After facing a challenging year, we were so excited to finally start offering classes in person again and to celebrate Bastille Day with a summer dance party. If you, like us, just feel like dancing or rolling down your car window to blast a summer hit, then you’ll love our pop playlist. Even in the sweltering heat, these songs will get you on your feet, dancing and singing along.
By Sophia Millman
“Le reste” – Clara Luciani (2021)
At only 27 years old, Clara Luciani won a Victoire de la Musique award for her very first album Sainte-Victoire. Her single “La Grenade,” about the often-underestimated power of women, was a huge success, and now she’s back with a second best-selling album, Cœur, and a new summer hit. If you visit France this month, you’ll definitely hear “Le reste” playing in a bar or on the radio.
- Practice your French: Read a recent Vanity Fair interview with the singer here.
“Balance ton quoi” – Angèle (2019)
Angèle’s “Balance Ton Quoi,” which she wrote during the #Balancetonporc movement (the French #MeToo), has become an anthem for contemporary French feminism. In the song’s hilarious music video, Angèle attempts to teach a group of clueless men (including French actor Pierre Niney) about sexual consent.
- Practice your French: Watch an interview with Angèle about “Balance Ton Quoi” here.
“Djadja” – Aya Nakamura (2018)
A black feminist anthem, Nakamura’s song “Djadja” was constantly playing on the radio in France in 2019. A huge international hit, this song uses so much regional “argot,” or slang, that you might need this translation to help you understand the lyrics. We also recommend listening to “Pookie” and her 2021 summer hit “Bobo.”
- Practice your French: Watch an interview with the singer here.
“Alors on danse” – Stromae (2010)
Legend has it that one day in 2009 a young man around 24 years old left a demo lying around in the Belgian office of the French radio station NRJ, where he was an intern. Paul Van Haver, better known as Stromae, had composed the pop hit of the year. The single a cartonné or a explosé, as the French would say: it was played on almost every radio station and could be heard in every European nightclub.
- Watch a famous clip of Stromae and French comedian Jamel Debouze “inventing” the song here.
“Tomber la chemise” – Zebda (1999)
Zebda won “Original Song of the Year” and “Best Group of the Year” at the 2000 Victoires de la musique thanks to this huge hit. Their music video was also nominated for many awards: in it, the Toulousain band members appear disguised as movers who crisscross the streets of their city. You’ll also see French celebrities in the video such as comedians Omar (*mention that it’s Omar Sy of Lupin fame!) and Fred and actor Jamel Debbouze, who plays the role of a security guard.
- Practice your French: Learn about Zebda’s political song “Le bruit et l’odeur,” a reaction to French President Jacques Chirac’s speech about immigration, here.
“La tribu de Dana” – Manau (1998)
Celtic rap wasn’t a thing in France until Manau released “La tribu de Dana,” which samples “Tri martolod,” a traditional Breton song. “La tribu de Dana” was an immense success: the song sold 1.7 million singles and you can still hear it played at parties today.
- Practice your French: Watch a short FranceInfo video about the song’s legacy here.
“Around the World” – Daft Punk (1997)
Way before they released their best-selling song “Get Lucky,” French duo Daft Punk became an international sensation with their début album Homework. “Around the World” was a major club hit and Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, shot its music video.
- Watch a video of Gondry explaining (in English!) how he choreographed the music video here.
“Je Danse Le Mia” – IAM (1994)
While rapper MC Solaar was already contributing to the growing popularity of rap in France before the release of “Je danse le mia,” IAM’s 1994 summer (and yearlong) hit suddenly made rap a huge deal. The song’s enduring success is due to many things: Michel Gondry’s famous music video (see above), the omnipresence of a funky bass line, allusions to ‘80s and ‘90s popular culture (Stan Smith, Ray-Ban, Tacchini tracksuits, Starsky & Hutch…), and also Marseillais slang. (If you’re confused by the song’s opening lyrics,“Tu es fada, je crains dégun,” it’s normal. See a translation and explanation here!)
- Listen to some of our other favorite ‘90s French rap here.
“Le jerk” – Thierry Hazard (1990)
“The Jerk” had become a forgotten 1960s dance move by 1990, when Thierry Hazard decided to bring it back. Full of irony, his song is about the wild outings of two young city-dwellers who rush to catch a 6:17 bus to meet under strobe lights and escape their dull daily life. This French summer hit inspired countless “clubs à Gogo” and remains a fun dance party classic.
- Practice your French: Believe it or not, no one knows what happened to Thierry Hazard, who disappeared 25 years ago, leaving no trace behind. Read a French article about the mystery here.
“Voyage Voyage” – Desireless (1987)
French singer Claudie Fritsch-Mentrop took the stage name Desireless in 1986 and became internationally famous when she released “Voyage Voyage.” The song was certified gold in France in 1987 and often appears in best songs of the ‘80s compilations. In the music video above, you can see Desireless’s distinctive haircut and one of her famous androgynous outfits. Fun fact: you can see the CSI: Miami star David Caruso at 3:04!
- Practice your French: Read an interview with Desireless about the making and success of “Voyage Voyage” here.
“Ève, lève-toi” – Julie Pietri (1987)
Having grown up in Algeria, then in Morocco, Julie Pietri wrote this feminist hymn to celebrate her rich cultural heritage. The music video above was shot in the troglodyte city of Matmata in Tunisia.
- Discover our favorite French feminist songs here!
“L’Aventurier” – Indochine (1982)
Nicola Sirkis was only 22 when he founded Indochine, France’s all-time best-selling band, and 23 when he wrote this instant hit. “L’Aventurier” is about Bob Morane, a fictional Indiana Jones-style hero who features in a series of popular Belgian novels.
- Practice your French: Read a recent article about the author Henri Vernes and his character Bob Morane here. Or watch a 2020 interview with Nicola Sirkis about the making of “L’Aventurier” here.
“Le Sud” – Nino Ferrer (1975)
French-Italian Nino-Ferrer was a fan of Louisiana and originally recorded “Le Sud” (“The South”) in English. Inspired by James Brown, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles, Ferrer pays homage to American blues and jazz classics. This summer ballad became a huge success in France, and listeners speculated that it was about southern France or Italy. In fact, it’s actually about Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris!
- Practice your French: Watch a short video of Ferrer’s house in Rueil-Malmaison here.
“Itsi bitsi, petit bikini” – Dalida (1960)
In 1960, only 17% of French homes had televisions, but Dalida’s music video would nevertheless become incredibly famous. If you’re not familiar with Brian Hyland’s original version of this song, it’s about a shy young woman who doesn’t want anyone to see her wearing a bikini.
- Listen to and learn more about Dalida with our “Top 9 French Songs of the ‘70s” article here.
Other major summer hits: