Long before Shibuya-kei’s legacy of fun (and sexy) female singers with close ties to iconic songwriters – Kahimi Karie and Momus, Takako Minekawa and future husband Cornelius, for just a couple examples – there was the fruitful partnership of French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and his young pupil France Gall. Making her debut in the early 1960s, Gall’s childlike innocence (she was only 17 when she released her first single) paired spectacularly with Gainsbourg’s playfully predatory (predatorily playful?) sexuality, paying off in a series of singles that defined the new yé-yé sound in France just as Karie and Minekawa’s songs would later do for ’90s Shibuya-kei.
Now, of course, Sonic Youth’s confrontational spinoff group Free Kitten wasn’t about to cover one of those famous, iconic songs – no, they chose the oddest and most obnoxious of Gainsbourg’s contributions to the France Gall discography, a little-loved message song about the dangers of LSD called “Teenie Weenie Boppie”. The video features short bursts of song interspersed between interview clips about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, rendered both absurd and somehow strangely more affecting by the teenage girl lip-syncing to the interviews just as she does the bubblegum pop between segments. It’s a bizarre experience, to say the least, and although Free Kitten were never a Shibuya-kei group by any stretch of the imagination (although, in drummer Yoshimi P-we, they did share a member with Ape Sounds group OOIOO), they were among the Western groups to take direct cues from the Japanese movement. The eclectic range of sounds on any given Free Kitten release draw easy comparisons to Cibo Matto, and the decision to cover a relatively obscure Gainsbourg/Gall song is every bit as Shibuya-kei as the often-obtuse references to little-known music peppering the lyrics of Flipper’s Guitar.