Poupée de cire, poupée de son

One of the most famous yé-yé singers of the 1960s, France Gall, was born on October 9, 1947 in Paris. Both of her parents were connected to the music world. Her father encouraged her to audition for Serge Gainsbourg’s producer in 1963, before she’d even celebrated her 16th birthday. Gainsbourg began to write for her and the hits started coming. Soon every lyricist wanted to write for Gall. It was hard for the young girl to make her choices heard over the powerful personalities that surrounded her. The songs were all tarted-up children’s songs, based on adult perceptions of what interested teenagers.

Every year, European countries pick singers to represent them in the Eurovision Song Contest – and the singers don’t have to be from that country. In 1965, Luxembourg chose Gall. (I totally don’t get that countries pick singers from other nations.) Gall chose to sing a song written by Gainsbourg, “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” (pooh-pay duh seer pooh-pay duh sohn), which means “Doll of wax, doll of sound.” Even though the song itself was booed in rehearsals, and Gall’s performance was not her best ever, she won the Grand Prix.

Like all Gainsbourg songs, the lyrics had a double-meaning – this one was about how the people who sing pop music are hardly in a position to be role models to the teens who look up to them. But they were innocent compared to the double-meaning in the blatantly sexual subsequent song “Sucettes.” When the penny eventually dropped, Gall felt used. She no longer performs the Gainsbourg songs nor will she talk about those days.

After this, all of her songs were looked at askance. Were they innocent or was France Gall being inappropriate again? She recorded a series of strange songs under Gainsbourg’s guidance – anti-drug, anti-death penalty. Gall was lost in the limbo-land between childhood and adulthood and her career was foundering. She began to record in Germany, where she had more success than she had for a long time.

In 1973, she asked Michel Berger to write for her. Their musical collaboration led to a long and happy marriage. Gall began to appear in musical theatre, including the immensely popular Starmania, with music by her husband and words by Québécois writer Luc Plamondon.

She continued to do some recordings, along with live performances. Some of the big ones were “Évidemment,” a tribute to Daniel Belavoine, and “Ella, Elle l’a,” a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. Berger died of a heart attack in 1992 and Gall was treated for breast cancer the following year, which ended her performances for a while. She officially retired in 1997 and keeps active with various charitable projects.

Évidemment: The Best of France Gall

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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