French music has the whole planet singing

Since Edith Piaf, Mireille Mathieu and Charles Aznavour, it’s been well known that French singers captivate foreign listeners. But it is a trend that is growing and includes today’s young musicians too. A question of talent… and of strategy!

French musicians no longer need to have any hang-ups regarding the Anglo Saxons. In 1993, they sold 4 million albums abroad. In 2000, the figure was over 40 million! Today we talk about units: around 28 million in recent years. This term covers singles and albums as well as sales over the internet and via mobile phones, which are giving the market a boost.

JPEG It is electronic music that has opened the way for young French artists. Daft Punk remain invincible. But the historic group is not putting newcomers in the shade, as they are proving incredibly popular internationally: Justice, Laurent Wolf, David Guetta, Joakim Air, Birdy Nam Nam and Bob Sinclar are all contributing a “French touch” that is much appreciated beyond France’s borders.

JPEG For the rest, following close on the heels of the extraordinary story of the group Gojira is a whole generation of French representatives of metal, with the likes of Inspector Cluzo, Treponem Pal, Pleymo, Empyr, One Way Mirror, Eths and Demians showing some already promising results.

And there have never been so many female ambassadors for French song: Camille, Coralie Clément, Olivia Ruiz, “La Femme Chocolat”, who has taken her country of origin, Spain, by storm… Carla Bruni has been a huge hit outside France ever since her first album, well before she became first lady of France. We can add Anggun, Rose, Emily Loizeau, Yelle and Marie Modiano too. All are having remarkable careers abroad.

The strongest singers remain top names such as Francis Cabrel, Mylène Farmer, Alizée, unbeatable in Latin America, Vanessa Paradis and Christophe Maé. And the older ones are not going out of fashion either: Jane Birkin is still a star and Charles Aznavour’s latest album is selling very well.

Over 50 % of sales are in Europe. Germany is the country where French singing is most popular, and has been for a long time. Japan is currently gaining ground fast. The Japanese are very keen on Tahiti 80, a pop group that’s not so well known at home. As for the Americans, they have become, and this is new, the second export destination for French musicians, again among those not so well known in their own country.

Even the United Kingdom, a market with a reputation for being difficult, is beginning to open up. French electro is dubbed there. World music, very popular, unclassifiable singers such as Camille or Sébastien Tellier, and even rockers such as Manu Chao, The Shoes, Nelson, Neïmo and Zombie Zombie are all well respected there.

JPEG This internationalisation is not only due to the talent of the performers but also to a skilful strategy on the part of record labels, as Sophie Mercier, director of the French Music Export Office, explains: “They’ve managed to adapt to the digital world and have gone out to find partners. They’ve developed their marketing methods”. For instance the extract New soul, by Yaël Naïm, used for the MacBook Air ad, has engendered a lot of sales, especially in the United States - over 150,000 albums and 3 million singles!

The Export Office, which has seven offices financed by the Ministries of Foreign and European Affairs, Culture and Foreign Trade, the French cultural network abroad, as well as the private sector, helps record labels to achieve these aims successfully. It is a crucial challenge: 36 % of sales are exports. It is even vital for classical music, where sales reach 50 %.

JPEG By way of example, Philippe Jaroussky sold 8,000 copies of his disk Carestini, l’histoire d’un castrat in Germany. This tenor also does many tours in Latin America and Japan. Live performance is vital and the number of concerts is soaring (up 30 % in the United Kingdom in two years). Recently, Olivia Ruiz gave a concert at the BAM Festival in Barcelona before a crowd of over 5,000 which attracted a great deal of attention. Sébastien Tellier is performing in the United States alongside the top rock groups of the moment. Asa is filling venues all over Europe, Japan and South Africa. And the international interest in Yelle is very much the result of the aura of freshness and humour at this young singer’s performances!

Sylvie Thomas

Last modified on 17/06/2009

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