Beyond Brassens: Twenty-first century Chanson and the new generation of singer-songwriters

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This article considers the relevance of the notion of generation for the study of cultural shifts in the production and critical reception of singer-songwriters in contemporary France, in the period 2005-12. Defining a generation as an age cohort sharing socio-cultural characteristics and patterns of socialisation, it focuses on Camille, Benjamin Biolay, La Grande Sophie, Barbara Carlotti and other singer-songwriters who were all born in the long 1970s, and who achieved notoriety and success in the period in question. It demonstrates that the traditional discourse of chanson, dominant since the 1950s, defined by literariness and embodied by Georges Brassens, is being replaced by an emphasis on seduction, Anglophilia and multi-instrumental sophistication. Although these features have been central to the compositions of a number of older singer-songwriters, including Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy and Alain Souchon, the deployment by today's critics of the notion of generation helps to give superficial coherence and symbolic originality to the younger artists who uphold these values and techniques. As a result, and because the music reviews referenced in this article are extracted from high-brow magazines (including Télérama), this article also considers the changing place of chanson in the elite discourse of contemporary France. © 2014 Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-175
Number of pages16
JournalModern and Contemporary France
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2014


  • generation; chanson; singer-songwriters; music journalism; Télérama ; emotion


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