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Nouvelle Chanson: Wikis


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Nouvelle Chanson[1] or 'New Chanson' is a recently coined buzzword used to define a new style of music emerging in France, one which takes clear inspiration from the forefathers of French Chanson (including Jacques Brel, Barbara and Charles Aznavour), albeit in an updated style. However, the principal influences appear to be the more avant-garde artists including Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Fontaine, Juliette Greco and George Brassens. Principal French exponents of Nouvelle Chanson include artists such as Benjamin Biolay, Emilie Simon, Keren Ann, Francoiz Breut, Olivia Ruiz, and Camille. The term Chanson Nouveau is also used, and as a developing genre, there is considerable disagreement even in France about who belongs in this genre and how it is to be described.[2]

Well-known contemporary English speaking artists who might also be termed New Chanson, in that their musical style is clearly traceable from this same Chanson lineage can be seen in artists such as New York based Rufus Wainwright, his sister Martha Wainwright (who recently reprised Barbara's song 'Dis, Quand Reviendra Tu?' - [3], Regina Spektor (showing French influence in songs such as 'Apres Moi' and 'Ne Me Quitte Pas'), CocoRosie (originally American, now Paris-based) and London-based singer-songwriter Ana Silvera.[4]


Characteristics of Nouvelle Chanson

Nouvelle Chanson, whilst influenced by the forefathers of French Chanson (cited above) has developed through modern influences such as rock and electronica. There is a tendency for theatricality and the adoption of personas, alongside intensely poetic lyrics incorporating surreal and metaphorical elements. Wry, intelligent humour is also often prevalent. However the defining characteristic of Chanson, both old and new, is that it focuses on the French language as vehicle and instrument. There is an emphasis on craftsmanship with many of the artists classically trained and/or having studied music academically (cf. Benjamin Biolay studied at the National Conservatoire, Lyon[5], Emilie Simon studied musicology at the University of Montpellier[6], Ana Silvera has performed with the English National Opera and Royal Opera House[7] and Ezra Axelrod studied composition and opera at Middlebury College[8]) giving an intellectual aspect that sets this style of music apart from other genres such as pop, rock and 'anti-folk'.

Subgenres of Nouvelle Chanson

Nouvelle Chanson artists could be divided into the following genres:

Trip-Hop/Electronica influences
Emilie Simon and Francoiz Breut belong in this group, and probably also Camille even though she uses few electronic effects.
Updated Traditional Chanson
The second group seek to refine traditional Chanson, usually accompanied by a solo guitar or piano. This includes Anais (Croze) and Pauline Croze
Bossa Nova and Samba influenced musicians include
Olivia Ruiz, Coralie Clement, Benjamin Biolay, Emily Loizeau, and Les Blaireux.
Nouvelle Vague
Artists such as Cibelle and Amel Bent are examples of the chanson form with Latin and/or African influences.
Keren Ann, Vanessa Paradis, and Les Blaireaux represent the chanson form mediated through pop/rock sensibilities.

Literary And Artistic influences

Nouvelle Chanson takes its inspiration artistically from Dada and Surrealism. Lyrically, inspiration is also drawn from fairy tales, contemporary poetry, and magical realist literature. It is also theatrical, and draws on the adoption of various personas.




  • Françoiz Breut — her voice is often referred to as 'moody' or 'smoky'.
  • Amélie-les-crayons — is one of the longer-established artists in this genre, but whose work has only recently attracted international attention.
  • Camille (Dalmais) — referred to as the 'French Bjork' on account of her experimental style.
  • Emilie Simon — her music is theatrical and atmospheric, her voice generally a fragile child-voice.
  • Keren Ann — is a singer originally from Israel, now living in France, who also performs mostly in English, though her work is strongly associated with the New Chanson movement.
  • Nouvelle Vague — a duo who add various guest singers, their first album was considered Bossa Nova, but they have recorded in a huge variety of styles, even including covers of middle-of-the-road and easy listening tracks.
  • Anaïs Croze — her approach is personal, humorous, and folksy.
  • Benjamin Biolay — is closely associated with Keren-Ann and his sister Coralie Clement among others.
  • Coralie Clement — is the sister of Benjamin Biolay, who is prominent in the movement and also works with Keren Ann.
  • Emily Loizeau — the instrumentation is similar to Olivia Ruiz, sounding rather eccentric to an Anglo audience.
  • Jeanne Cherhal — has recently emerged with an unusual, usually acoustic, style.
  • Pauline Croze — has a style which is close to traditional French Pop and Chanson, or to Folk.
  • Olivia Ruiz — the main instrument seems to be a ukulele. Humour is an important part of her approach. "What's yours is mine", she sings on La Petite Voleuse ending with relish "and what's Mine is Mine, too".

Note: Outside France, there are a number of artists who, although perhaps not Chanson artists as such, seem to fit in with the movement and to demonstrate an affinity.


  • Ana Silvera — her lyrics draw inspiration from literary work and are complex in style. She also covers the work of Jacques Brel, and Barbara, a nod to the forefathers of Chanson.
  • Ezra Axelrod — originally from the U.S., this London-based composer reinvents the chanson realiste in a contemporary, personal vernacular with sparse musical arrangements and vivid narratives about marginal characters.[9]
  • Cibelle — (originally from Brazil, now a resident of London) has recently come to attention with her prize-winning second album, The Sound of Dried Electric Leaves, which includes songs in Spanish, English, and French, in a wide variety of styles.
  • Imogen Heap — whilst coming from a rock perspective is influenced by poets, such as Sylvia Plath.


  • Ane Brun — is visibly attempting to reach out to the ordinary person with a sincere, subtle, and metaphysical music based around daily life.
  • Anna Ternheim — has a more traditional folk style and sings complex songs, often focusing on relationships. Songs: "My Secret", "Halfway to Fivepoints".
  • Emiliana Torrini — is an Icelandic performer. Her work has artistic and avante aspects and she has associations with both Trip-Hop and Nouvelle Chanson.


  • (Leslie) Feist — (originally from Canada, now resident in France) came to international attention through her song "1234" which was used to advertise the iPod nano.
  • CocoRosie — is an unclassifiable duo from Canada. Originally formed in 1996 and now resident in France and performing again, these two sisters can be very experimental, incorporating into their music the sounds of toys and other unusual effects.


Artists such as Rufus Wainwright, Regina Spektor, and Antony Hegarty could be classified as "Nouvelle Chanson". Their work is usually highly literary and employs classical techniques as well as utilizing the waltz style.



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