A child of the 80s, I grew up with new wave music. I loved it then, and I love it even more now.
When I attended junior high in the early 90s, my first French teacher started every class by playing a few songs from one of her old records for us. Most of the stuff on heavy rotation was awful (I remember hearing this particularly terrible song about 8,000 times), except for Indochine. I loved them despite the fact that my hopelessly dorky teacher did, too.
A few years ago, I rediscovered Indochine on iTunes, and I found myself again adoring them.
Over the past year or so, a question repeatedly occurred to me: who are the other icons of French new wave? Surely Indochine must be just the tip of a vast and mighty iceberg. Yet the only other quasi-new wave French song I had heard apart from the Indochine catalogue is Ça Plane Pour Moi. I began a quest for the other gems that heretofore never made their way across the Atlantic to my American ears.
What I discovered is that, sadly, there are not many gems after all. Whereas the 80s were a time of utter magic for American and British music across several genres, the era did not seem to treat the French nearly as well, at least in terms of pop. I did copious digging to find French new wave and cold wave songs that stand the test of time and sound as great today as they did back then. Unfortunately, most of what I listened to was tepid at best; banal, outdated, and embarrassing at worst. (Though the videos – and dancing and fashion therein – were often pitch-perfect, highly enjoyable parodies of themselves. Case in point.)
But I did find five songs that I truly love, which I hereby present for your listening (and viewing) pleasure. Continue reading
A compendium of the French music that has been introduced to me over the course of my twenty years (on and off) of studying the language:
My first year of French, in eighth grade, the teacher would start each class with a few songs from one of her French albums. She played them on an actual record player, which is how I know it really was a long time ago. Indochine is the only music I still remember from that year. I loved it because it took me on a nostalgic trip back to the new wave of my 80’s childhood, but at the same time it was completely new and catchy to me. Call me crazy / 47 years old, but I do really think Indochine makes good music.
Here’s the album my teacher would play for us. My favorite song was and still is “Tes Yeux Noir (scroll forward to 35:47):
Diam and Koxie
In grad school I took a French class after ten years without formal – or really, any – study. For one looong and humbling semester I endured the snarky looks of barely-adult undergrads who had no patience for my halting mangled French. I made friends instead with the one other grad student (who also spoke much better French than I did – I was the worst in the class by a long shot). The one favor those haughty undergrads did for me was to introduce me to Diam and Koxie, both woman rappers of immigrant ancestry. At a recent Meetup I learned from the Togolese guy that Diam wears the hijab now and has stopped making music. Perhaps the two things are related, perhaps not – I leave that to you to Google if the spirit moves you.
At another recent Meetup, Kery James was another French rapper recommended to me:
And at yet another one, I was told to listen to MC Solaar:
And just for fun, since this has become a list dominated by French rappers, here’s a song from the (highly derivative) Busta Flex album I bought pretty much at random the year I studied abroad in Ireland and spent a day in Paris on spring break:
For good measure, a beautiful / spunky / easy-to-follow-even-if-you-speak-terrible-French song that Emmanuel sent to me, by Françoiz Breut:
What do you think?
(Photo of Indochine doing the we-can-still-rock-in-middle-age thing: Laurent Breillat)