Françoise Hardy, the Yéyé Period

Françoise Hardy passed this 11th of June at the age of 80, leaving an enormous legacy behind. In the early 1960s, she was one of the frontrunners of the yéyé wave that swept France. That being said, her relationship with the movement was not always easy.

Some talented artists become synonymous with their era, while others, perhaps equally talented, just fall short. Françoise Hardy undoubtedly falls into the first category. The " Message personnel " singer’s encounter with the yéyé movement was as mysterious and miraculous as love at first sight, particularly in the absence of hints to her propulsion to such stardom - with respects to this scene in particular. Right up until her first success, she had been pursuing her quiet ambitions with passion and commitment, but without the gratuitous commercial exaggerations conventionally associated with the making of a star. But isn’t this understatement central to her appeal? With her intriguing mix of shyness and exuberant emotionality, Françoise Hardy may just have unconsciously set up an ingenious system ensuring exceptional popularity.

The singer’s love affair with music began at the age of 12. Between her compulsive buying of sheet music and records, and her passion for radio (she discovered rock’n’roll and country music on Radio Luxembourg), she became an inveterate music fan always on the lookout for the latest releases. Her tastes ranged from Jacques Brel to Paul Anka, Elvis Presley and even Georges Guétary. A precocious child, Françoise Hardy passed her baccalaureate at the age of 16 before enrolling at the Sorbonne to study German. Since she was two years ahead of her time, she justifiably devoted more time to her passion than to her studies. She practiced her guitar assiduously (given to her by her father for her baccalaureate), composed songs and auditioned for record labels. She first applied to Pathé-Marconi, and although she was not hired, the experience allowed her to hear her voice recorded for the first time. At around the same time, she enrolled at the Petit Conservatoire de Mireille, which enabled her to make her first television appearance on ORTF, on the 6th of February 1962. Through this ongoing ball of auditions, she finally landed Vogue - who had just signed another young singer, and her future partner, Jacques Dutronc. Following her arrival at the label, Francoise Hardy was set up to record her first EP by Jacques Wolfsohn, one of its artistic directors.

According to specialists of the genre, yéyé emerged at the end of 1961, alongside the beginnings of twist. The marketable term was coined in opposition to the French " chanson à texte " of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Les Trois Baudets. The trend, which lasted up until the advent of pop in the mid-1960s, refers more specifically to French songs adapted from English-language hits. In 1963, the sociologist Edgar Morin coined the term " yéyé " in reference to the singers of these hits (as well as their many fans). Among the artists emblematic of this trend were Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Richard Anthony and Les Chats Sauvages, who were regularly featured on Europe 1′s Salut les copains programme, the print version of which (distributed from 1962 onwards) was famous for its photography by Jean-Marie Périer. Here, we meet Françoise Hardy, who became the photographer’s companion, muse and, by necessity, one of the yéyé movement’s pivotal figures.

Things thus began to move very quickly for the singer: in April 1962, she recorded the EP Tous les garçons et les filles; on the 5th of June, she appeared again on the small screen as part of the Petit Conservatoire, after which the record was released to great success (2,000 copies sold in three months). Sales skyrocketed in the autumn of the same year, thanks to its appearance on ORTF on the 28th of October 1962, with all of France then glued to their television sets, waiting for the referendum results on the election by universal suffrage of the President of the Republic. Following this success, Vogue decided to release an LP, which would include tracks from the initial record with eight new songs. This prompts the observation that, while Françoise Hardy may be one of the symbols of the yéyé movement, she has always been somewhat free of its codes. Firstly, this is because her repertoire is not just made up of covers, far from it, and secondly because she leans more towards melancholy, and therefore to ballads and slows far removed from the frenzied rhythms generally associated with yéyé music (even if the movement notionally encompasses all genres). The songs on this now legendary album include one of her biggest hits, " Tous les garçons et les filles, " as well as gems like " Je suis d’accord, " all written entirely by her.

Françoise Hardy’s androgynous looks made her an occasional model for famous photographers and fashion designers: she’s been dressed by Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne, whose metal dress remains a conversation piece. She was also sought after by film-makers like Roger Vadim (Nutty, Naughty Château), Jean-Daniel Pollet (A Bullet Through the Heart), John Frankenheimer (Grand Prix) and Clive Donner (What’s New, Pussycat?). Like the other idols of the era, Françoise Hardy was more than just a singer, she was a role model for the baby-boomer yéyés. In Gaullists France, whose morals were about to explode, the young generation was, from the beginning of the 60s, in search of a certain kind of freedom that Françoise Hardy brilliantly embodied.

In October 1963, she released a second album entitled Le premier bonheur du jour, featuring a song written by Jacques Dutronc ( " Va pas prendre un tambour " ), and covering Paul Anka ( " Avant de t’en aller " ) and Burt Bacharach ( " L’Amour d’un garçon " ). A year later, she followed this up with Mon amie la rose, recorded in London with English musicians and arrangers. Hardy wrote all the lyrics except for those of the eponymous title track, written by Cécile Caulier. In autumn 1965, she released La maison où j’ai grandi, with lyrics by Eddy Marnay and Jacques Lanzmann, and music by Ennio Morricone, André Popp and Adriano Celentano. This record’s very cosmopolitan credits were proof of Françoise Hardy’s success abroad, particularly in Great Britain, Germany and Italy. In 1966, she even recorded an album for the anglophone market, written entirely in English, which included eight adaptations of Hardy’s French-language hits. Despite her countless hits, Françoise Hardy recently admitted to considering her early recordings as disappointments. Could this constitute a dismissal of her yéyé period - a movement which has notoriously lacked good press in lieu of its overly formatted aspect? This being said, she does acknowledge the talent of many of the artists from that period. Be that as it may, her 1967 album Ma jeunesse fout le camp marked a first turning point away from, and definitive farewell to a movement which had certainly contributed to her success, but with which she had always maintained an ambiguous relationship.