their biggest hit is probably L’hymne de nos campagnes, now pretty much an anthem for French eco-activists. After the Charlie Hebdo terrorist atrocity, they recorded Charlie, which went viral and made everyone cry.

If you ever have a hangover in France (surely not!) there really is only one track to play: Désolé pour hier soir which nails that feeling of the worst hangover in the world. And the video is hysterical. Don’t tell me you don’t recognise yourself in a few scenes.

French rap

Sharp, witty, sexy, and very political, French rap is up there with the best in the world. Booba, Nekfeu, Niska, PNL, Damso, Jul, and Orelsan are all hugely popular and worth checking out. Here are some pointers to a few personal favourites to get you started on an overdue exploration of the genre. 

Start with ...

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