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The History of French Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (1/29/13)

The pop music of France is not as widely familiar around the world as the music from other European countries, although the influence of French music can still be felt internationally. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication have a dramatic impact on the the music that gets promoted in France. The national music charts, published by Francophonie Diffusion, tend to lean toward French music, but also usually include American and European hits. One of the top artists from Paris, France is David Guetta, who has emerged as a leading house artist and DJ/producer internationally in the 21st century. Some of his big hits include "When Love Takes Over," "One Love" and "Gettin' Over You."

The roots of French popular music trace back centuries to French folk and opera music. Two specific styles that shaped the development of sophisticated French music were ars nova and ars subtilior. One of the most popular classical pieces from the country was "Carmen," composed by Georges Bizet. Another timeless composer was Jean-Baptiste Lully.

A stringed instrument commonly used in French music over many centuries has been the hurdy gurdy, which resembles a violin. Bagpipes and fiddles also helped shaped the sound of traditional French music. Many people are commonly mistaken that the "French horn" is from France, when it actually originated in Germany. Since France occupies parts of Canada in the eighteenth century, its influence can still be felt there, as well as places like Louisiana, which the French held until the early nineteenth century.

The development of chansons, which are non-religious lyrically rich songs sung in French, grew over many centuries, and have become engrained in the culture. Jacques Brel emphasized chansons throughout his career. Although born in Belgium, he became a French superstar from the early 1950s through his death in the late seventies. Most of his recordings were sung in French. His musical career had a big influence on international artists such as David Bowie and Rod McKuen. He was also an actor in motion pictures.

France was influenced by American rock and roll. Johnny Hallyday was one of the top French rock and rollers of the 1960s, but his popularity was mostly limited to France and Quebec. One of his biggest hits in the early sixties was a cover of the American hit "Let's Twist Again" by Chubby Checker. Other Hallyday hits included "Que Je T'aime," "Mon Plus Beau Noël" and "Always." Bridget Bardot also emerged as a French actress/model/singer from the fifties through the seventies. Some of her hits included "Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plaît," "Je Reviendrais Toujours Vers Toi" and "La Madrague."

The song "Dominique" by The Singing Nun became the first and only number one song in American history sung in French, although the singer was originally from Belgium. French lyrics have also appeared in other worldwide hits such as "Tour de France" by Kraftwerk in the eighties. In 1968 the Beatles global hit "All You Need Is Love" opens with the French national anthem called "La Marseillaise" written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

In the 1970s, as disco permeated throughout Europe, leading disco artists from France that affected the American charts were Patrick Hernandez, Santa Esmeralda and Cerrone. One of the most popular hits of the disco era in 1979 was "Born To Be Alive" by Patrick Hernandez. Other disco acts that didn't go as far internationally were Dalida and Sheila & B Devotion. British new wave influenced France in the eighties, although most of the French new wave acts such as Les Rita Mitsouko and Niagara are not well known outside of France. Eurodance music planted the seeds to house music, in which Daft Punk has been a powerhouse act since the early nineties with hits such as "Da Funk" and "One More Time." In 2011 France ranked number 5 in music sales around the world, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

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