I was watching this video while practicing my listening comprehension, and was struck by the fact that the girl refers to music as variété and this is widely understood to refer to music by everyone she interviews. I had always called music....la musique. I thought it was easy...

Yet after looking it up in three multilingual dictionaries, this is not how the term variété is translated.

Is this slang, or am I missing something? What is variété generally understood to mean?

4 Answers 4


Variété is short for Musique de variétés and is a common word (albeit not often used by young people) to refer to popular music.

Wiktionnaire has that definition.

  • I should really go to Wiktionairre first. I know this and yet maybe I subconsciously avoid it because it's in all French and slightly challenging to read-- I usually have to go look up the words in the definitions, too. Apr 11, 2016 at 15:40

To add to Fatalize's answer I would say that 'variété' has come to designate older music by French artists, such as the music of Claude François or Alain Souchon. A similar term is "la chanson française".

  • I think "older" needs to be defined here. Doc Gyneco famously said "Classez-moi dans la variét'" not that long ago (or I will feel very old)
    – drolex
    Apr 11, 2016 at 10:06
  • I would definitely not consider Doc Gyneco's music as variété. Variété would apply to music older than that, like 30 - 40 years ago or more.
    – ortis
    Apr 11, 2016 at 10:34
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    I disagree, Variété can definitively be recent. les enfoirés is typically variété for instance. And Variété internationale refers to popular music from other countries, so considering variété as old french music is definitively wrong. I would say variété is basically any music that is not rock/jazz/classic/rap/electro.
    – Mijamo
    Apr 11, 2016 at 11:15

"Variété" can indeed be used to refer to French songs (Variété française), but first and foremost, it's the French equivalent of "variety" : "Une variété de légumes" ou "Il n'y a pas beaucoup de variété", which of course refers to options. So "la variété française" is nothing more than "Une variété de chansons françaises". As for "variété française", it can also refer to TV shows : "Les émissions de variétés", same structure as "Les chansons de variétés".

I suggest you simply take a look at the French-English translation of "variety" : http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/francais-anglais/vari%C3%A9t%C3%A9


The expression "Variétés" had originally been invented in the 1960s to designate various kinds of popular music such as crooner songs, jazz, rock'n'roll, pop music, modern or traditional french songs, "musette" and so on...

By the way, all kinds of sound makers not able to play music in an academic sense were called "artistes de variétés". In that way, the word "music" was clearly reserved to academic music, this means classical music, needing a high level of knowledge and ability: In fact, it is a little bit funny to use the same word "musician" to mention both someone who can play any piano partition from Liszt or Chopin and some little bimbo who hardly knows what a chord is, who cannot really sing or play correctly any classical part, and who wouldn't be able to say why, when there's one # on the score, it is always an F#....

For those reasons, French journalists of the past used to make a distinction between "musique" and "variété". But don't be afraid: in France too, today, any 18-year-old singing bimbo, whom you can only hear through a big amplifier, is called a "musician"! Isn't it funny?

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange! Thanks for the informative answer. Apr 11, 2016 at 16:32
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    This answer would be better if it was more informative about language and less of a diatribe about certain kinds of noises made for pleasure and entertainment. Apr 11, 2016 at 20:03
  • Il ne s'agit pas d'une simple diatribe, cher Gilles, mais de l'exposé des faits, si amer soit-il pour ceux qui, sans le mériter, prétendent au titre de "musicien": La voyante ne se dit pas prophétesse, et le rebouteux ne prétend pas être médecin: Ainsi, il serait bon que les chanteurs de salle de bain aient l'humilité de ne pas se parer du titre de "musicien"...
    – BBBreiz
    Apr 11, 2016 at 21:09
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    J'ai simplement pris un exemple un peu caricatural pour éviter d'avoir à décrire longuement une catégorie -il est vrai- plus générale.
    – BBBreiz
    Apr 12, 2016 at 12:30

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