According to The Guardian, more and more recent French pop and rock artists have been forgoing the advantage that singing in French gives them on French radio, and have been choosing to sing in English instead. For example, all three of the bands that won the “best newcomer” award at the French Les Victoires de la Musique awards sing in English, not French.
When it comes to getting airplay on French radio, acts that sing in French have an advantage because French stations are legally required to play at least 40% French music. So, choosing to sing in English means that a French band must compete with well-known international acts for the 60% of airtime that remains. Why give up that advantage?
The Guardian article cites a number of potential reasons. First of all, singing in English may be a disadvantage when it comes to getting airplay in France, but it’s an advantage when it comes to getting international recognition. Secondly, radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as more young people across the globe turn to the Internet to discover new music. Third, French teens and young adults are both increasingly interested in English and increasingly fluent in it, so they gravitate towards music written in English.
Jim Hollington, deputy director of the British Council in France, told the Guardian that English instruction in France now begins in primary school, and teaching standards are higher, giving students a new confidence with the language. He also attributes the increased interest in English to increased travel between France and England:
“There’s major daily movement between the two countries; the UK is accessible yet different…People are stimulated by things that are relevant to their culture – they can understand lyrics. And as they get better in English, they want to sing in English.”
Plus, some of the artists just seem to enjoy the challenge of writing in a language that is not their first.
For example, Thomas Mars, who sings for the French rock band Phoenix, told the Guardian that:
“Even if it is not my first language I feel there are more unexplored territories thinking in French and writing in English, than to write in French.”