In the summer of 2019, I went on a week-long school exchange to Lyon. After landing back in the gloomy U.K., I wistfully scrolled through the songs I had Shazamed and collated whilst in Lyon, et voilà (that’s French for ‘I’m a pretentious twat’), the playlist was created. Allow me to walk you down memory lane…
Volare (Nel Blu di Pinto di Blu) – Gipsy Kings
I’m aware that this is an Italian song.
My French exchange partner and I were walking to a pizza stall; the sun was setting, the scenery was gorgeous, and the golden-hour light cast our shadows on to an amber wall behind us. Her eyes lit up with an idea, and she quickly took her phone out and played this song. The beginning is slow, and I was confused, but she wordlessly told me to trust the process as she held a finger up. ‘Dance!’, she said, as the joyful chorus erupted, so that’s what we did – embodying Harry Headbanger’s spontaneous personality. She filmed the movement of our lively shadows, so that memory is forever cemented in this song, and in her Snapchat history.
Tous les garçons et les filles (Slow) – Françoise Hardy
This one’s a heart-breaker. Once again, I discovered this one thanks to my exchange partner (she has taste, I’m telling you). She put it on as we were playing Cards Against Humanity in her garden with her best friend; it was a sunny afternoon, and we were perfectly shaded under the parasol. Part-way through the song, her friend absent-mindedly said, ‘Oh, that’s sad.’ And sad it is, though you wouldn’t think it. It sounds like a light-hearted 60s love song you can sway along to, but the singer herself won’t be swaying with anyone, as she croons melancholy lyrics such as: ‘But I, I walk alone, for no-one loves me.’ Give it a listen if you want your heart strings pulled.
Djadja – Aya Nakamura
Here, we did a full 180, to quote the wise Dua Lipa. Far from classic, pretty tunes, we now venture into the domain of pop/dancehall. The TikTokers among us may recognise the artist; it’s the very one who sang the viral audio that was Pookie. My perception of Djadja was warped from it transforming from the inside-joke of our French A-level class (when doing assemblies about why we chose French, we blasted this song from speakers in the hall, because 1) our French teacher was oddly fond of it and 2) our language assistant hated it) to a firmly established summer tune of France. It was actually released in 2018, so the fact that it was played at a sesh we had a year after its release, is testament to the raw power of its infectious beat. I dare you to listen to this absolute bop without moving.
Ta reine & Balance ton quoi – Angèle
The memory I associate with the first song is when our French and English crowd were walking to the métro, and one of the girls began humming Ta reine. Next thing you know, three of them were unabashedly singing it; a chaotic rendition of one of my favourite songs at the time. Its lyrics, speaking of a forbidden love through a fairytale metaphor of royal relations in society, are sublime. As for Balance ton quoi, the song was a hot topic in the Francophone world, owing to its links to #BalanceTonPorc – the French equivalent of the #MeToo movement -, and the upbeat song smoothly calls out misogyny with its catchy melody. Whilst I was staying, my exchange partner had some family friends over, and one of them, roughly our age, stated that she thought the Belgian singer ‘was surfing on the wave of feminism’. Yet, whilst I agree that profiting from the feminist movement is at the very least morally dubious, it is on my playlist because I think the pros outweigh the cons: the song shot to fame, topping the charts in France, Romandy and Wallonie, which ensured that its hard-hitting lyrics reached those who needed to hear them.
I Like It – Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin
We’d all just spent the day swimming at one of the exchange students’ houses, and we were at a bus stop with time to spare. Someone played this iconic bop and everyone started rapping along, dancing as if nobody was watching, because no-one was. When we eventually got on the bus, we were all on an adrenaline high, so you can imagine the chaos that ensued when a huge insect began flying around; there were screams, seats hurdled over, bags thrown, and, eventually, it left us alone. I don’t blame it, to be honest.
Sauver ma peau – Brigitte (not Bardot)
To finish off this brief selection, this song is one I Shazamed while we were driving to the Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport, marking the end of an incredible stay. This song has exactly the same vibe as Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees (albeit with a slightly faster tempo), and with its lyrics speaking of moving on from a worthless lover, it makes me imagine a heroine at the end of a rom-com, marching down the street à la Marty from Madagascar. You too can channel this energy and sashay down the street like our favourite animated zebra – it’s everyone’s dream, right?
Cover photo & image: Ellee Su