Edith Piaf will always remain in our hearts as the voice of France, but it’s time to broaden our musical horizons. Push aside that La Vie en rose album on your shelf, and make room for these musicians dominating the French radio waves. From AfroTrap to political activist tunes to carefree hits, there’s an artist on this list for everyone. These are the seven French artists to listen to.
At only 20-years-old, Louane Emera, who simply goes by Louane, has already garnered international acclaim. She got her start on “The Voice: la plus belle voix,” the French equivalent to American singing contest The Voice. Despite not winning the competition, Louane was scouted and cast in the 2014 film La Famille Bélier as the teenager Paula, a role that earned her a César award. Her debut studio album, Chambre 12, received rave reviews from both critics and mainstream audiences alike. Her songs are reminiscent of American pop music: fun, catchy, and relatable.
2. Black M
Black M is a French hip hop artist that rose to prominence following his 2015 smash summer hit, “Sur ma route.” The “M” in his stage name stands for Mesrimes, which is a reference to the infamous French criminal, Jacques Mesrine, or “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Mesrimes is also a way of saying “my rhymes” in French, a nod towards Black M’s witty lyrics. His songs are infectious, and will have you tapping your foot and bobbing your head for the rest of the day.
Another young musician, rapper MHD forged his own path into the French music scene. He created his own musical genre, “Afro Trap,” which is a mixture of African beats and trap music. His songs are released one at a time with music videos featuring him, his friends, and his neighborhood in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. MHD has already received a lot of acclaim in Europe and the US, and recently finished the American leg of his world tour. New songs are posted regularly on his YouTube channel.
Medine Zaouiche, better known by his stage name Médine, is a French-Algerian rapper from Le Havre. A practicing Muslim, Médine’s lyrics often address the hardships associated with the perception of Muslims in the western world, poverty, and oppression. Though rapping is his full-time job, he has also written several articles for Time, including “How Much More French Can I Be?”. He usually raps over a simple beat, emphasizing the political activism in his lyrics.
5. Maître Gims
Maître Gims, along with Black M and Louane, is one of the better-known artists on this list. A singer and ex-rapper, he began his career by joining the hip-hop group Sexion d’Assaut in college. Before releasing his first album, he illustrated a series of comic books entitled Au coeur du vortex (“In the Heart of the Vortex”). Leaving his rap career behind, he now sings with a voice that is deep and compelling. His recently released single “Marabout” comes from his planned 2018 album La Ceinture Noire.
A part of the Marseilles-based hip-hop group Psy 4 de la Rime, Soprano features in group collaborations and releases his own solo albums. Psy 4 de la Rime is especially popular among young French descendants of immigrants, as the group is made up almost entirely of immigrants from former French colonies. Soprano is a diverse artist, constantly changing his sound and experimenting with different genres. He is also one of very few French rappers who doesn’t curse in his songs.
7. MC Solaar
A truly versatile performer, MC Solaar is known in both the French-speaking world and the English-speaking world. He released several solo albums in French, and he also recorded in English with the British group Urban Species. His voice is smooth, and his lyrics demonstrate his surprising eloquence. What Jay Z is to American rap, MC Solaar is to French rap. His sound is full and his tone is relaxed, making for fun and easy listening. His new album, Géopoétique, drops November 3.
Yes, Stromae is technically Belgian, but many French have adopted him as their own. Selling more than 8.5 million records worldwide, Stromae is a household name across Europe and parts of the United States. His stage name is an inversion of the word “maestro,” alluding to the playfulness of his stage persona and his music. Many of his songs, however, border on philosophical as he often sings about heartbreak, absent father figures, and the stereotypes associated with gender roles. Whatever he sings about, he’ll make you want to dance.