From sex scandal to film star – Jane Birkin at 70


The scandalous song “Je t’aime” made her world famous, but Jane Birkin also received a lot of attention as an actress. She turns 70 on December 14.Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg in L'homme qui aimait les femmes (Imago/ZUMA Press)

11 scandalous songs in Germany

“My best publicity comes from the Vatican,” composer Serge Gainsbourg once said. His song “Je t’aime,” which he performed together with Jane Birkin in 1969, stirred an uproar not only in Rome. Their erotic number was even outlawed in many countries and German broadcasters refused to play the song at times. At the time, songs about sex were often indexed.Musical Hair in 1968 (Getty Images)

Hair’s ménage à trois

The musical “Hair” enjoys cult status and fans continue to flock to theaters when it is shown. When it was presented on stage in Munich in 1968, it caused a scandal. It was claimed that in the musical, “three people were rolling around on the stage,” alluding to a ménage à trois. In response, producer Werner Schmid added a blanket to the problematic scene.Musical Jesus Christ Superstar (Getty Images/L. Burt)

Double criticism of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Christians and Jews were equally critical of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” gathering for a protest before its premiere on Broadway in 1971. Whereas some Jews saw it as anti-Semitic, some Christians felt insulted by its presentation of Jesus.Udo Lindenberg in 1979 (AP)

Udo Lindenberg’s ‘Bodo Ballermann’

German singer Udo Lindenberg’s song “Bodo Ballermann” irked a lot of people in 1976, as it contained the German verb “bumsen,” which is a crude reference to sex. Public German television even changed the text, and some broadcasters refused to play the song.Spyder Murphy Gang (picture-alliance/dpa/I. Bajzat)

Don’t call that number

In 1981, the German song “Skandal um Rosi,” the only big hit by the group Spyder Murphy Gang, attracted a lot of attention. Since the word “Nutten” (whores) came up in the text, broadcasters in Bavaria boycotted the song. Also, a telephone number mentioned in the text resulted in a lot of trouble – because it really existed. It was quickly removed from the listing, and has not been issued since.Falco (picture-alliance/dpa)

Falco’s ‘Jeanny’

Until the 1980s, music containing topics such as sex, drugs, suicide and violence was often censored. In the early 90s, far-right political songs were often censored as well. Austrian singer Falco, who was very successful with “Amadeus,” even in the US, got himself into deep trouble with “Jeanny” in 1985, as it contained a sex murder. Both the music and the video were censored.Peter Tosh (Imago/ZUMA Press)

Just say no to drugs

Peter Tosh came under fire for calling for the legalization of marijuana in his song “Legalize It.” Besides, the Rastafarian admitted to smoking pot himself. That’s why he was not allowed to perform in Munich in 1983 and his album ended up on the index.Ärzte live in the 80s (picture-alliance / Jazz Archiv H)

Incest reference banned

The German punk group Ärzte broke all records when it comes to censorship. They were not allowed to make some of their songs accessible to minors, among them the song “Geschwisterliebe” (Love between siblings) from 1987, as the text alluded to sex between a brother and a sister.Rammstein (picture alliance/CITYPRESS24)

Enfant terrible: Rammstein

Hardly any other German band is as controversial as Rammstein, which is Germany’s best-known band outside the country. In 2009, their album “Liebe ist für alle da” (Love is there for everybody) was censored in Germany. It was claimed that the band was glamorizing sadomasochistic practices and encouraging people to have unprotected sexPussy Riot (picture alliance / dpa)

Political arrests in Russia

On February 21, 2012, four masked women stepped in front of the altar of a Moscow cathedral. In an improvised concert, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot screamed out its anger against President Putin. Despite international protests, the four women were sentenced for being rowdies. German politicians also called for their release, and in December 2013 the last remaining activist was released.}

Jane Birkin became not only famous, but also notorious for her song “Je t’aime.” It remained her only international hit. Actually, the text written in 1967 by composer and chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg wasn’t really meant for her in the first place. Gainsbourg originally intended the piece for his former romantic interest Brigitte Bardot, hoping he could produce it with her. Bardot did record the song, but then, out of consideration for her husband Gunther Sachs, asked Gainsbourg not to release it.

Scandal around ‘Je t’aime’

Jane Birkin und Serge Gainsbourg (Imago/ZUMA/Keystone)                             Their song “Je t’aime” shocked many listeners

Serge Gainsbourg was then more successful with his lover and later wife Jane Birkin. They’d become a couple by 1969, touching the hearts of audiences with their groanings and moanings. However, not all listeners were pleased. To some, their orgasm in the form of a song was a scandal, and in numerous countries, the song ended up on the index. During the course of the song, the initially tender “Je t’aime” escalates into an unmistakable groaning.

Even those who didn’t speak French definitely got the message. Particularly provocative was the text, “Je viens,” and Gainsbourg singing “I go like an erratic wave, coming between your loins,” was equally obscene in the ears of radio listeners and program producers. Many broadcasting stations, especially in Britain and Germany, boycotted the song.

But in spite of that – or maybe because of it – more than a million records were sold within a few months, making Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin famous overnight. Birkin was in her early 20s when she moaned “Je t’aime, moi non plus” into the microphone. She became a sex symbol of the 1960s and 70s although she later claimed not to have identified with that image – although it certainly didn’t do her career any harm.

Birkin’s career as an actress

Jane Mallory Birkin was born in London on December 14, 1946. In the late 1960s, she went to France where she still lives in the Bretagne, in the vicinity of Saint Pabu. She started her career as an actress and in 1967 she was awarded a Palme d’Or in Cannes for her performance as a photo model in Michelangelo Antonio’s cult film “Blow Up.”

Serge Gainsbourg französischer Schauspieler (picture-alliance/dpa)

Birkin owes her career as a singer mainly to Serge Gainsbourg. She lived with him until 1981. Their daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg followed in her mother’s footsteps as an actress and a singer.

Jane Birkin has three daughters from three different men: Charlotte Gainsbourg, the photographer Kate Barry, and actress and singer Lou Doillon. Kate Barry’s father is Birkin’s first husband, John Barry, who composed the music for James Bond films. Kate Barry died three years ago after having fallen out of a window. Lou Doillon’s father is Birkin’s third husband, director Jacques Doillon.

Serge Gainsbourg wasn’t only a womanizer, but also a drinker, and Jane Birkin left him in the early 1980s. Despite their breakup, they continued to sing together. When Gainsbourg died in March 1991, French newspapers called Jane Birkin “Gainsbourg’s widow” in their headlines. Gainsbourg devoted his last album “Amours des Feintes” to her.

Birkin’s new partner, Jacques Doillon, helped her get some important roles in the 1980s, so that she could make a mark as a serious actress. She played in more than 40 films, among them the erotic film “Egon Schiele – Excess and Punishment” in 1981.

Birkin Bag des französischen Labels Hermès (Getty Images/AFP/M. Fedouach)The “Birkin Bag” was designed on the basis of Jane Birkin’s own sketches

The perfect Birkin bag

In 1984, the Paris-based fashion designer Hermès personally created a bag for Jane Birkin based on a designed that was sketched on a flight from New York to Paris. Birkin had met the chairman of Hermès, complaining to him about an Hermès bag that she thought was too small. The two of them then scribbled a design on a napkin that served as a model of the first Birkin bag collection.

After the death of Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin first wanted to end her career as a singer, but changed her mind. These days, Birkin doesn’t perform quite as often as she used to, since she has suffered from an autoimmune diesease since 2012. And she still grieves the death of her daughter Kate, who fell out of a window of her Paris apartment at age 46. The police found anti-depressants in her apartment. Reacting to that shock, Birkin totally withdrew from public life for an entire year.

Paris Modenschau Prêt-à-porter Yves Saint Laurent Lou Doillon, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin (picture-alliance/AP Photo/T. Camus)Jane Birkin with her two daughters Lou Doillon and Charlotte Gainsbourg

Nowadays, Birkin is a frequent guest at the film festivals in Cannes and Locarno. In Switzerland, she received a Golden Leopard for her lifetime achievement. While Jane Birkin doesn’t intend to play in new films, she is working on a new album right now.

“One day, I noticed that Serge was deeply inspired by classical music,” she wrote on her website. And that inspired her to have his songs be accompanied by a symphonic orchestra. This year, she went on tour with that project. The album “Gainsbourg Symhonique” is set to be relased on March 24, 2017.