Love comes in many forms.
Requited, unrequited, painful, familiar.
Ill-advised, scandalous, messy.
There’s even the kind of love that causes you to make impractical and questionable life choices.
Songs in French are great for all those moods.
The truth is, if you want to experience the wealth of French-language love songs out there and you only go for the ones that are about ideal, lovey-dovey times, you’re absolutely missing out.
Plus, it’s just bad planning to only stock up on songs that are appropriate for listening to with a partner over a romantic dinner! (Though of course that’s a completely fine and valid use of your Spotify playlist if you’re into that sort of thing.)
So whether you’re looking to impress a special someone, wallow luxuriously in your unluckiness in love or just privately bask in the warm fuzziness of your most recent crush, we have the music you’re looking for.
How Love Songs Can Focus Your French Studies
Now, if you happen to be a French learner or someone who’s considering acquiring the language, it gets even better, because as it turns out, love songs have specific applications when it comes to learning French. So let’s briefly look at how exactly they can help you.
- By helping you practice your personal pronouns. Love songs are often directly addressed to another person, which makes them great for practicing personal pronouns, specifically first-person and second-person (often informal) ones. Keep an eye out for your tus and your tois (second person informal “you” as subject pronoun and stressed pronoun) as well as your jes and your mois (same, but “I” and “me”).
- By helping you practice your tenses. By its nature, love sharpens your perception of past, present and future. What fond memories of a past love are you remembering now? Will you use the imperfect to describe everything you and your beloved used to do? When you’re in love, you only want to think about the present. If you hope that the person you love loves you back, you can’t stop imagining your future. These tendencies are reflected in love songs in general, and that includes love songs that are in French. You’ll be able to find plenty of examples in the songs below.
- By helping you practice your possessive adjectives. Possessive adjectives, or possessive pronouns, are, no surprise, words that indicate possession. Possessive adjectives are often used to show your relationship to another person, such as in ma petite amie (my girlfriend). Possessive adjectives may also be used in love narratives in a variety of other ways, such as when reflecting on the searing gaze of tes yeux (your eyes).
In short, learning French with love songs is a great method because it helps you master tricky grammar topics through immersion.
Looking for even more immersive French practice? Look no further than FluentU. FluentU is an interactive video platform that turns real-world French content into language-learning experiences. FluentU provides access to authentic French movie trailers, short films, news clips and—of course—tons of great songs and music videos.
Each FluentU video comes equipped with interactive subtitles in French and English, so you’ll never miss a word in the lyrics. Plus, you’ll find a full audio transcript, a list of vocabulary words and a customized “learn” mode for each video so you can practice and review. It’s a great way to turn your music listening sessions into opportunities for language practice. Check out the free trial!
Okay, enough with the grammar. Let’s get to the good stuff.
10 French Love Songs for the Lovelorn, Romantic and Dramatic
Here are some fantastic love songs that any French learner or lover should have queued up, regardless of relationship status or situation.
“Le passé” (The Past) — Aya Nakamura
This danceable number from Aya Nakamura is about letting bygones be bygones in a relationship. The chorus states le passé, c’est le passé (the past is the past). The speaker in the song implores her lover to return to her while presenting an argument that they’re destined to be together:
T’as pris mon cœur
T’as pris ma tête
Tu m’as rendu dingue, dingue, dingue
Elles veulent t’avoir, mais t’es à moi, à moi
You’ve taken my heart
You’ve taken my head
You’ve made me crazy, crazy, crazy
Take me far away
They (female) want you, but you’re mine, mine
Whether you find this all romantic or think the person in the song’s ex should be filing a restraining order, it’s pretty catchy.
Note: Speaking of possessives and possession, it doesn’t get much more direct than saying t’es à moi (“you’re mine,” and more literally, “you are to me”). This is a good example of how the preposition à, which usually means something roughly like the equivalent of “to” in English, can be used to indicate possession.
If you’re looking for more from Aya Nakamura, check out “Djadja,” a chart-topper that hit number one not just in France, but also Romania and the Netherlands. It was the first Francophone song to hit number one on the Dutch charts since Stromae’s mega-hit “Alors on danse” (So We Dance).
“Je ne peux vivre sans t’aimer” (I Can’t Live Without Loving You) — Alex Beaupain
If you’re looking for French love songs, why not go directly to the guy who wrote the songs for the musical film “Les chansons d’amour” (literally “Love Songs”)? Alex Beaupain is a longtime collaborator of Christophe Honoré, a French director who makes weird arty films but nevertheless managed to cast the major star Catherine Deneuve (who has in fact been doing weird arty films since Luis Buñuel’s 1967 “Belle de Jour”) in his 2012 release “Les Bien-aimés” (Beloved).
In this song, which Deneuve sings in “Les Bien-aimés” and which Beaupain performs in the video above, the speaker bemoans being unable to stop loving someone while also being unable to be with that person:
Tu n’es plus là, rien n’a changé
Le problème est le même tu sais
Je peux vivre sans toi, oui mais
Ce qui me tue, mon amour, c’est
Que je ne peux vivre sans t’aimer
You’re no longer here, nothing has changed
The problem is the same, you know
I can live without you, yes but
What kills me, my love, is
That I can’t live without loving you
Yeah, it’s a massive bummer. But something about Beaupain’s songwriting makes even the deepest heartache feel cozy. Many of his songs, a lot of which appear in films (I’m partial to “Les chansons d’amour” myself) aren’t exactly happy, but have a way of making you feel oddly grateful to be alive and able to experience love in the first place.
Beaupain also has a special way of combining a casual affectation with a tight song structure. In this song, the tidy internal rhyming between words like problème (problem) and même (same) along with how he ends lines with conversational phrases like tu sais (you know) and oui mais (yes but) makes the delivery feel both effortless and unexpected.
“Comme moi” (Like Me) — Edith Piaf
It seems like everyone always mentions “La Vie en Rose” (Life in Pink) as the go-to Edith Piaf song, and sure, it’s great. But “Comme moi” is my favorite song of hers by far. It’s classic Piaf, a classic love song and classic French—grand, soaring, unapologetically over the top.
In the song, Piaf paints a dramatic picture of a woman comme moi (“like me”) awaiting and imagining the arrival of her lover:
Peut-être qu’à son cœur
Elle épingle une fleur
Et puis regarde l’heure
Et pense à son amour
Aux yeux de son amour
Aux bras de son amour
Perhaps to her heart
She pins a flower
And then looks at the time
And thinks of her love
Of the eyes of her love
Of the arms of her love
Of course, if you’re into Edith Piaf, you should check out not only her other songs, but the 2007 film “La Vie en Rose,” starring Marion Cotillard as Piaf and the brilliant Sylvie Testud in a supporting role.
“Et si” (And If) — Shy’m
Here’s a slicker, more contemporary example of a French pop song. This song reflects on the riskiness of love and the emotions that come along with wanting to abandon oneself to it:
Étrange cette envie de te dire ce que je ressens pour toi
Au plus fort de mes désirs de ce cœur qui bat pour toi
Moi qui ne dévoile que si peu, à mi-voix, à petit feu
Strange, this want to tell you what I feel for you
At the height of my desires this heart beating for you
Me, who only reveals so little, softly, slowly
Note that mi-voix literally means “half-voice” and à petit feu in cooking terms is “over low heat.” If you like this song, check out Shy’m’s “Si tu m’aimes encore” (If You Still Love Me).
“Mon amour, mon ami” (My Love, My Friend) — Marie Laforêt
Now we get into one of my favorite subgenres of classic French love music: Creepy French love songs. This one by Marie Laforêt, which proclaims a special love for a particular someone, has an obsessive and delightfully weird quality about it:
Toi, mon amour, mon ami
Quand je rêve c’est de toi
Mon amour, mon ami
Quand je chante c’est pour toi
Mon amour, mon ami
Je ne peux vivre sans toi
Mon amour, mon ami
Et je ne sais pas pourquoi
You, my love, my friend
When I dream it’s of you
My love, my friend
When I sing it’s for you
My love, my friend
I can’t live without you
My love, my friend
And I don’t know why
The lyrics to this song are extremely simple and the tune is so easy to get stuck in your head that you’ll probably be humming it in no time. And it’s obviously chock-full of first-person and second-person pronouns.
Fun fact: This song appears in the François Ozon film “8 femmes” (8 Women), which is a musical murder mystery, and it matches the tone perfectly.
“Ne me quitte pas” (Don’t Leave Me) — Jacques Brel
The abject heartbreak in this song, a classic by the Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel, is apparent from its title. As in the Nakamura song at the beginning of the list, the speaker in this song is imploring a beloved to stay and arguing for letting the past go, only the tone here is decidedly more desperate:
Je ferai un domaine
Où l’amour sera roi, où l’amour sera loi
Où tu seras reine
Ne me quitte pas…
I will make a domain
Where love will be king, where love will be law
Where you will be queen
Don’t leave me… (etc.)
In this song, the future simple tense, which allows for emphasis on a second-syllable vowel in words like ferai and sera, gives these declarations of love a weighty, stately feel.
It seems criminal not to mention that Nina Simone did an absolutely gorgeous cover of this song. Yes, you can hear her American accent—actually, though, if you can hear her accent you probably already have a pretty good idea of what standard French pronunciation sounds like. But also, most learners of second languages have accents, standard pronunciation itself is kind of a scam, listening to this beautiful version of the song won’t hurt you and you can decide for yourself how important it is to shed your native accent when speaking French. (End rant.)
“Proverbes” (Proverbs) — Jacques Dutronc
From Jacques Dutronc, erstwhile singer of more rollicking numbers like “Cactus,” comes this rich, folksy love ballad. While it’s not exactly creepy, at least not to the extent of the Marie Laforêt song above, it has a deep, devoted quality about it that sounds almost mournful but also assured. Here, the speaker in the song talks about how he doesn’t believe the more cynical (or realistic, depending on how you see it) sayings about love that people recite and he believes the woman he loves will return to him.
Judge this man’s intentions and mental state for yourself:
Ils disent que
Tout ce qui brille n’est pas or
Il faut se méfier de l’eau qui dort
Mais toi la nuit tu es ma flamme
Je veux que tu deviennes ma femme
They say that
All that glitters is not gold
Still waters run deep
But you at night are my flame
I want you to become my wife
This is a normal marriage proposal, right? Il faut se méfier de l’eau qui dort, which is sort of an equivalent of the English “Still waters run deep,” is more literally like “You must be suspicious of sleeping water,” which may not scan as well here but still sounds quite poetic (and a bit more negative than the English).
As you can see, this song is actually great for learning French proverbs, because Dutronc mentions several.
“Je t’aime trop tôt” (I Love You Too Soon) — Vendredi sur Mer
It’s easy to beat yourself up when relationships don’t work out. The truth is, a lot of the time, you have very little control over other people’s perceptions in a dating or getting-to-know you situation. But we all like to believe that little things like the nuances of timing, gestures and words are crucial. (And to be fair, sometimes they are.)
This song by Vendredi de Mer, a.k.a. Charline Mignot, a fascinating Swiss artist known for what might be described as experimental lounge-pop, or as she puts it, “delicate rap,” describes the experience of letting “Je t’aime” (I love you) slip too soon:
J’ai dit “je t’aime” trop tôt
Je sais pas ce qui m’a pris
Elle m’a tourné le dos le reste de la nuit
I said “I love you” too soon
I don’t know what came over me
She turned her back on me for the rest of the night
This song uses the passe composé (compound past) with phrases like J’ai dit (I said) and Elle m’a tourné le dos (She turned her back on me) to describe something that happened at a particular point in the past.
To hear more from Vendredi sur Mer, check out her album Premiers émois (First Emotions).
“Non non non” (No No No) — Camélia Jordana
This one is fun, I promise. Camélia Jordana, who came to fame after appearing on a music competition show, Nouvelle Star (New Star) and who has collaborated with Alex Beaupain (above) on the song “Avant la haine” (Before the Hate), put out this delightful track about not wanting to do anything when you’re pining over someone:
J’veux juste aller mal
Y a pas de mal à ça
Traîner, manger que dalle
Peut-être qu’il reviendra
I just want to feel bad
There’s nothing bad about that
Hang around, eat nothing
Listen to Barbara
Maybe he’ll come back
You get the impression that he’s probably not coming back, but the short, playful lines in this song give it an irresistible, punchy aesthetic.
Note that Y a pas here is short for il n’y a pas (there isn’t, there aren’t).
There’s been some debate about whether Écouter Barbara refers to listening to Barbara Streisand (who would arguably be “Barbra”) or the French singer known only as Barbara.
“Quelqu’un m’a dit” (Someone Told Me) — Carla Bruni
Like with the Dutronc song above, the narrator in this song by Carla Bruni brushes off the negative things people say about life and chooses to focus on just one positive:
Pourtant quelqu’un m’a dit
Que tu m’aimais encore
C’est quelqu’un qui m’a dit que tu m’aimais encore
Serait-ce possible alors?
But someone told me
That you still loved me
Someone told me that you still loved me
So could this be possible?
This is a very fun song to sing along with, and the mouthful of contractions you get here can make you feel very accomplished at French pronunciation and comprehension. Incidentally, this song helped Camélia Jordana (above) launch her career when she sang it on Nouvelle Star.
The artists above give you a great glimpse into the world of Francophone love songs, past and present, and if you explore them in more depth, you’ll only find more beautiful music that tugs on your heartstrings.
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