Music & The French Kids


By Gabrielle.

A few weeks ago, my friend Kyran asked if I’d write a post about what kind of music the French kids are listening to, and I love that idea! So I asked my two teenagers, Ralph and Maude, for a consultation on the subject. First, they said that mostly, their French friends listen to the same music their American friends listen too. When Adele is popular in America, she’s popular in France too. Phoenix gets lots of play in both places. Dubstep is popular at parties in both places.

That said, they did come up with a bunch of songs that their French friends listen too, but their U.S. friends do not. I had them send me links to 10 of them, so you can get a little glimpse of what might be added to your kids’ playlists if you lived in France. Some are French songs, but many are from other countries.

The links go to videos on Youtube. Be aware, a couple of the videos are sexy — might not be your thing on a random Wednesday. (I did try to create a playlist on Spotify, with just the sound files instead of videos, but I couldn’t find a bunch of the songs. Le sigh.) I hope you enjoy the list. I’m embedding the first video here, because it’s a fun one!

Elle Me Dit by Mika.

Coups et Blessures by BB Brunes.

Dota by Basshunter.

On se Connaît‬ by ‪Youssoupha, featuring Ayna.

The Night Out by Martin Solveig.

Random Access Memories Look by Daft Punk.

Vamos a la Playa by Loona.

Happy by Ft. D.Martin by C2C.

Down the Road by C2C.

10 I’ve Got That Tune by Chinese Man.

Bonus track! The kids aren’t listening to this one anymore — it was popular a few years ago. But I love it and asked Maude to learn to play it on guitar as my Mother’s Day gift last year. It’s so lovely.

11 Quelqu’un m’a dit by Carla Bruni.

One of the things I wonder about since we moved to France, is what it’s like to grow up mostly listening to songs that aren’t in your language. I hear popular songs, in English, everywhere I go here. At the grocery store and in the shopping districts. The French kids know how to sing along, sort of. But many have no idea what the words are saying.

I suppose American kids will experience more and more of that (Gangnam Style anyone?) as the internet continues to shrink the world.

Did any of you grow up mostly listening to songs that weren’t in your native tongue? Do you have any favorites from the list Ralph and Maude made?

61 thoughts on “Music & The French Kids”

  1. I grew up and still live outside the U.S. but have cousins who live and grew up there. We recently got together and the conversation turned to music which can be a great conversation starter and way to bond while swapping songs and artists.

    A lot of the music we listen to is the same, but I noticed that the non-U.S. based cousins we’re into a lot of music from European artists and a lot of indie, alternative and dance music . My U.S. based cousins we’re into similar music mixed with a bit more hip-hop by artists that aren’t as widely known in our area of the world. It’s great to talk about music and learn about other artists. I get introduced to a lot of new music by my siblings and friends.

    On another note: Can someone explain to me the rationale behind ceasing to like an artist/band once they become widely known? Or the desire to not want your favorite artist/band to become popular or mainstream. I always think that I should be happy once they achieve wider recognition for their work since very often they’ve been at it for years and the life of a musician can be tough. Not to mention that wider recognition means bands I love have a greater chance of coming to my area of the world to preform.

  2. My French friend once told me the French call it “yaourt anglais” when people who didn’t know English tried to sing along to English songs. I can’t find out if it’s true online, so maybe it was just his friends!

    1. Yep ! Yaourt anglais or “franglais”.
      But “franglais” really means using english words in a french sentence.

  3. We just returned home from France where we spent Spring Break . My 14 year old daughter kept commenting on all the American and British music we heard everywhere. And most of the songs were what she listens to here in the US. She was a bit disappointed that she didn’t hear more French music.

  4. I was an exchange student in the Netherlands when I was a teenager and I remember that Abba’s song ” Money” was popular. One little girl was singing along “money, money, money” and then she stopped and looked at me and said “what does money mean?” I thought it was so funny to be singing and not know what you were saying – fortunately I could translate for her.

  5. I went to France when I was about 18 and two of my most treasured souviners I brought back were a magazine and a cd. It’s funny because all my friends teased me and said that could be the worst cd ever and I would never know it. It’s true, but I still loved singing along!

  6. I’m learning French right now and my teacher encourages me to listen to a lot of French pop music. The tunes are catchy and the lyrics tend not to be too challenging. I can usually figure out the chorus at least. At a minimum I’m able to conjugate danser really well now!

    I love Elle Me Dit. When there is too much grumpiness in my house this song gets played very loudly in the kitchen and there is much dancing. I dare anyone to feel lousy after bouncing around to that one.

    For pop music, I like Ycare. I don’t know if they fall into the pop category, but I also listen to a lot of Amandine Bourgeois and L. Listening to L’s song Jalouse instantly makes me several inches taller, extraordinarily graceful, and very elegant in a scarf.

    Growing up, I listened to a lot of pop music in Spanish. My Spanish teacher had a bunch of teenage nieces in Mexico and so she would always play the top pop songs during class. We didn’t understand the words, but we sang along anyway. It was a lot of fun.

    How often are we really sure of the lyrics even for songs in our native languages? Hark, Harold, the angel sings? Excuse me while I kiss this guy? I want to hold your ham? At some point they just become part of the music itself.

    1. You’re right, of course, about not knowing many of the lyrics in songs with our native language. So true. I guess I’m remembering listening to the radio as a teenager and thinking, this song totally describes what I’m feeling right now. It seems like it would be a different sort of experience growing up in France or Spain or mostly listening to lyrics in English.

  7. When I was in High School we had an exchange student from Mexico. She was a very nice girl but listened to music that was filled with English curse words. She didn’t know what it was saying, but loved this music. My parents had to tell her to use headphones so my little brothers wouldn’t hear. It was so funny to me that she loved music, but had no idea what it was saying. She sure loved to sing along though. Loudly!

    1. Too funny! We had similar experiences when we first moved here. In Olive’s class, there were several kids who were excited to show off their English to her. But their English was mostly cussing. So they would greet her with a cheerful, smiling, F**k You. As in, Hey! I know English too!

      I’m glad Olive knew better than to take offense. : )

  8. I love this! To Caddy’s point, when I was a teenager, I totally thought of myself as a music snob. I was into some shoegaze and britpop, and it really annoyed me when they’d get a song on the radio, bc they were MY band. :P As i got older, I realized how silly that was, and who cares – listen to what makes you happy!

    Related to Krista’s post, my friend went to Argentina and had lunch with an Argentinian family that she knew through acquaintences. During their conversation, the family was surprised to find out that my friend’s boyfriend back home was hispanic, and had several questions about cross-cultural dating. Then the son/brother said, “Do you date [N word] too?!” She was in shock that he used that word at all, let alone in a primarily Spanish conversation, and asked how he even knew it. Sure enough, he started rapping a song that had it in there. Oy.

  9. I realised I just sent a cenured version, which I never have heard in France. the real version in France can be found on Daily Motion, blarring out all words.

  10. I forgot about Mika. His music always brings back random college memories for me since at that time he was almost popular in the U.S. Everyone had strong opinions of him one way or the other (you either liked his music or couldn’t stand it), but I always enjoyed his music.

  11. Quelqu’un m’a dit is so so so beautiful. I listened to it so much! (i learned what the words meant because i didn’t speak french then)
    i grew up in spain, but i never really listened to spanish songs. ha! i listened mostly english, some catalan and italian, which i’m also fluent in. i never understood all the words, but who does…

  12. I Was thinking about the language question from the parenting aspect: I grew up in Israel and raising my kids in Israel. English is very common here, most people understand and speak english to some degree, and we learn it in school from 3rd grade. Many of the TV shows are american/british and unless it’s for little kids there are subtitles in hebrew so we hear a lot of English growing up. When my husband and I want to talk about something without the kids understanding we use english. It is very common, most parents I know do it (including my parents, until I learned English). But what do you do in the US when you want to talk without the kids understanding? you have to invent a secret language… or do most people have a second language like Spanish or French the their partner understands?

    1. Sadly many Americans are not at all bilingual… at least not fluently. If the kids are young enough to not know how to spell, then we spell out some words. Otherwise, we have to “discuss it later” or out of earshot. Knowing a second language would be super helpful for this! LOL

    2. Most American parents have to discuss it later after the children are in bed, or you have to use hints. My husband likes to make jokes that are above the children’s understanding, and use words for which they don’t know the defiition (or that have an alternate definition–one that I would understand but they would not).

      My daughter’s friend’s parents speak to each other in Dutch for that reason, but they are unusual here.

  13. It’s so cool that Maude learned to play “Quelqu’un m’a dit” for you. I first heard Carla Bruni sing/play guitar on the Starbucks “Every Mother Counts” CD. She recorded Henri Salvador’s “Le loup, la biche et le chevalier (Une Chanson Douce).” It’s a beautiful lullaby, and fun to play. Maybe Maude already is playing it!

    Speaking of Henri Salvador, have the guitar-playing members in your family learned any of his music? “Jardin D’Hiver” is my favorite. So beautiful.

  14. Love this! I adore that Carla Bruni song- it is just so pretty, and makes me feel clever that I know all the words and most of what it means haha! xx

  15. Such an interesting topic!
    I grew up in Germany with German parents who didn’t care for American music at all. But I was crazy about it. I couldn’t wait to learn the language. It was a crazy motivation. Now I am a musician and live with my Irish partner in Berlin – also a musician. And we talk a lot about the language and music thing. Because: I write and sing my songs in German but I am heavily influenced by American singer/songwriters. Who are not afraid to sing abot very emotional stuff, sad, devastating, heartbreaking.
    We both noticed that German people love American, Irish, British music but a lot of them get very annoyed when you sing about the same stuff in a language they can not avoid to understand because it is their mothertongue.
    I sometimes feel as if I am a member of the wrong political party because I decided to sing in a language that people can actually understand.
    Other people then react very very touched because they understand the words more direct and they like it. It is a funny topic.
    In generell I can say that because of the overwhelming influence of the American/British Popculture a lot of people are used to not really being emotionally touched by music. It is purely for entertainement. Emotions transport better and directer in your own language. The translation is like a filter.
    A lot of people feel bothered when they can actually understand the words. And in German movies there is the rule that you cannot have a dialogue between two actors parallel to a German song because it is too distracting. The music has to be in English.
    When I tell all that to my Irish boyfriend he thinks we are just a bunch of weirdos. In Ireland emotional music is the most natural thing. And to listen to music that makes you cry and breaks your heart is like the essence of Irishness.

  16. Oh the funny stories and jokes behind the English/American songs we used to sing without knowing a single word. One example that I can recall now is the song “All that she wants”, that people came up with so many versions of their own (meaningful words in our language). It is hilarious! This belonged to the ’90s though. Now the majority of young kids and teenagers understands and speaks English fairly well. As a kid and teenager I am guilty of favoring American songs over Albanian. But the music that has always touched my soul in an indescribable way since I was very young is good old Greek music (until the midd-end of the 2000 decade). Greek song writers are masters of the most touching words and some heavenly tunes.
    But the bitter truth is sad for our culture that the whole focus has been on mostly foreign songs (American and Italian are the top songs we are fond of as a nation and than comes Latin, Greek and French, not in order of importance, I can’t tell). It’s been so many times that I couldn’t help myself but think what a tourist can gain from our culture (Albania is a country with a strong background) while listening to Rihanna or Justin Bieber.
    I somehow had imagined France to me more egocentric in the music industry, but I see how wrong I was.
    The topics you choose are always fascinating Gabrielle :)

  17. My niece was in the car when the beats of a song came on. I was taking no notice. and with out thinking she started belting out the words at the top of her lungs before the singer. Like kids do.

    “I only love you, I only love you, I only love you when I’m drunk”, (mika).

    Yeah a really proud moment, windows down, trying to pull away at the traffic lights. I need to think about what 4 year olds take in.

  18. I’ve heard great things about a musical show called Les Franglaises – they sing English songs translated literally into French (so ‘what’s new pussycat’ becomes ‘quoi de neuf petit chat?’). It sounds too funny! They show all around France, it could make a great trip for the older kids (I’m not sure how cheeky it is).

  19. I remember going on a German exchange when I was 13. My exchange partner was out delivering newspapers when I arrived, so her mum sat me down in their living room and put on some music for me. It was all English songs full of explicit lyrics about S & M etc. This was the first time that I had met these people and there was this 60 plus year old woman humming along to songs like that. I was pretty worried about what sort of family I was staying with…

  20. Quelqu’un m’a dit is one of my absolute favorites! I listened to it pre and post-European life. This post is so well-timed! I just had a conversation with my mother-in-law this morning about how I absolutely craved country music when I was living in Cyprus. Most other American music made it to our little island, but country and bluegrass are so distinctly American that I ached for them.

  21. Ah, this is perfect! I’m planning a trip to Paris this summer, and I’m looking for books/movies/music to really get me in the mood…I love the music you listed, but do you have any thoughts on the first two? Anything from coffee table books about museums to history to new films, just trying to get myself immersed and excited!

    1. Sorry to butt into the conversation: Amelie and “Ensemble, C’est Tout” are both excellent (and both have Audrey Tautou in the lead). Also, La Vie en Rose (about Edith Piaf, starring Marion Cotillard).

  22. I love this blog, first of all! As a high schooler who has taken French since 7th grade, all of the France posts are especially interesting to me! One of my current French favorites is Ben l’Oncle Soul. He sings in French and English, so I highly recommend checking out his songs! My favorite: Soulman (the French version)

  23. I am French and grew up in France listening to a whole lot of songs in Englsh. I was a fan of A-Ha, Depeche Mode, the Police, the Beatles… Since becoming fluent in English when I hear again songs I used to listen to when I was young, I often have revelations! Regularly I go “what?!, is this really what this song is about?”. Or simply just “no way”. And sometimes my husband laughs at me (he is British) saying “are you aware of what this song is about?” when I sing along songs that I think are happy because of the music and that in fact the lyrics are really “heavy” or “sad”. Sometimes it is a bit disappointing to understand the lyrics because I suppose I make my own songs, sometimes it doesn’t matter. In any case, I understand now why what is really important for me in a song is music.

    Thanks for your blog Gabrielle, I really enjoy it, it’s really good to have an insight of France and living in France from your perspective! :-)

  24. I listened to Elle m’a dit three times today; from the video I had a pretty good guess, but like a fast English song where I can’t quite make out all the lyrics, I couldn’t get all of the words (just the attitude). The song was in my head all day (mostly music but some words) after listening to it twice.

    When I looked up the lyrics I found them in French and English side by side–and I was right. He wishes his mother was dead! Well then–guess I won’t be learning all of the lyrics to that one!

    Since becoming a parent, I’ve paid a lot more attention to lyrics than ever before.

    The funny thing is, before I went to France, I was ALWAYS listening to music. I could hear the tiniest bit of a song from a distance and I would listen.

    As a missionary who could only listen to classical (over 100 years old, or I would have brought Aaron Copeland) and MoTab, and only once a week on p-day, my music listening habits changed. I stopped thinking about music all the time. Yes, I heard some music in the metro (usually American) and sometimes on the bus (I bought a Francis Cabral album as a souvenir), but I didn’t remember to put music on most p-days.

    I had become accustomed to the quiet, and seeking to hear the Spirit, and I found that I didn’t need music on ALL THE TIME anymore like I had before.

    It’s been 14 years, and I still enjoy the quiet, even in the car. I rarely put music on now, but if I do, I’ve found that I like it to be happy music. I don’t want sad music; I’m happy with life and I want the music to be happy, too.

  25. I love how they play the uncensored versions on French radio. I’d have to turn the dial really quickly whenever Lily Allen’s “F*ck You” or Cee Lo’s “F*ck You” or Pink’s “F*cken Perfect” came on. My kids learned some of the best English in France :)

  26. I am also french, and I remember my summers on the atlantic coast, where me and my sister were pretending speaking and singing in english on the beach it was something like that : “sdfdsfh ölkf oh what ? lsdf yes sdflkjsfölsj no no “, we wanted so bad to have english speakers friends ! (you know it didn’t work of course… I guess it is the accent…) I always listened to french music, so all of my friends were saying I had “goûts de chiottes” but I love the words… Now I am living in German part of Switzerland, and I am trying to make my 3 years old discover french music in our car ! She is even telling me “nooooooo not your music !!!” :-(
    Thank you for your vision of France, I really like it, you are talking about all what I am missing living here !

  27. Just for you to know, in the Mika videoclip, the elegant brunette is Fanny Ardant, famous French actress :)

  28. I grew up in Russia in the 1980s, and we would listen to a variety of music in several languages. My mom loves The Beatles, and my entire family would sing along to Charles Aznavour, Jo Dassin, Mireille Matheiu, Edith Piaf and many others. Being a Spanish teacher, my mother also listened to a lot of Spanish-language music (she still loves Julio Iglesias). Of course, there was a thriving Russian music scene, as well. In short, I grew up with an appreciation for music in general, regardless of language. When we moved to America, I discovered that I was completely wrong on the lyrics of many of the English songs that I thought I knew how to sing along to.

  29. Music really is the universal language! When I was 17, I was infatuated with a boy from Tunisia. Even though his primary languages were Arabic and French, and mine was English, it didn’t stop our admiration for one another. I remember the day he gave me a Khaled tape and told me to listen to the song Aicha Ecoute-moi. I couldn’t understand most of the words, but it was our song. Sixteen years later and I still get butterflies whenever I listen to it!

    1. Jeanette!! I was just thinking about how in high school my French class had a couple favorite French songs that we would listen to, and wishing I could remember one in particular– and this is it!! Thank you!! We loved this song :)

  30. I was a teenager in the 80s, and I loved the song 99 Red Balloons. Apparently, someone re-recorded it recently. My 12 year old explained to me that it’s about World War III! I had no idea. Talk about having no idea what the song I was singing along to was about!

  31. I wonder – do the French have a list of so-called “Mondetgreens” (when you hear something in one language and sing something along in your own or the song’s language with a totally different meaning). My daughter here in Germany,who speaks mostly German quite often coins most strange phrases whilst singing along. A List of the German “mishearers” is here

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