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BA English Language and French

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Protest Music in France

Unit code FREN30001
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by French Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit examines different expressions of ‘protest’ in French popular music from the 1950s to the present, with an emphasis on four male artists: the chanson singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, the versatile provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, the gangsta rap group NTM, and the queer artist Eddy de Pretto. After introductory sessions on popular music theory and the cultural significance of the notion of ‘protest’ in 20th-century France, the course locates each artist, their songs and critical reception, in their historical, ideological, social and ethnic context. The lectures gradually incorporate the notions of ‘authenticity’, ‘prestige’, ‘performance’, ‘stardom’, ‘gender’ (especially masculinity) and ‘ethnicity’, in order to critically evaluate the success of these artists in France. In seminars, we focus on specific songs in an interdisciplinary manner, combining the analysis of primary material (lyrics, music, performance in videos and concerts, interviews), with the close reading of secondary texts (academic  criticism). Every two weeks, the seminars also offer methodological guidance for the completion of the music reviews and the final exam.



  • To know and recognize major music artists of 20th-c. France and understand their cultural meaning (their success, their prestige, their legacy);
  • To reflect critically on the notions of ‘authenticity’ and ‘protest’, and the values of high/low culture, words and music, live and mediated performance;
  • To analyse popular songs semiotically and to situate the success of singers in a clear historical and intellectual context, using an interdisciplinary methodology;
  • To understand and use appropriate concepts for the analysis of popular songs (critical theory, performance, gender, identity, production, reception, etc).

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to… (see below)


Week 1. Introduction: the study of chanson and the paradox of protest in France

Weeks 2-3: Georges Brassens and protest as anti-Establishment

Weeks 4-5: Serge Gainsbourg and protest as provocation

Weeks 7-8: NTM and protest as minority expression

Weeks 9-10: Eddy de Pretto and queer protest

Weeks 11-12. Revisions, feedback on the music reviews, mock exam in class, final feedback.

Methodology sessions for the music reviews and the exam are interspersed throughout the semester.


Teaching and learning methods

  • Three weekly hours in class for 11 weeks.

  • A blend of lectures and seminars.

  • Voluntary individual and group presentations on key songs and artists.

  • Further one-to-one consultation on demand.

  • Useful web links and revision materials available on Blackboard.

Pre-requisite units:  None, but note that this course unit is delivered in French.


Knowledge and understanding

  • To know major music artists of 20th-c. France and understand their meaning in French culture;
  • To analyse popular songs and singers in an interdisciplinary manner;
  • To appreciate the paradox that anti-Establishment values can have vast commercial success and legimitate recognition;
  • To use and understand appropriate concepts for the analysis of popular songs (critical theory, performance, gender, identity, production, reception, etc).

Intellectual skills

  • To define and manipulate concepts and methodologies mainly drawn from Cultural Studies;
  • To understand popular music as a semiotic system making sense through lyrics, music, star image, critical discourse, audience reception, and so on;
  • To evaluate critically the notions of ‘cultural identity’ and ‘national culture’;
  • To analyse and critically evaluate the construction of a national popular music culture in contemporary France. 

Practical skills

  • Reading, writing and speaking fluently in sophisticated French; likewise in English.
  • To structure and write an essay individually, or as part of a team;
  • To carry out independent research;
  • To participate in class discussions in French and English.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  •  Engage in independent reflection and enquiry.
  • Analyse sources and cultural meaning, and provide a synthesis of their findings.
  • Carefully formulate a research question, and structure an answer in a logical manner.
  • Write in formal French and/or English.
  • Participating in group discussions in French and English
  • Engage in group discussion.
  • Work as part of a team.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Oral communication
The course will have particular benefits for students interested in pursuing a career in teaching and learning, (music) journalism, social services and diversity, as well as qualitative data analysis. The course enhances skills of analysis, synthesis, oral presentation and written reporting. The course content also encourages students to reflect upon the world outside of University, thereby providing confidence in the use of rigorous academic research in a variety of non-academic environments.

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit

1 music review (by coursework)

1,500 words

30% (submitted via Turnitin in Week 9)

1 sat exam

One essay (choice of questions) in 2.5 hours




Assessment task


1 coursework

3,000 words


Feedback methods

  • Formative, individual, in-class oral remarks on students’ participation and understanding.

  • Formative, individual written comments on the students’ draft outline for their music reviews.

  • Summative, individual written comments on the music reviews.

  • Further individual, face-to-face feedback on the coursework if desired, by appointment.

  • Formative, individual, written feedback on the mock essay (week 12).

  • And finally, summative and individual written feedback on the final exam.

Recommended reading

There is no set text to buy for this course unit, but key recommendations include:


Béru, Laurent. ‘Le rap français, un produit musical postcolonial ?’, Volume, 6 (1/2), 2007, 61-79

Bourderionnet, Olivier. ‘Brassens, Gainsbourg : contemporains ? Métamorphoses de la chanson au cœur des Trente Glorieuses’, Contemporary French Civilization, 30 (1), 2006, 91-116.

Dauncey, Hugh and Steve Cannon (eds). Popular Music in France from Chanson to Techno (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

Looseley, David. Popular Music in Contemporary France: Authenticity, Politics, Debates (Oxford: Berg, 2003).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Barbara Lebrun Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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