French music and artists (50+ artists for 2020)
French music in any genre is some of the most interesting and creative music being put on the airwaves today. But why aren’t French pop artists more well known, and why isn’t French rap getting more radio play?
In my experience, part the answer is because of the dominance of the English language in every genre in every country. But in part, there’s a stereotype about beautiful French songs that you would want to ideally listen to while sipping a coffee in Paris.
Well, get ready. Because French music is way, way more interesting and diverse than that.
But his list also needs to start with a disclaimer.
The French musicians on this list are creative and multitalented. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be listed here. But that also means many of them aren’t going to fit into one particular genre of music. So the genres they’re sorted into are not a reflection of their actual genre--but rather, what I think fans of a particular genre will enjoy.
Because of how hard this list was to organize, you can use the table of contents below to browse by music genre. But each artist also has their own tags, and by hitting ctrl + f on your computer and then typing any number of tags, you can also skim the article by country of origin, influences or subgenres.
French Music: A Quick Guide to Modern French Music History
I’m not talking big orchestras playing Baroque classics at the opera.
I’m talking rock and roll and rap.
How did the French go from powdered wigs and violins to having the second-largest market for rap in the world after the US? [source]
Let’s hop over to 1945. The Second World War has just ended, Europe has bombed itself to pieces, and the US has stepped into the spotlight for the first time as an economic power.
While Europe scrambled to rebuild factories and agriculture, the Americas became a massive exporter of everything the old continent needed to do that. [source]
American men walked off of the battlefields and into high-paying jobs. American families had enough money to buy multiple cars, TVs, radios, and still had time and money to spare.
So with all that time and money, not only did the country turn into a massive exporter of cars, machinery, and technology…. but of arts and culture. [source]
As Europe began consuming not only American goods but American culture through films and music, one country stood apart.
While other countries (notably the UK and German) threw themselves into the new waves of rock and pop in the 50s and 60s, France saw something else happen.
The 50s and 60s are known as the golden years of “la Chanson Française”--French singers who style themselves after the cabarets of decades past. [source]
Sure, pop and rock started to creep onto the scene. But the la Chanson Française is what many of us still associate with French music, and what you can still find on movie soundtracks even today. (Some examples are listed farther down in this list.) You can still hear an influence from this style--which is well over a hundred years old by now--in modern rap and pop!
But by the 70s and 80s, the French seem to have started accepting Brit Pop and American Hip-Hop as their own. La Chanson Français began to fade from popularity, and American albums like Rapper’s Delight began to dominate charts. [source]
By 1994, the French government decided to “defend” the Fench language from these anglo cultural invaders. The Toubon Law was passed, mandating that at least 40% of all music played on French stations. [source]
While there had always been super-popular French musicians (MC Solaar and Johnny Hallyday stand out), DJs began scrambling to find more French artists to fill their time slots with.
With this history in mind, you’ll notice a few things about all of the French music on this list.
First of all, it’s all uniquely French. You will find a dusting of la Chanson Française on pop or whole songs sampled in rap. Music from France has a special taste to it.
Second of all… sometimes it’s not French. Just in French. It’s important to remember that Franch is an imperial language--so while I largely focused on France in this list and brief summary, that was only because of the absolute quantity of music the tiny country puts out.
More French speakers live outside of France than within in, so I hope you also enjoy some French artists from other Francophone countries.
Third, it’s exceedingly high quality. French music has some of the best production values and writing, in my opinion, in the whole world.
So now that you have that quick summary about French music history, jump in and start exploring so you can find your next favorite French song!
French Pop Artists
Like I said above, the French music genres in these lists are actually very, very, very mix. How do you classify a French artist who raps over lofi hiphop beats? What genre is a band that calls themselves pop but that sounds like 70s punk?
That disclaimer given, if you tend to like calm or dancey radio stations, I think this list of French Pop Artists will be to your liking!
Artist tags: indie, chill, piano
Other songs to start with: J’arrive; Élodie
More about the artist: Ben Mazué is going to kick off our list--not because he’s my favorite French musician (or even favorite pop artist) but because when I heard Nous deux contre le monde I was cleaning my kitchen and had to drop what I was doing to see what had come up on my playlist’s radio station. While he might be a little too mellow for fans of dancier pop artists, his album Les femmes idéales is on repeat in my house.
Artist tags: electronica
Other songs to start with: Maryland; Bullitt
More about the artist: Brothers Jonathan and Maxime combine poppy and electronic tones that will remind you of Daft Punk but about 40 times calmer. While they make distinctly French music, you may have even heard their smash hit Maryland playing on American, Canadian, British, or Australian radio since their music is often in a mix of English and French.
Artist tags: electronica, rap
Other songs to start with: Perdus; J’etends
More about the artist: Angèle and her brother Roméo Elvis are Belge rappers and musicians who have blown up in the past few years. The children of musician Marka and comedian Laurence Bibot, Angèle kicked off her own musical career at age 20 in 2015 and quickly made a name for herself. (And yes--if you didn’t know, French is one of the official languages of Belgium. Much of the French music on the list comes from the many francophone countries that aren’t France!)
Artist tags: Ballads, pop
Other songs to start with: Love story; Tourner dans le vide
More about the artist: Indila’s not a new French artist, her big moment being 7 years ago, but she still needed to be included on this list for how huge this song was. (In fact, this song was so big, I once attended an authentic cabaret in Paris that referenced it twice. So if you’re trying to catch up on the past 10 years of French pop artists, I’m here to help.)
Artist tags: guitar, pop rock, ballads,
Other songs to start with: Ta marinière; comment je vais faire
More about the artist: Hoshi was born Mathilde Gerner and takes her stage name after the Japanese word for star. Launching her career at 2017 at the age of 21, began writing music in 2011 on the guitar.
Artist tags: pop-rock, electronica
Other songs to start with: Avec ta zouz; Egotrip
More about the artist: Therapie TAXI is one of the better-known pop groups out of France, and you’re going to adore them on your French playlists of any genre. You’re welcome.
Artist tags: Disco, electronica, classic rock, 90s
Other songs to start with: Qui de nous deux; Machistador
More about the artist: -M- isn’t anything new on the French airwaves--but singer Matthieu Chedid’s super disco-infused pop-rock electronica blew up at the end of the 90s and his 2010s hits (like Superchérie) are worth adding to this list.
Artist tags: Ballads, dance, afropop
Other songs to start with: Le prix à payer; Miami Vice
More about the artist: You’re not asleep on the incredible musical talent coming out of French-speaking Africa, right? GIMS (formerly known as Maître Gims) was born in Kinshasa, currently located in the DR Congo. With powerful ballads and a fusion of influences, he blew up in the early 2010s and shows no signs of stopping.
Artist tags: pop, dance, hip-hop
Other songs to start with: Sur ma Route, French Kiss
More about the artist: Parisian singer and rapper Black M (sometimes known as Black Mesrimes) mixed upbeat pop and rap with some great ballads. If you’re generally more of a fan of pop than rap, you’ll enjoy how much singing is in his music.
Artist tags: dance, semba
Other songs to start with: Canto, Chora
More about the artist: I dare you to listen to Pongo without dancing. Born in Angola and growing up in France since the age of 6, her music is an incredible mix of French smoothness with Central African beats so contagious that they’ll be an instant hit at any part you play them at. (Plus: she’s not as well known as most artists on this list. So you’ll be the coolest kid around for introducing people to her.)
Artist tags: disco, pop, glam rock, ballads
Other songs to start with: Corine, Pourquoi, Perché
More about the artist: Corine is a contemporary artist who draws heavily (and I mean heavily) on 20th-century French music history. From disco to la Chanson Française, you’ll find it all the albums she released only over the course of the last few years.
Artist tags: pop, dance
Other songs to start with: Check out their viral YouTube montages of the top songs of every summer
More about the artist: Mixing genres, languages, and instruments, if you love pop music you’ll love L.E.J and the tribute they’re constantly paying to other genres and other bands.
Artist tags: pop, acoustic, ballads
Other songs to start with: Le visage de la nuit, Place espoir
More about the artist: Another example of contemporary, beautiful French music
Artist tags: pop
Other songs to start with: On ne pas d’amour; Les fleurs
More about the artist: From France’s Mediterranean coast, Clara Luiani brings a soundtrack-like calmness to pop music which you could either lounge or dance to.
Artist tags: Ballades, piano
Other songs to start with: Tu m’aimes bien; Adieu
More about the artist: The French pop singer rose to fame after winning season 5 of The Voice: Le plus belle voix, a French spin-off of the American talent show with the same name. Since that 2016 victory, Slimane has dropped two albums: À bout de rêves (which went platinum twice) and Solune (which went platinum once).
Artist tags: pop, chill, tropical, indie
Other songs to start with: Ça ira ça ira, Si léger
More about the artist: This French pop duo started their musical career back in 2011 as they exhibitioned their own love story on and off the stage. Now, the couple “lives separate lives”, but continue to grow their indie-pop fan base in France.
French House Music, Techno, and Trap
Ready for that same disclaimer? These French musicians could all be put in pop, and some in hip hop or rap, but are a little more energetic than the other genres. Really, if you want to dance and sing at a house party (or alone in your car, if you’re me) this is your list.
Artist tags: chill, tropical, rap
Other songs to start with: Iceberg; Vespa
More about the artist: I cannot get enough of tropical house / chill beach / whatever you call this genre. VSO is on all of my summer playlists and one of the artists who, when they come on the playlists at my house, sends the most people in my direction asking who it is.
Artist tags: rap, trap
Other songs to start with: Rien à perdre, 7ème Ciel
More about the artist: Making his debut at age 18, 2th’s single Ne Fuis Pas blew up on SoundCloud and over social media (and is still his biggest hit by far).
Artist tags: rap, techno
Other songs to start with: La pluie (ft Stromae), Tout va bien
More about the artist: French director, writer, musician, and producer Aurélien Contentin (known in music as Orelsan) is one of the powerhouses of contemporary French music and culture. Make sure you check out OrelSan’s YouTube for regularly content outside of his music, or his film Comment c’est loi (which he wrote, directed, and appeared in).
Salut C’est Cool
Artist tags: electronic, techno, punk
Other songs to start with: Bout de bois; Des formes et des couleurs
More about the artist: Not all French music is pretty and sad and melodic. My brother, who has been known to rip off my Spotify playlists, once called me from the other side of the country to demand “what is this? It’s just nonsense.” I absolutely adore Salut C’est Cool and wish I could shove this song into my heart.
Artist tags: rap, dance, house, techno
Other songs to start with: Danser seul, Béton armé
More about the artist: A group of five artists, Bagarre mixes eccentric sounds across all of their songs and are incredibly hard to classify. Check out a few different sounds before you judge them as a band.
Artist tags: DJ, electronic, chill
Other songs to start with: Another day , Morning
More about the artist: Les Gordon has been making music for years, but still has a relatively small following. Make sure you catch their live online DJ sets and “capsule” micro-songs released onto Youtube.
Artist tags: soka, dance
Other songs to start with: WatiBigali (ft Wati-B), Hit the Floor (Big Ali & Dollarman) Danza Kuduro (TikTok Remix)
More about the artist: Big Ali has a relatively small following for his solo stuff, but has collapsed with francophone musicians like Willy William on some international hits. (Unfortunately because of this his music can be super hard to find--but if you head over to his YouTube check out the play list for “Top Tracks” for hits posted by dozens of other artists.)
French Hip Hop Artists and French Rap
Like in the other genres, some of these French musicians could really belong to the pop category of this French music list. But all have some element of rap in them or draw on techniques that are more associated with hip hop or rap (such as sampling or autotune). So if you like some pop but not the really fluffy stuff, you’ll also really enjoy these French artists.
Artist tags: pop, dance, hip-hop, rap
Other songs to start with: Papaoutai, Formidable, Alors On Danse, Tous les Mêmes, Carmen (those are all probably the ones you’re most likely to hear in passing)
More about the artist: Stromae (or, “the Teacher”) is beyond introduction. This Belge music giant burst onto the scene in the early 2010s but is on this list because of his music is still regularly played on radio stations, TV, and at parties all over the world--despite largely focusing on other aspects of his entertainment career at the moment.
Artist tags: Rap
Other songs to start with: Ma direction, Pas d’chance
More about the artist: It’s been a second since Sexion D’Assaut has dropped any music, but the group has had some massively popular international hits and needed to be on this list for anyone new to French music to get to know.
Artist tags: hip hop, rap
Other songs to start with: Tombéciba, Regardez-Moi
More about the artist: New on the scene, Ajar made his debut in 2019 on Instagram and. YouTube. A native to the South of Rance, his clear accent and heavy sampling makes his work uniquely French-French.
Artist tags: R&B, rap, rumba, semba, soul
Other songs to start with: Je Par; Petit Pays
More about the artist: The “sample song” video on this list isn’t enough, and I strongly recommend looking up the “other songs to start with” before making a judgment on Gaël Faye. The Rwandan-French rapper, poet, and writer is one of the gems on this list who absolutely defies genre, and often language. Overlooking rappers from des nations francophonies de l’Afrique means missing out on a huge swatch of French musical talent, and I highly recommend throwing some Gaël Faye songs across multiple playlists.
Alice et Moi
Artist tags: chill, R&B
Other songs to start with: Filme moi; C’est toi qu’elle préfère
More about the artist: Dreamy rapper Alice started her project Alice et Moi in Paris in 2016. Combining whispy choruses and soft rap in the verses, her music has a calm confidence which I love.
Artist tags: Hip hop, dance, pop, reggaeton,
Other songs to start with: La la la, Te Quiero, Voodoo Song, R.Q.T
More about the artist: One of the reigning giants of French music, you’ve likely heard his J Balvis collab / multilingual hit Mi Gente. (But let me tell you: if you liked Mi Gente, you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what this French musician has to offer the international music community.)
Eddy de Pretto
Artist tags: pop, rap
Other songs to start with: Normal; Fête de trop
More about the artist: Poppy tones and a great melody are a fantastic mix that we don’t get a lot of in English speaking countries at the moment--but Eddy de Pretto’s clear and confident singing mixed with steady rapping make it work extremely well. The casual confidence that mixes the two genres made it hard to place under a single genre, but it’ll work great on any French music playlist.
Artist tags: rap, autotune
Other songs to start with: Fonda C; Enfants Terribles
More about the artist: Controversial French rap collective Columbine (yes, named after that Columbine) has put out a total of three albums, including their freshmen debut Clubbing for Columbine (yes, as in Bowling for Columbine). They’ve gotten serious music press with each one, not only for how good the albums sound, but because of their passionate approaches to themes such as idealized childhood, teenage rebellion, and violence au quotidien.
Lous and the Yakuza
Artist tags: dance, hip hop, chill
Other songs to start with: Dilemme, Tout est gore
More about the artist: The super-smooth, super chill music of Congolese-Belgian cultural icon Lous and the Yakuza is only one side of the artist’s creative life. A songwriter, model, and visual artist, Lous and the Yakuza (born Marie-Pierra Kakoma) has turned out an incredible amount of creative work over the past 5 years of her career.
Artist tags: rap, hip hop
Other songs to start with: Chocolate, Chaud, Malade
More about the artist: Roméo Elvis and his sister Angèle are Belge rappers and musicians who have blown up in the past few years. The children of musician Marka and comedian Laurence Bibot, Roméo launched his career in 2013 with a string of smaller EPs, finally blowing up in 2019 with the album (and single) Chocolat.
Bigflo & Oli
Artist tags: tropical, chill, hip hop, lofi
Other songs to start with: Alors, alors; La vraie vie
More about the artist: Soundcloud-rappers-turned-superstars Bigflo & Oli blew up a few years ago when the chill house / tropical hip hop genre first rose online. Thankfully despite playing it on repeat, I still haven’t ruined Demain for myself--so I hope you enjoy this duo as much as I do.
Artist tags: Reggeaton, Rap, Pop
Other songs to start with: Bolingo, Comme Avant
More about the artist: Lartiste draws heavily on Latinx music, from deep reggaeton styles to collaborating with Brasilian singers for bilingual hits. While I left the tags here a bit vague, you’ll hear plenty of different genres (like soka, merengue, and bosa nova) drawn on throughout his music.
Caballero & JeanJass
Artist tags: Rap
Other songs to start with: Flash (ft. Alkpote), Sonic
More about the artist: While many artists on this list border on impossible to categorize (my organization was only a loose attempt to do so), Caballero & JeanJass throw their sound back to the classic age of rap--drawing on inspiration from the 80s and 90s giants, but updating the feel for today’s audiences.
Artist tags: Rap, hip-hop
Other songs to start with: Pilote, Chandon et Moët
More about the artist: PLK was on the rise when I started this list back at the beginning of August, but by the time I finished it (now in September), their latest hit On sait Jamais has brought them to new heights. Keep them on your radar for the next few years.
Artist tags: Hip hop, chill
Other songs to start with: Mômes; Regarde-moi
More about the artist: Lomepal’s music is part of the growing trend of chill hip hop across the world, with both notes of tropical sadness. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but if you’ve ever wanted to listen to sad rap with a steel drum in the background, you’re in for a treat.
Rock in French Music
This is one of my favorite parts of this French music list. French classic rock is fabulous, so while most of this list is contemporary to the present year, this list of rock in French also has some classic rock French artists.
Artist tags: surf, classic rock, electronica,
Other songs to start with: Elle ne t’aime pas; Sur la planche
More about the artist: La Femme has been one of my favorite musical discoveries in any language of the past few years. They capture the original easiness of the surf rock genre but aren’t afraid of adding touches of modern techno.
Artist tags: new wave, punk
Other songs to start with: Habibi; Nico teen love
More about the artist: If you loved the new wave / punk moment of the late 70s and early 80s, you’re going to love BB Brunes. Like La Femme, they don’t shy away from more contemporary elements--but their music is absolutely cool. They’ve been active since 2005 and if you came to this list for French rock, they have an impressive back catalog of albums.
Artist tags: Folk, country, chill
Other songs to start with: Où je serai demain; Petit à petit
More about the artist: French folk-rockers Arcadian are another band that’s hard to place since, well, “French country music” isn’t exactly a hugely popular genre… nevermind bands that do that big-band-folk thing as well as chill-beach-lofi? [Edit: an earlier version of this article attributed the band as Canadian. Despite having a Canadian name they are, in fact, French.]
Artist tags: 90s, folk
Other songs to start with: Léa; Les nuits parisiennes
More about the artist: 90s French rock band Louise Attaque entered the scene with grungy fiddle rock and put out three albums during their late 90s -- early 2000s height, with a forth making its debut in 2015. Like some other bands on this French music list, they’re not anything new--but worth checking out if you want to well-versed in French rock.
Artist tags: rockabilly, classic rock, power ballads, hard rock
Other songs to start with: (in this order) T’aimer follement, Le pénitencier, Je suis né dans la rue, La musique que j’aime, Gabrielle, Ne me quitte pas, Je ne suis pas un héros
More about the artist: Some of the artists on this list aren’t on here because they’ve recently made it big--some are classics. But Johnny Hallyday is the French artist of the 20th century. Je te promets is probably his most famous original song, but with a career spanning decades and hundreds of songs, I suggest you take a listen to the InnerFrench episode which paid tribute to him for a full bio.
Artist tags: pop, classic rock
Other songs to start with: Stop ou encore, Hula Hoop
More about the artist: You probably know this song. It’s great. Plastic Bertrand is great. It was by far their biggest hit, but don’t neglect the rest of their discography if you want to jump into some great vintage music.
Artist tags: classic rock
Other songs to start with: Mini mini mini, Les cactus
More about the artist: Parisian classic rock icon, actor, and director has been on the scene for decades. Make sure on top of his huge number of albums, you check out any of the many, many films he was involved in.
Beautiful French Songs
Remember the history lesson we had about la Chanson Française?
Well congrats: you’ve officially gotten to the very, very pretty of this list.
These contemporary artists make beautiful French songs and could probably be classified as pop… but given the history of French music, I gave a few contemporary pop artists their own category down here. (Especially considering how much contemporary French pop has with the growing French rap scene. These French musicians have taken their music in quite another direction.)
Artist tags: chill, disco, funk, electronica
Other songs to start with: L’amour; Basta Così ft. Alex Rossi
More about the artist: Founded in Paris in 2012, BonEntendeur began their career posting directly to YouTube and later SoundCloud--a trend you’ve surely noticed by now with many of the French artists on this list. Their music sounds like a DJ making a mixtape on a rainy day from old French film soundtracks and, before I could speak French and began getting distracted by the lyrics, was my go-to study chill music.
Artist tags: chill, electronica, indie
Other songs to start with: Seul sur ton tandem; Les bruits de la ville
More about the artist: Voyov is one of the undiscovered gems of French music. With only one album and less than 13k YouTube subscribers, every song off Les Bruits de la Ville sounds like the best parts of the late 2000s indie music moment combined with 2020s lofi hiphop and ambient chill. It’s been another one of my go-to albums while sipping morning coffee and studying.
Artist tags: pop, hip hop, indie
Other songs to start with: Le lac, Coco câline
More about the artist: A mix of sounds from hip hop, la Chanson Française, and contemporary pop, Julien Doré’s music is the perfect soundtrack for working, studying, or walking to.
Using French Music for Language Learning
Finally, if you want to relearn French or are just in the beginning process of learning it now, music can be incredibly helpful!
Check out our catalog of French music for language students here.
And if you’re relearning French because it was your family’s heritage language, you hit the jackpot! On top of lists like French music and learning resources, check out our Podcast and YouTube channel about relearning our native languages. We’d love to be your cheerleaders on your journey.