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What Was That French Song on Mad Men?

Jessica Pare

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The centerpiece of the Mad Men Season 5 premiere, airing right now, is a song sung by Don Draper’s young wife Megan (Jessica Paré), in full-on sex kitten mode, to Don, in front of many friends and coworkers, at his 40th birthday party. It’s a catchy little number, with French lyrics (Megan is from Montreal, as is Paré). This being Mad Men, though, one has to ask: Why this song? Does it have some deeper meaning? Does it foreshadow what’s to come this season?

The song’s lyrics (printed below—in a translation courtesy of Slate’s L.V. Anderson and Rachael Levy—for the careful perusal of the more dedicated Mad Men-ologists) are about openly declaring and displaying one’s love, coming out from “the bushes” where “lovers glide stealthily” and feeling love “everywhere.” This not only echoes what Megan herself is doing in performing the song for Don in front of so many people, it also resonates with the broader shift in sexual mores that took place in the mid-1960s.

Granted, the song’s lyrics are hardly sophisticated. This is typical of “yéyé,” the French pop genre that “Zou Bisou Bisou” exemplifies. Many yéyé singers—the term is a French corruption of “yeah yeah”—were teenage girls who exuded a faux-innocent sexuality; by using such a tune, Weiner & Co. not only emphasize Megan’s youthful sex appeal and the generation gap between Megan and Don, they also highlight a part of the mid-60s zeitgeist that is not so shopworn as, say, The Beatles.

And there may be something else going on, too, something more to do with the singer than the song—by which I mean the young woman who recorded the best-known version of the ditty, one Gillian Hills.

Hills, the daughter of an English travel-writer and a Polish poet, spent her childhood in France, where she was spotted by Roger Vadim, the producer who also discovered (and married) Brigitte Bardot. She subsequently starred in Beat Girl, aka Wild for Kicks, a 1960 British teensploitation movie (tagline: “Hop-Head U.K. School Girls Get in Trouble”; you can watch the whole thing on YouTube). In 1966, the year tonight’s Mad Men episode takes place, Hills appeared in Blow-Up, perhaps the quintessential Swinging Sixties film (the movie was a surprise hit in the U.S., and helped kill off the Production Code). She played an aspiring model who has a threesome with the lead character, a photographer played by David Hemmings, and another aspiring model, played by Jane Birkin. (Hills sort of reprised this role in A Clockwork Orange, in which her character partcipates, to quote IMDb, “in an afternoon sex marathon to the music of the William Tell overture” with the protagonist, Alex, and her character’s best friend.)

Could Weiner have found a more perfect and surprising song with which to convey the sexual liberation of Megan and her generational cohort? I doubt it. One last piece of evidence: The song was also recorded by Sophia Loren—in English, for The Milliionairess: “The Sultry Story of the Beautiful Babe in the Balmain Gowns Who Pants for Romance.”

You can read our translation of the French lyrics below. See all of Slate’s coverage of Mad Men, Season 5 here.

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

My God, how soft they are! 

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

The sound of kisses!

In the bushes, under the August sky

Lovers glide stealthily

Like birds, they have dates

Everywhere you hear:

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

My God, how soft they are!

But tell me, do you know

What that means, between us,

What does “zou bisou” mean?

It means, I confess to you,

But yes, I love only you!

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

My God, how soft it is!

But no need for bushes in the month of August

When you kiss me softly on the neck!

It’s funny, you see, I confess,

I feel it everywhere

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

My God, how soft it is!

Kiss kiss kiss etc.

Little kisses

Kiss kiss kiss