Francoise Hardy – Icon or Shy Musician?

Im not sure why but i seem to be drawn to those mis-understood or mis-interpreted musicians who always get stereotyped under a frustrating banner like Lennon ‘The Hippie’ and other such things. They were often never what their labels suggest or were perhaps more elaborate than even that which might even pose an idea no one considered of them such as Lennon as an Historical figure. So when a few months ago I talked of ‘Lennon. Musician or Historical Figure?’; it was sort of a one off thing but there many others that relate to Lennon’s external and internal conflicts if perhaps not with the same severity. One of these is Francoise Hardy. She is much of the same ‘era’ as Lennon and with her early career, she was often labelled as the cute, shy and timid French girl from down the street. Yet despite this she is often hailed as a cultural icon; well beyond the realms of music with international stardom and at one time she was even considered an ‘Ice Queen’.

She often jokes that her shyness was because she was born during an air raid warning while Paris was still in the clutches of Hitler and the Nazi Regime. She was brought up by her mother alone and her father was often very distant while her grandmother was often very harsh towards the young Francoise; often calling her ‘an ugly creature’. Attending an all girl convent hardly helped her confidence but it was the start of her writing and music career. She would often write in the solitary enviroment of the convent. Amazingly it was her distant father who bought Francoise her first guitar and she would later attend the Petit Conservatoire de Mireille which was a famous singing school that was often televised in the 60’s. On one of these occassions she is filmed being grilled by her teacher: Mirielle Hartuch with the poor Francoise timidly replying “oui madame” on every response. She would go on to release her first single (Tous les garçons et les filles ) which would feature on her successful debut album. With this she was taken in by Jean-Marie Perier: a photographer who would later become her boyfriend. He changed her image and in the long term turned her into a style icon though she still always seemed a little timid and never really willing to deal with the international fame she would get in being adored by boys in the same way girls adored the Beatles. She did all this though with great class and sophistication and always wished to focus on the music rather than acting or modelling which she could have easily pursued fully. Usually someone as undeniably beautiful as her would do her best to exploit it and more. But she had the humility and probably the shyness to disregard all that. Today not many musicians do and are often forgotten in their own flash of controversy they created.

As a vocalist she wasn’t particularly powerful or different in a technical sense. However she does have a very warm, emoitional and at ease vocal that is very kind to the ears and often translates across the language barrier. Other songs such as ‘Le Temps de L’amour’  or ‘Une fille comme tant d’autres’ have a certain musical class and effortlessness that many of her fellow French Yé yé didn’t have with their subtle and minimalistic guitar riffs, with the bass as the driving force and soft sounding organs and percussion.

But in that sense she could also very easily bring these qualities into singing in a variety of languages. She was already adored in Britian without ever needing to sing in English but she achieved much success in doing so with songs like ‘All over the world’ which was much more of a swooning love song but it showed she could go beyond the Yé yé rock style. It was in the U.K where her icon status won over that of the timid French girl. She was often invited by the Beatles for dinner or to just ‘hang’ and Mick Jagger cited her as his ‘ideal girl’. She always said she felt more freedom and less pressure in the U.K as she didn’t have such a strong image painted on her and that it was people like Jagger who helped her overcome her timid personality. However it was perhaps her shyness that kept her away from the drugs that her British contemporaries were experimenting with and this is perhaps why her music is a much more gradual progession of decades rather than the sudden explosion of creativity The Beatles experienced. Her choice was further reinforced when she went to see Bob Dylan at a 1967 concert. He was out of tune and playing terribly. He went off stage and said he would only return once Francoise had went to see him backstage. She was very shocked at the state he was in at that time saying “I was shocked by how he looked. He looked very sick. I have a tendency to see  things in black, so I said to myself, “He’s not going to live very long!”’ So even when she was on friendly terms with some of the worlds biggest musicians, she would still shy away from their lifestyle and it always shone through. While some of them, like George Harrison; had reinforced that side of her personality with his similar demeanour.


She certainly needed such a personality when working with Serge Gainsbourg who wrote her 1968 single Comment te dire Adieu? which certainly had a more mature style to it and by then she had decided to stop touring and began to focus more on her music and in creating the music she wanted rather than fitting into a certain style. Songs such as ‘La question’ were much more vocally and lyrically driven as were songs such as ‘Message Personnel’ were often very more atmospheric and anthemic too and while often not selling in the same way she had in the 60’s; her songs from the 70’s are often just as or more valued for their musical consideration and Francoise’s developed vocal ability. Her album ‘Star’ was a great commerical success too and saw her picked up by a new generation of fans who weren’t born or were very young when she started out. Though she would make on and off returns she is still very much valued as a musical legend today. Not only in France but around the world. Her work with Iggy Pop and Blur in 1990s show her value amongst another generation (mainly with Blur!). They featured her on the song ‘To the End’ and she is still releasing music today and though it may not be of the same standard of her material from the 60’s and 70’s; those decades now are indications of her age and when those like McCartney are from a distant standard from what they used to be then it puts it into perspective. With that she has sort of embraced Francoise Hardy the icon a little more as perhaps she can’t ignore it. In a 2011 interview with John Andrew she said “The word “icon” – that’s sometimes used about me. I don’t recognise it. It’s as  if you’re talking about someone else” and it shows how she is still very uncomfortable with it and her solitary attitude is still there from the young and attractive teenager who released her debut single in 1962. She suggested in the same interview that “I feel happy and secure when I’m on my bed with a good book…I forget everything  which is terrible in our world.”

So with that in mind it’s hard to label her as either but it’s much easier to say that neither label would exist without the other. It was her shy and timid personality and of course her humble yet natural beauty both visually and vocally that translated through the laungage barriers better than other French musicians of the time. In fact she sounds better singing that way in French than she would ever do in English in my opinion. Even if you can’t understand what she is saying you get a feel for it with her emotive vocals. You don’t need to translate ‘Tous les garcons’ to realise it’s about lonliness and being alone while everyone else has someone. These shy and timid vocals are even something I can relate to as a teenager in 2013 as many have done before. This is what fundmentally made her an icon as it could be understood above her style and fashion sense. However it was the iconic status which she lived out in the U.S and the U.K that often turned her back to being the shy and timid character and today both sort of exist in unity but for sure you should appreciate both and the legendary musician it made her.


  1. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker
    who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch because I discovered
    it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this issue here on your site.


  1. […] Francoise Hardy. Photo from ‘Music and other thingz‘ […]

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