The realistic song is a musical genre appeared in France at the beginning of the xx th century , and popularized during the interwar period by mainly female performers like Frehel , Damia or Edith Piaf .
The recurring themes of his songs deal with dramatic subjects marked by a certain darkness, often inspired by the everyday life of the Parisian neighborhoods . Their characters are generally prisoners of their misery, of their social condition (bass), of their love passion …

Realistic singers


Aristide Bruant is certainly the inventor of the realistic song. Shortly after the appearance of Émile Zola’s literary naturalism during the 1890s, in his cabaret in Montmartre , he sang in slang language the tragic life of the urban working class born of the Industrial Revolution , the Apaches and the lost girls. . But, very quickly, the realistic song becomes rather a feminine specialty. From 1908, it was Damia and Fréhel , singers with a powerful voice (like Bruant) who triumphed playing, living their songs as real tragedies.

After the First World War, Mistinguett became the queen of the magazine rhinestones and sequins. Richly adorned with jewels and ostrich feathers, she sang the joy of living in the City of Light, her dream of marrying a millionaire, and so on. Thus, if the realistic song likes to describe the life of the workers, Mistinguett , by contrast, sings the beginning of the consumer society.

In 1945, Bourvil writes the lyrics and interprets Les Crayons . This parody takes up many of the tics of the realistic song of that time. She tells the story of an unfortunate story of an orphan of Ménilmontant selling pencils and postcards on the fly and who is seduced by a bourgeois who grows and abandons him, his child will suffer the same “fatal destiny”.

And after the second world war sees an ever greater success for Edith Piaf and the beginnings of Juliette Greco , both rising on stage completely dressed in black in the manner of Damia . In 1954, in Paris, opens the future temple of the realistic song right bank (which will be opposed to cabarets left bank proposing a less popular song, with sometimes jazzy rhythm, more intellectual, even poetic): the Olympia where Jacques Brel will forge more late his legend. Subsequently, the realistic song integrates the more modernist influences of a Charles Trenet or a Georges Brassens through the works signed by Charles Aznavour , Barbara(“the brown lady”), Renaud , Jean-Jacques Goldman , etc. Today, French rap can be considered as the direct heir of the realistic song (stories of thugs told in their language, popular milieu, tragic destiny, violence, etc.). The repertoire of Stromae may owe him a lot too.

Main Interpreters

  • Aristide Bruant
  • Damia
  • Frehel
  • Yvonne George
  • Marianne Oswald
  • Edith Piaf
  • Jacques Brel
  • Berthe Sylva


  • Mano Solo
  • Renaud
  • Bénabar
  • Juliette
  • Corbier
  • Christina Goh
  • Allain Leprest
  • Jean-Pierre Riou
  • Damien Saez