BA Latin and French

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Protest Music in France

Course unit fact file
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 changing expressions of ‘protest’ in French popular music from the 1950s to the present, with an emphasis on four articulations of masculinity: the avuncular chanson singer-songwriter Georges Brassens; the versatile provocateur Serge Gainsbourg; the aggressive  rap group NTM; the queer newcomer 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, ethnic and sexual 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, live and video performance, 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/or podcasts, and the coursework.


Not free choice on UG programme, but available as a free choice unit (in its ‘enhanced’ formula) for students on the MA in Modern Languages and Cultures


  • To know and recognize major music artists of 20th- and 21st-c. France, and understand their cultural meaning (success, prestige, 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, intellectual and aesthetic 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). 


Teaching and learning methods

Some of the lectures for this unit will be delivered online.

Knowledge and understanding

  • To know major music artists of 20th and 21st 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).
  • To disseminate legitimate findings to both a general and specialist audience (via music review, podcast, scholarly essay)

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 music culture in contemporary France. 


Practical skills

  • Reading, writing and speaking fluently in sophisticated French; likewise in English. 
  • To structure, research and write an essay individually;
  • To prepare, record and upload an individual audio or audiovisual podcast 
  • To carry out independent research; 
  • To participate in class discussions in French and English

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • 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. 
  • Use a recording software (e.g. VoiceThread, Audacity). 
  • 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

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

Music Review or Podcast - 30%

Coursework Essay - 70%


Feedback methods

  • Formative, individual, in-class oral remarks on students’ participation and understanding. 
  • Specialist IT support for students choosing to record podcasts
  • Formative, individual written comments on the students’ draft outline for their music reviews and coursework. 
  • Summative, individual written comments on the music reviews and podcasts. 
  • Further individual, face-to-face feedback on the coursework if desired, by appointment.
  • And finally, summative and individual written feedback on the coursework.

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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