Je t’aime… moi non plus – Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin / French Lyrics and English Translation (2023)

Je t’aime… moi non plus is a duet song made famous by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. It has been hailed (and derided) as the most erotic song of all time. French lyrics, the best English translation and analysis of the song’s popularity and controversy after the jump.

When this song was first released it was denounced by the Vatican and banned in the U.S. for its simulated orgasm sounds. I believe this song cemented French men’s reputation as excellent lovers, and it remains one of most famous French songs of all time. The simple lyrics simply can’t be appreciated without listening to the track – so please give the song a listen before you read the lyrics and translation below.

Now, let’s looks at the lyrics, translation and vocabulary first, then I’ll go into more detail about the fascinating history of this song, which was originally recorded with Serge Gainsbourg and his then-lover Brigitte Bardot.

French English
Jane: Je t'aime, je t'aimeJane: I love you, I love you
Oui je t'aimeOh yes, I love you
Serge: Moi non plusSerge: Me neither
Jane: Oh mon amourJane: Oh my love
Serge: Comme la vague irrésolueSerge: Like a vacillating wave
Je vais, je vais et je viensI go, I come and I go
Entre tes reinsInside of you
Je vais et je viensI come and I go
Entre tes reinsInside of you
Et je me retiensAnd I hold myself back
Jane: Je t'aime, je t'aimeJane: I love you, I love you
Oh oui, je t'aimeOh yes, I love you
Serge: Moi non plusSerge: Me neither
Jane: Oh mon amourJane: Oh my love
Tu est la vagueYou are the wave
Moi, l'île nueI'm a desert island
Tu vas, tu vas et tu viensYou go, you come and you go
Entre mes reinsInside of me
Tu vas et tu viensYou come and you go
Entre mes reinsInside of me
Et je te rejoinsAnd I'm joining you
Je t'aime, je t'aimeI love you, I love you
Oh oui, je t'aimeOh yes, I love you
Serge: Moi non plusSerge: Me neither
Jane: Oh mon amourJane: Oh my love
Serge: Comme la vague irrésolueSerge: Like a vacillating wave
Je vais, je vais et je viensI go, I come and I go
Entre tes reinsInside of you
Je vais et je viensI come and I go
Entre tes reinsInside of you
Et je me retiensAnd I hold myself back
Jane: Heavy breathing interludeJane: Heavy breathing interlude
Tu vas, tu vas et tu viensYou go, you come and you go
Entre mes reinsInside of me
Tu vas et tu viensYou come and you go
Entre mes reinsInside of me
Et je te rejoinsAnd I'm joining you
Je t'aime, je t'aimeI love you, I love you
Oh oui, je t'aimeOh yes, I love you
Serge: Moi non plusSerge: Me neither
Jane: Oh mon amourJane: Oh my love
Serge: L'amour physique est sans issueSerge: Physical love, for its own sake
Je vais, je vais et je viensI go, I come and I go
Entre tes reinsInside of you
Je vais et je viensI come and I go
Je me retiensI hold myself back...
Jane: Non! Maintenant! Viens!Jane: No! Come! Now!
*Very heavy breathing**Very heavy breathing*

How “Je t’aime… moi non plus” came to be

The history of the song is very interesting. Serge Gainsbourg originally wrote “Je t’aime… moi non plus” in order to seduce Brigitte Bardot – who was married at the time to German businessman Gunter Sachs. In late 1967 Bridgitte Bardot was enduring a difficult period in her marriage when Serge Gainsbourg became infatuated with her. She agreed to go on a date with him. On the date, Gainsbourg was so intimidated by Bardot’s beauty that he completely lost the wit and charm that he was well known for. After the date, Bardot called him and insisted that he write her “the most beautiful love song you can imagine” to make amends for his poor performance on the date. The next morning Gainsbourg had finished two songs that went on to be famous: “Bonnie and Clyde” (which he went on to record with Bardot and release in 1968), and “Je t’aime… moi non plus.”

After listening to “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, Bardot headed to a recording studio in Paris with Gainsbourg to record it. According to the sound engineer involved in the recording, Bardot and Gainsbourg engaged in a lot of “heavy petting” during the recording. Apparently, the recording was played once on Europe 1 radio, and Bardot’s husband immediately threatened to sue (presumably Gainsbourg). Bardot begged Gainsbourg not to release the song, and so he shelved it. Bardot broke off the affair, but did later divorce her husband. Bardot later allowed the release of their recording of the song in 1986.

Gainsbourg filmed the movie “Slogan” in 1968 where he became infatuated with his co-star, the young English actress Jane Birkin. He was frustrated with his inability to release “Je t’aime moi non plus,” saying “The music is very pure. For the first time in my life, I write a love song and it’s taken badly.” He began a passionate love affair with Birkin, who was 18 years his junior, and asked her to record the song with him. Jane has stated that “I only sang it because I didn’t want anybody else to sing it” – she had heard the Brigitte Bardot version and was very impressed. Gainsbourg asked Birkin to sing the song an octave higher than Bardot had, so that she would sound like “a little boy.” The higher octave does give the song a distinctive sound that is much different than the Bardot version.

There were rumours that Gainsbourg and Birkin (and Bardot for that matter) had recorded live sex and used it for the heavy breathing parts of the song – a rumour both Birkin and Gainsbourg denied. The song was finally released in February 1969 and was pretty much instantly declared offensive. Many European radio stations banned it from being played before 11pm – mostly because of the song’s culmination in a simulated female orgasm (one wonder’s if everyone would have been equally scandalized by male orgasm sounds – I suspect not). The Vatican denounced the song and Gainsbourg called the Pope “our greatest PR man.” Indeed, the record was an international hit despite being banned from U.S. radio (in the U.S. the record still managed to peak at 58 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100). The song was a commercial success – reaching number 1 on the U.K., Swiss, Norwegian, and Austrian charts and breaking the top 10 in many other European countries. By 1986 the song had sold 4 million copies.

The song has been covered by many, many artists. When Universal Music made their back catalogue available for download, the Brigitte Bardot version was the third most popular download. The song lives on in the popular imagination.

Lyrics and Analysis of Je t’aime moi non plus

Although it appears to be a song celebrating physical sex and sexual liberation, Gainsbourg called it an “anti-f***” song. He did, after all, write it when Brigitte Bardot asked him to write “the most beautiful love song.” Gainsbourg described the music as being “very pure,” and indeed the organ sounds almost like a church organ. Some people consider the organ riff to be cheesy, but I personally wonder if it wasn’t an intentional choice. There is both a juxtaposition of the “pure” church organ sounds and Jane’s erotic heavy breathing, and a conflation of these two sounds. It’s as if Gainsbourg is saying “this union of lovers is as pure as this church music.” Perhaps that was in part why the Vatican was so angry?

It seems very French to me to elevate and celebrate physical love. In the the late 60’s, the idea of a man being focused on bringing his female partner to orgasm was probably still pretty radical. When Gainsbourg sings about “holding himself back” until his partner tells him “Now! Come!” was probably not a commonly discussed (let alone celebrated) dynamic. It’s a sort of unselfishness in love, a man prioritizing his partner’s pleasure, of letting her tell him when she’s ready. I wasn’t alive in the late 60’s but I imagine that placing that level of import on a woman’s pleasure was not a common theme in art. Perhaps that is why Gainsbourg calls it an “anti-f***” song – because it’s about both partners having a beautiful experience together, rather than anything crass. He is saying that a woman’s pleasure if a beautiful thing to be celebrated in and of itself. That must have been pretty radical at the time – in many ways it still is.

Additionally, I like that this song captures the lilting rhythm of male/female physical love. The pacing of certain lines, like “Et je… me re… tiens” reminds me of the in and out/rocking motion. This is further emphasized by the wave imagery. The wave works on two levels – the image of waves breaking against the shore, and then being pulled back out to sea (the in/out motion), and also the notion that “comme la vague irrésolue” (like an unresolved/faltering/indecisive wave) refers to Gainsbourg holding himself back so that the wave doesn’t crest too soon. 😉

Now, what of the titular lines “I love you. Me neither.” ? Well it is based on a comment made by Salvador Dali, who was comparing himself to Picasso. He said: “Picasso is Spanish, me too. Picasso is a genius, me too. Picasso is a communist, me neither.”

It’s also possible that the male speaker (Gainsbourg) realizes that a woman gasping “I love you” during sex, doesn’t necessarily mean that she loves you. He is responding to the sentiment of the moment – as if she had said “I don’t want you to stop” and he replies “me neither.” Or simply that since this is purely a physical relationship the man doesn’t want to reply “I love you too.”

Vocabulary from Je t’aime… moi non plus

At first glance, the vocabulary is very simple. But let’s dig into some of the more metaphorical phrases.

la vague: the wave

irrésolue: irresolute, vacillating, undecided

So what does Serge mean when he sings “comme la vague irrésolue”?

As I mentioned above, he could be saying that he is holding himself back, and so the physical sensation is like a wave the doesn’t crest. “An irresolute/unresolved wave.”

reins: kidneys

entre tes reins: between your loins, inside of you. This literally translates to “between your kidneys.” In this context it’s really like “in between your loins” and it’s quite explicit. Really Gainsbourg is just saying it this way because it rhymes “entre tes reins” is not a common French expression.

je me retiens (se retenir): I hold myself back (resist). Se retenir often refers to someone purposely suppressing a natural instinct (e.g. Se retenir de rire = holding back laughter). So you can see quite clearly that Serge is talking about holding himself back in a physical sense. It’s not hard to imagine what the means in the context of physical love.

l’île nue: the desert island

This is an interesting (and I’m sure deliberate) word choice: in this context “nue” means “deserted” or “barren.” In English we would say “a desert island” to connote an island with nothing on it. However “nue” normally translates as “naked” or “nude” or “bare.” So when Jane says “you are the wave, and I’m the desert/bare/naked island” she is again evoking that motion of waves breaking against the shore, coming in and pulling out and coming in again.

It is interesting to note that the imagery here is all natural – parallels are being drawn between the inevitability of the tides and the nature of making love. Both things are natural, both have their own rhythm, and according to Serge Gainsbourg, both deserve to be celebrated!

Je te rejoins (se rejoindre): I meet you (I join you)
This line states that Jane is trying to meet Serge where he is – likely at the brink of orgasm. It’s a mundane sentence (I’m meeting you) but in the context of the song it takes on a very erotic meaning.

L’amour physique est sans issue: Physical love, for its own sake (literally: physical love is without an outcome)
This line seems to be referring to physical love for its own sake. “issue” can mean a variety of things: result, outcome, etc. In this case it seems to be saying that this love making is “without a result/outcome” in the sense that they aren’t trying to have a child, this is simply making love for its own sake.

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