Regardless of whether or not you actually have a Valentine’s Day date, it's the time of year where relationships and love seem are inescapable. And that’s okay. Love is great and should be celebrated. Nevertheless, it's also complicated more often than it isn’t, and as a result, we turn to music for some sort of guidance or release. This playlist of French–language love songs, both from France and abroad, may just be what you need. After all, French is widely–known as the language of love, so perhaps these songs have some sort of secret key for which we have all been searching. Even so, they’re the perfect soundtrack a for night of crying, celebration, or a bit of both.
Track 1: “Hymne à l’amour” (Édith Piaf)
Would this even be a playlist of French love songs if Édith Piaf wasn't included? No, no it would not. In fact, there are two. However, “Hymne à l’amour” (“The Hymn to Love”) is highlighted partially because “La vie en rose” is so ubiquitous and partially because it's so good. As she sings about an eternal love, Piaf embodies a mix of tragedy yet hope alongside lyrics about forsaking the entire world for the object of one’s affections. Though others have covered the song since Piaf, there’s just something about the way her voice swells over the rising instrumentals that evokes a nostalgia for the refreshingly unknown.
Track 5: “C’est l’été, c’est l’été, c’est l’été” (Félix Dyotte, Evelyne Brochu)
Longtime Québécois collaborators Félix Dyotte and Evelyne Brochu come together on this track to remind us all just how wonderful an established love can be. “C’est l’été, c’est l’été, c’est l’été” (“It’s Summer, It’s Summer, It’s Summer”) is filled with the kind of lilting melodies that make it all too easy to disregard the lyrics, and become immersed in the song's ambiance. To ignore the lyrics, however, is to miss out on the truly lovely meandering days of a summer love. There is neither drama nor frantic passion in the words Dyotte and Brochu sing. Rather, they are simply meditating on the simple pleasures of a relationship, finding beauty in the mundane.
Track 9: “Ne me quitte pas” (Jacques Brel)
Like Édith Piaf, Jacques Brel is one of those artists who would be difficult to omit from a playlist of French love songs. The Belgian singer, songwriter, poet, actor, and director is considered a master of the modern chanson—a revival of the type of lyric–driven French song popularized in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. From its mournful strings to its sparkling piano line, “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”) tells the story of a love that’s already over and the sheer desperation of denial. It’s sad yet determined, resigned yet resilient. It’s the kind of song that almost hurts to listen to, but it leaves you with a sense of catharsis when it's over.
Track 10: “Je pense à toi” (Amadou & Mariam)
Amadou & Mariam is a Grammy–nominated duo from Mali, made up of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. Champions of the “Afro–blues” genre, their music combines guitar and vocal arrangement, traditional Mali sounds, Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets and other musical traditions plucked from around the world. “Je pense à toi” (“I Think of You”) is a refreshingly frank declaration of love. Amidst the bouncy and fun melodies, lyrics such as “Quand je suis dans mon lit, je ne rêve qu’a toi / Et quand je me reveille, je ne pense qu’a toi,” (“When I’m in my bed, I dream only of you / And when I wake, I think only of you”), provide the straightforward proclamation of love that we all secretly yearn for, even if we don't know what to do if it ever arrived.
Track 13: “Je veux” (Zaz)
“Je veux” (“I Want”) is perhaps one of the less orthodox choices on this playlist. Isabelle Geffroy, more commonly known as Zaz, is a French singer–songwriter who combines a variety of genres, from jazz to French variety and soul, and who is known for her uniquely sublime voice and similarities to the beloved Édith Piaf. “Je Veux” has become her most popular song after going viral in the early 2010’s, and it's not your typical Valentine’s Day number. Not quite about the love of another person or the relationship you may share with them, it begs the question: is this song even about romance at all? Instead, “Je Veux” is an anthem about loving the concept of Love. Zaz sings of romantic love, self–love, and, most of all, love for our surroundings. She praises forsaking material goods in favor of the true freedom that comes with loving the world around us, making it perhaps the best kind of song for this time of year.