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Evil twin? La poétique de la dualité chez Serge Gainsbourg

Abstract : This paper examines the poetics of the ‘evil twin’ in Serge Gainsbourg’s work, demonstrating the ways in which the artist has engaged musically, lyrically and metaphorically with notions of reflection, echo, mirror image and alter ego. As evidenced by the famous interview of himself ‘Gainsbourg by Gainsbarre’, broadcast in 1989 on French television, Gainsbourg loved playing with the idea of a double persona, allowing him to foreground his devious or hostile ‘self’. Using a variety of songs, this paper introduces the various lyrical and musical devices that gave shape to this interest. These include the melodic dichotomy of « Les p’tits papiers »; the harmonically subtle symmetry of « Ford Mustang »; the inventive and virtuoso play on phonemes in « Chez les yé-yé », « Elaeudanla Teiteia » and « Chez Max coiffeur pour hommes »; the ironic and distorting duplication of « La Marseillaise »; the poetic reminiscences and musical echoes of « Initials B.B. ». Through these and other examples, we show that the artist created deceptively simple songs, whose multi-layered nature is revealed by his use of diverse vocal gestures (in timbre and intonations), his playful and provocative tunes, and his talent for connecting together unexpected, witty and meaningful rhymes. In some cases, Gainsbourg’s engagement with the twinning process also extends, rather problematically, to the « evil » practice of plagiarism, but above all, these examples show that sonic duality was one of Gainsbourg’s most consistent stylistic features. Paradoxically therefore, his musically diverse output (which seemed to change with each new album) achieves a coherence in its repeated engagement with duality. This paper explores this theme further by turning to dualities in Gainsbourg’s star persona, from the infamous presence of ‘Gainsbarre’ to the problematic couple of « proxénète » (the artist or songwriter as pimp) versus « tapineuse » (female singers or songs themselves, described as streetwalkers), a metaphor he often referred to in interviews in order to describe himself and his work. Our reflection on Gainsbourg’s numerous dualities finally reveals broader tensions about being a singer-songwriter in 1960s and 1970s France. As Gainsbourg so powerfully illustrates, French artists of those decades had to find their way through two coexisting yet antagonistic popular music ‘worlds’, one domestic (so-called « chanson française ») and the other foreign (so-called « rock anglo-saxon »). Standing at that very crossroad, Gainsbourg found an idiosyncratic way to deal with opposite pulls.
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Contributor : Catherine Rudent <>
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Evil twin La poétique de la d...
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  • HAL Id : halshs-02501910, version 1


Catherine Rudent. Evil twin? La poétique de la dualité chez Serge Gainsbourg. Serge G. An international conference on Serge Gainsbourg, Apr 2018, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-02501910⟩



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