Charlotte Gainsbourg spent her childhood in the public eye, with a mother who was one of the biggest fashion icons and a father whose provocative and often alcohol-soaked antics often made headlines.
There was the time he appeared with Whitney Houston on primetime TV and announced that he wanted “to fuck her”, for example. On another live TV show, he burned a 500 franc note to protest against what he considered excessive taxation.
When she was 12, Gainsbourg made her musical debut alongside him on the song Lemon Incest – a play on un zeste de citron (a lemon zest). In the infamous video, Gainsbourg is sprawled on a bed while her topless dad caresses her and sings about the love they will never make together. The song, recorded in 1984, was accused of glamorising abuse and paedophilia, but despite the scandal – or perhaps because of it – Lemon Incest peaked at No 2 in the French charts.
A song that provoked a scandal back then, and even more now in the era of #MeToo.
“It was already shocking at the time,” she says with faint exasperation. “I remember my father having to explain himself, and his lyrics, because he plays with the jeu de mots, how do you say that? When you play with the sounds of the words, like a double meaning?”
“Incest is so shocking and so taboo. It’s as if he was amusing himself with that. But when you listen to the lyrics, he’s just talking about the infinite love of a father for his daughter and of a daughter for her father – and you can’t condemn that. Because there’s nothing physical. So, yes, he says incest, but that’s it. I find it terrible that you can’t talk about things that are…”.
think my father would be condemned in every move he made,” she says. “Everything now is so politically correct. So boring. So expected. And everyone is so scared of what will happen if they go too far.” Men, in particular, she says, have reason to be scared. “A few tweets and it’s done… their career is over.” Her dad, she says, would have been miserable today, “because it did matter to him what people felt, what people thought, when he got criticised”.