The Risqué Reason This Jane Birkin Song Was Condemned By The Pope

London-born, Paris-famous singer, actress, and model Jane Birkin shared a touch-and-go romantic relationship with singer Serge Gainsbourg for 13 years after she arrived in Paris in 1968 at 20 years old to work on the film "Slogan." It only took a year for the two of them to co-release their infamously sexual track, "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus."

By modern, post-Madonna, post-Prince, post-Usher, post-George Michael, post-Cardi B., post-etc. standards, "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus" comes across as absolutely tame. There's some heavy breathing in the background courtesy of Birkin, a few orgasmic vocalizations, and high-pitched vocals layered on top of a basic, downtempo pop groove. If anything, as the Independent says, the song depicts "two people, tenderly, having sex," and that's that.  But as The Guardian explains, that was enough for both U.K. radio stations and the high pontiff of the Catholic church, Pope Paul VI. The former banned the song, and the latter condemned it. Naturally, the public loved it. The track not only reached No. 1 in sales in the U.K., it was the first and only foreign language song to do so. 

A misunderstood anti-love song

Serge Gainsbourg had already written "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus" when he and Jane Birkin met. In fact, he wrote it for another woman: world-famous French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. As the Independent says, Gainsbourg and Bardot recorded the track "in a vocal booth with very steamed-up windows" during a short-lived affair. In a further complication befitting comical French stereotypes, Bardot was married at the time, and her husband objected to the song being released. Gainsbourg conceded and commenced to asking "several high-profile women" to record the track with him, but they turned him down. So when he and Birkin got involved, he asked her. Per Express, Birkin thought Bardot's version was "so hot," and ultimately agreed to do the song because she "didn't want anybody else to sing it."

As the Independent explains, lyrics include "tu vas, tu vas et tu viens / entre mes reins," or, "you come, you come and you go / between my kidneys." Ending the line on "reins" was apparently a metrical choice that more accurately means "loins," not "kidneys." And yet, French Learner simply translates "entre mes reins" as "inside me." But interestingly enough, the song is actually a cynical, anti-love song that compares sexual movement to getting involved with and leaving a person "like the undecided wave." Lyrics flat-out say, "Physical love is a dead end," meaning that sex and love are different. Even the name of the song means "I love you," followed by "Me neither."   

Beloved in France to this day

It's interesting that Jane Birkin had to go to France to make a name for herself, both in her home country of England and her adopted home. Despite condemnation from the radio and the pope for "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus," people in France loved her — and still do. The Guardian says that Birkin is France's "petite Anglaise:" "little English girl." Birkin's daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg, meanwhile, said on CNN, "Mom represents a very Parisian style, which is funny because she's not." Birkin backs these claims up in attitude and outlook, saying of "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus" in 2004 (via Express), "It wasn't a rude song at all. I don't know what all the fuss was about. The English just didn't understand it. I'm still not sure they know what it means." If true, we can add Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Brazil to the list of places that didn't understand the song — it was banned in all those countries. And even though it hit the airwaves in France, it couldn't be played before 11 p.m.

When news of Birkin's death got out, French President Emmanuel Macron summed up his country's feelings towards Birkin on Twitter. He wrote, "Because she embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words of our language, Jane Birkin was a French icon. A complete artist, her voice was as sweet as her engagements were fiery. She bequeaths us tunes and images that will never leave us."