“Oui mais moi, je vais seule par les rues, l’âme en peine,” Françoise Hardy sang at the tender age of 19, “Yes but I, I walk the streets alone, the lost soul,” with a voice that, despite her age, carried the painful loneliness of a woman twice, three times her age. Her debut song “Tous les garçons et les filles,” (“All the boys and girls”) skyrocketed her to stardom in the early ’60s. A star at the forefront of French pop culture, Hardy quickly cemented her status as an enduring French icon.
While her prolific career spans decades, it is her first album, Françoise Hardy, released in 1962, that I can’t help but return to as we enter a new year. At 19 years old, unsure of my direction or purpose, struggling to lay claim to family roots that I feel undeserving of, I take comfort in Hardy’s songs. In a sense, I see myself in the coquettish, knowing gaze on Hardy’s album cover. There’s a subtle, undeniable reassurance in Hardy’s songs. As she sings of memories, desires, grief beyond her age, my own self-doubt seems less foreign.
Being as soul-searching and melodramatic as I am, however, is by no means a prerequisite to enjoy Hardy’s music. While an undeniably aged quality runs like a current beneath her flowing lyrics, she was a young girl, too. Playful flirtation, romantic daydreams and bright, animated singing are also trademarks of Hardy’s style. Her rise to fame came on the crest of the 60s Yé-yé wave, dominated by young female pop singers with playful songs, often featuring risqué innuendoes and suggestive undertones. Hardy eventually grew beyond the pop wave, but her earlier music, especially her 1962 album, captures the mischievous, tongue-in-cheek style of the Yé-yé fad.
I stumbled upon Hardy in an attempt to achieve the impossible: to master the French accent. In part, my ambition was born from stubbornness. When someone tells me I can’t do something, my knee-jerk reaction is to do it anyway. It’s why I spent a year learning Korean, why I spent hours locked away practicing scales and classical excerpts, why I own a Lebanese cookbook and why I wear my hair short, curly and ferocious.
French, however, was a brutal foe. After weeks, months, years of garbled vowels and choked “r’s,” I decided my saving grace would have to be a return to the basics. After all, how does a child learn to speak? By listening. It was in the depths of Spotify that I stumbled across Françoise Hardy. A giant in her own right, but unfairly hidden in the digital stacks of Spotify.
I learned French alongside Hardy. Dancing in my kitchen to the bounce of Hardy’s playful “Oh oh chéri,” or rainy days spent to the lonesome heartbreak of “J’ai jeté mon cœur,” to listen to Hardy is to feel all at once young and ancient, experienced and naive, French or simply a woman of the world. A tad dramatic? Maybe. But the French have always had a flair for show-biz, and my own French roots resurface from their sequestered slumber as I listen to the songs of that fateful debut album.
Rolling into the new decade, it felt fitting to indulge in a bit of nostalgia and take a return to both musical and cultural roots. Hardy remains a steadfast, entertaining partner. A bit somber and a bit childish, Hardy’s music is a good reminder to strike a balance between the obligations and demands of the coming years, and the joy of being young –– in spirit and in heart, not just inexperience and frivolity. Time and time again I find myself returning to my “Paris, France” playlist, filled with Hardy’s voice and ethos (lots of Yé-yé). Hardy’s allure, for me at least, is more than just a baseline of good music, or the celebration of adolescence. At the end of the day, it is simply refreshing to hear a voice that echoes my own life and experiences so well. A song-bird that reflects the turbulence of my own youth and naivety, and the (sometimes) stifling maturity required to try to figure out your entire life out at nineteen.
I, too, hope for “Le jour où je n’aurai plus du tout l’âme en peine / Le jour où moi aussi j’aurai quelqu’un qui m’aime,” “The day that I will no longer be a lost soul/ The day that I, too, will get someone who loves me.” Maybe Hardy will be able to help me arrive at this fateful day sooner rather than later –– for now, I’ll be content with a familiar voice ringing in my ears, translation unnecessary.
**Translations taken from: https://lyricstranslate.com