One of Gainsbourg’s most controversial musical successes was an antipatriotic rendition of the “Marseillaise,” which he sang in concert and recorded in the 1970s. It was the national anthem sung with a sneer, sung to stress the ultimate hollowness not only of patriotic symbols but of all attempts at significant association, at the delusion of belonging to anything larger than the basic, instinctual self, and it was, significantly, sung by a man who looked the part, whose very appearance was a calculated act of indifference to the decent opinion of mankind. Gainsbourg’s “Marseillaise,” outraged many, delighted many others. Its appeal, for those to whom it appealed, lay, of course, in the very outrage it inspired in those who found it offensive. There is something very close to the French soul in this nihilism of style. Lying beneath the smooth surface of more conventional French stylishness, the stylishness of international fame and big business, whose centerpieces are on the avenue Montaigne and the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and in the big tents set up in the Tuileries for the spectacular semiannual fashion shows, is, this leather-jacketed Gainsbourgian snicker, this reminder of contempt.
— Richard Bernstein, Fragile Glory: a Portrait of France and the French, Knopf, 1990, p. 211