Françoise Hardy: France’s girlish yé-yé star was a groundbreaking musical artist

Françoise Hardy: France’s girlish yé-yé star was a groundbreaking musical artist

Hardy shot to fame singing airy, carefree pop before she took control of her career, hung out with 60s rock aristocracy and became a sophisticated singer-songwriter of rare sensuality and melancholy

Yé-yé was France’s homegrown response to rock’n’roll: pretty young singers – almost all female – performing a lightweight Francophone adaptation of American music with lyrics about teenage concerns. And at first sight, the 18-year-old Françoise Hardy was the epitome of a yé-yé girl. She was strikingly beautiful (“I was passionately in love with her,” recalled David Bowie decades later, “every male in the world, and a number of females, also were”); she was never off the airwaves of France’s premier yé-yé radio show, Salut les Copains, and never out of the pages of its accompanying magazine. Her first hit was the suitably innocent-sounding Tous les Garçons et les Filles, a wispy take on a rock ‘n’ roll ballad.

But it transpired that Hardy was a different kind of yé-yé girl. For one thing she wrote her own material, like her idol, the black-clad chansonnière Barbara. Eschewing the gauche attempts of France’s professional songwriters to mimic American rock’n’roll or translate its lyrics, 10 of the 12 tracks on her debut album were her own compositions, written with arranger Roger Samyn. This was an extraordinary state of affairs for pop music in 1962: the following year, the Beatles – the band generally credited with cementing the notion that artists could write their own material rather than relying on cover versions – would release their debut album, with just over half its contents penned by Lennon and McCartney.

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