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Yé-yé (French pronunciation: ​[jeje]) was a style of pop music that emerged from Southern Europe in the early 1960s. The term "yé-yé" was derived from the English term "yeah! yeah!", popularized by British beat music bands such as the Beatles.[1] The style expanded worldwide, due to the success of figures such as the French singer-songwriters Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy.[2] Yé-yé was a particular form of counterculture, deriving most of its inspiration from UK or American rock and roll. Additional stylistic elements of yé-yé song composition include baroque, exotica, pop, jazz, and the French chanson.[3]


The yé-yé movement had its origins in the radio programme Salut les copains (loosely translated as "hello mates" or "hello pals"), created by Jean Frydman and hosted by Daniel Filipacchi and Frank Ténot,[4] which was first aired in December 1959. In fact the phrase "Salut les copains" dates back to the title of a 1957 song by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delanoë, who had little regard for the yé-yé music the radio show typically featured; the program became an immediate success and one of its sections ("le chouchou de la semaine" / "this week's sweetheart") became the starting point for most yé-yé singers. Any song that was presented as a chouchou went straight to the top places in the charts; the Salut les copains phenomenon continued with the magazine of the same name, which was first published in 1962 in France, with German, Spanish, and Italian ("Ciao Amici") editions following shortly afterward.[5]

Radios were practicing a real hype, much more than today. We, the singers, were much, much less numerous than today - and there were fewer radios, it was also the heyday of Salut les copains, and the press played an extremely important role, it could promote beginners. I remember being in the first page of Paris Match very quickly, without being very well known or doing anything special for that; this would no longer be possible nowadays. In fact, in the 1960s, we saw the advent of the mass media. At the same time, fashion had assumed a considerable importance, which it had never before had. Singers like me became emblems of fashion, in addition to chanson, which helped to maintain notoriety.
Françoise Hardy, Télérama, 2012.[6]

Yé-yé girls[edit]

Yé-yé music was a mostly European phenomenon and usually featured young female singers. France Gall, for example, was only 16 when she released her first album, 17 when she won the Eurovision song contest (for Luxembourg) singing the prototype bubble-gum song "Poupée de cire, poupée de son". Another later hit by Gall included "Laisse tomber les filles", a cover version of which appeared in Quentin Tarantino's 2007 film Death Proof.

The yé-yé songs had innocent themes such as Françoise Hardy's "Tous les garçons et les filles" ("All the guys and girls my age know how it feels to be happy, but I am lonely; when will I know how it feels to have someone?").

France had a large market for the consumption of French-language songs at the time. Unlike other European nations such as West Germany, the French were more willing to support artists from their own country, singing in their native tongue.[7] Early French artists dabbling in Rock n’ Roll and similar genres such as Johnny Hallyday admit that they were creating an imitation of English-language Rock n’ Roll.[8] Yé-yé helped assimilate that music in a unique, French way and with the popularity of Salut les copains, the public began to see stars like France Gall emerge.

The singers were sexy in a deliberately contrived naïve way; the composer and singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg called France Gall the French Lolita and, wanting to exploit her innocence,[9] composed for her the double entendre song "Les sucettes" ("Lollipops"): "Annie loves lollipops, aniseed lollipops, when the sweet liquid runs down Annie's throat, she is in paradise." The lyrics of the song are blatantly phallic, and the music video essentially features a group of dancing penises.[10]

Among the yé-yé girls, Sylvie Vartan played the glamorous one, she married the rock star Johnny Hallyday in 1965 and toured in America and Asia. But she remained a yé-yé at heart, and as late as in 1968 she recorded the song "Jolie poupée" (Pretty Doll) about a girl who regrets having abandoned her doll after growing up.

Sheila played the well-behaved young girl, her first hit was "L'école est finie" ("School is over"), in 1962.

In 1967, the teen yé-yé singer Jacqueline Taïeb won the Best Newcomer award in Cannes at the Midem awards for her contribution of the hit single "7 heures du matin".

Other significant girl-singers of the era include teen TV star Christine Delaroche, Jocelyne, Zouzou, Evy, Cosette and Annie Philippe, and also some girl-groups, stimulated by acts like The Shangri-Las could emerge, like Les Parisiennes.

Although originating in France, the yé-yé movement extended over Western Europe; the Italian singer Mina became the country's first female rock and roll singer in 1959.[11] In the following few years, she inclined to middle-of-the-road girl pop. After her scandalous relationship and pregnancy with a married actor in 1963, she developed her image into a grown up 'bad girl'.[12] An example of her style were the lyrics of the song "Ta-ra-ta-ta": "The way you smoke, you are irresistible to me, you look like a real man".[13] By contrast, her compatriot Rita Pavone cast the image of a typical teeny yé-yé girl. For example, the lyrics of her 1964 hit "Cuore" complained how love made the protagonist suffer.

In Italy the yé-yé wave ended around 1967, vanishing under the emergence of British rock-blues / pop, and psychedelia. Parisian-born singer Catherine Spaak had a massive success in Italy, with a style very close to Françoise Hardy. Other significant yé-yé girls include Mari Marabini, Carmen Villani, Anna Identici and the girl-groups Le Amiche, Le Snobs and Sonia e le Sorelle.

In Spain, yé-yé music was at first considered to be against Catholicism. However, this did not stop the yé-yé culture from spreading, although a bit later than in the rest of Europe; in 1968 Spanish yé-yé girl Massiel won the Eurovision song contest with "La, la, la". Subsequently, she failed to maintain her success, and the sweet, naïve-looking singer Karina enjoyed success as the Spanish yé-yé queen with her hits "En un mundo nuevo" and "El baúl de los recuerdos".

Yé-yé grew very popular in Japan and yé-yé music is in the origins of Shibuya-kei and Japanese idol music. There is a Japanese version of the 1965 Eurovision-winning song "Poupée de cire, poupée de son" composed by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by France Gall. Japan has released a DVD copy of Cherchez l'idole featuring Johnny Hallyday, a notable yé-yé singer. One of the more popular yé-yé vocal groups was Les Surfs who appear in Cherchez l'idole performing their hit song "Ca n'a pas d'importance".

At the end of the 1970s there was a brief but successful yé-yé recurrence in France, spreading across the charts of western continental Europe, with electro-pop influenced acts like Plastic Bertrand, Lio and Elli et Jacno and in a more rocking vein, Ici Paris and Les Calamités (a subgenre dubbed "Yé-yé Punk" by Les Wampas leader Didier Wampas). Lio especially had a string of hits during 1980, the most famous of which was "Amoureux Solitaires"; this new brand of yé-yé, although short lived, made good use of the new electronic keyboards and synthetic drums that had surfaced recently with new wave music.

Due to the prevalence of female singers within the yé-yé scene, the movement is often seen as a feminist statement. Music had long been controlled by men, yet in the midst of the male-centric world of jazz in the 1950s, the number of women singers increased and culminated into the overwhelmingly female-led genre it is known as to this day[14]. In addition, the yé-yé movement contributed to a significant and more feminist portrayal of women within the music. In lieu of a desperate and codependent voice, the fun and almost flirtatious point of view depicted in these songs bombarded onto the music scene and subsequently brought about a small surge of liberation to the leading women in the yé-yé genre. France Gall's 1966 song "Baby Pop," for example, adopts a playful attitude towards the traditional institution of marriage, singing "On your wedding night/ It'll be too late to regret it."[15]

Yé-yé boys[edit]

While the yé-yé movement was led by female singers, it was not an exclusively female movement; the yé-yé masterminds (such as Serge Gainsbourg, who wrote several hits for France Gall, Petula Clark, and Brigitte Bardot, but was considerably older and came from a jazz background) were distinct from the actual yé-yé singers. Michel Polnareff, for example, played the tormented, hopeless lover in songs such as "Love Me Please Love Me", while Jacques Dutronc claimed to have seduced Santa Claus's daughter in "La Fille du Père Noël". One of the more popular male yé-yé singers was Claude François, notable for songs such as "Belles, Belles, Belles", a French-language adaptation of The Everly Brothers and Eddie Hodges' "(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love". In Portugal, the first yé-yé bands appeared in Coimbra in 1956, most notably the band Os Babies led by José Cid.[16] Other Portuguese bands followed afterwards including Os Conchas, Os Ekos, Os Sheiks, Os Celtas, Conjunto Académico João Paulo, Os Demónios Negros and singers such as Daniel Bacelar.[17]

Impact of yé-yé[edit]

The yé-yé movement maintains a particular prevalence in the music world because of its swinging and catchy rhythms as well as its carefree and playful lyrics. Unlike the confining strictures of society, yé-yé promoted a refreshing and invigorating newness and inevitably promoted a sort of sexual rebellion that greatly characterized the 1960s. Dalida's 1960 song "Itsi bitsi, petit bikini", previously recorded as "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini" by Brian Hyland, perfectly illustrated this newfound nonchalance and release from prudish subject matter that is often attributed to yé-yé music; the song, "...which denotes a nonchalant and undisciplined listening"[18] depicts a girl afraid to reveal her bikini to fellow beachgoers, represents the shocking aspect of the lax attitude towards an increased sexuality, especially for women, as bikinis were previously considered scandalous. Similarly, yé-yé also had a contribution in creating a youth culture within a postwar France that expressed a certain playfulness and carefree perspective on life. Sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin commented on the rise and popularity of yé-yé music and culture, "...seeing in yé-yé's frantic, syncopated rhythms simultaneously a commodified music...of adult consumption, and a festive, playful hedonism..."[19] As it was for any postwar youth culture, yé-yé acted as a creative outlet that aided in defining an era as well as an identity for Europe, specifically France; the archetype of la Parisienne, exuding an exotic charm and magnetic appeal, was greatly defined by the influence of the numerous yé-yé girls within the scene and created an indelible mark in the worlds of both fashion and style. The "...escapist, ironic..."[20] facets of yé-yé enticed thousands of listeners, promoting an unshakeable gaiety and a glamour that intertwined greatly with the sexual freedom and modernity of the swinging 60s.

In popular culture[edit]

  • A 1964 Life article titled "Hooray for the Yé-Yé Girls" attempted to introduce three popular female yé-yé singers, Sylvie Vartan, Sheila and Françoise Hardy, to American readers. It erroneously implies that fans shouting "yé-yé" whenever the singers perform is where the term "yé-yé" comes from.[21]
  • In her 1964 essay "Notes on "Camp"", Susan Sontag cited yé-yé as an example of an entire genre being annexed by the camp sensibility.[22]
  • The Italian title of the 1966 film Out of Sight was 007 1/2 agente per forza contro gli assassini dello yé yé.
  • American singer April March brought back the Yé-yé sound when she released the EP Chick Habit, a rewrite of the famous Serge Gainsbourg song, Laisse tomber les filles, and also recorded many other Yé-yé inspired songs both in the US and France.
  • French-american singer Céline Dijon (an obvious joking pseudo), with the groups Les Sans-Culottes and Nous non plus (2002-2010)
  • Yé-yé enjoyed a slight rekindling in the United States in 2012, when French-Canadian actress Jessica Paré performed a cover of "Zou Bisou Bisou" in the fifth-season premiere of the television series Mad Men. Reaction to the song was such that the AMC network released the song as a single, both in digital download and the traditional 33 1/3 vinyl formats.
  • Swedish band Therion released a cover album Les Fleurs du Mal, composed mostly of symphonic metal versions of ye-ye songs.
  • Group `Doing Time' released album `I Was A Ye-Ye Girl' in 2001[23].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (2003) Roomba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two guns, ISBN 1-85984-368-9, ISBN 978-1-85984-368-0, p. 154: "Ye-ye IBP - French for pop musician, a term inspired by the 'yeah! yeah!' exclamations of rock and roll."
  2. ^ "The Best Of ...Ye-Ye Pop". Crushable. 2010-03-02. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
  3. ^ "Red Bull Music Academy Daily". Daily.redbullmusicacademy.com. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  4. ^ Tinker, Chris. “Shaping 1960s youth in Britain and France: Fabulous and Salut lescopains.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. 14 (6) (November 2011): pg. 641-657.
  5. ^ Tinker, Chris. “Shaping 1960s youth in Britain and France: Fabulous and Salut les copains.” International Journal of Cultural Studies. 14 (6) (November 2011): pg. 641-657. Online.
  6. ^ Lehoux, Valérie (April 28, 2012). "La vie en musique de Françoise Hardy". Télérama (in French). Groupe Le Monde. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  7. ^ Achterberg, P., Heilbron, J., Houtman, D., and Aupers, S. “A Cultural Globalization of Popular Music? American, Dutch, French, and German Popular Music Charts (1965 to 2006).” American Behavioral Scientist. 55 (5) (May 2011): pg. 589-608.
  8. ^ Looseley, David. “Fabricating Johnny: French popular music and national culture.” French Cultural Studies 16 (2) (June 2005): pg. 191-203.
  9. ^ Briggs, Jonathyne. "Sex and the Girl’s Single: French Popular Music and the Long Sexual Revolution of the 1960s." Journal of the History of Sexuality 21.3 (2012): 523-547. Project MUSE. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
  10. ^ "FRANCE GALL - Les sucettes (Videoclip).avi". YouTube. 2010-06-08. Retrieved 2014-06-04.
  11. ^ Nessuno. In TV esplode Mina. Galleria della canzone site. Retrieved 27 June 2007
  12. ^ "Sounds: New Digs. Catalog of Cool site. Retrieved on 21 November 2007". Archived from the original on 2008-05-01.
  13. ^ Mina - Fumo blu (Ta ra ta ta ta ta) Musica e memoria site. Retrieved 21 January 2008
  14. ^ "Les belles et le beat: The 'yé-yé girls' of French Sixties pop". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  15. ^ "Why Yé-Yé Girl Style Was Secretly Feminist". The Cut. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  16. ^ "BLITZ – 1955-1969: Quando a febre em Portugal era o Yé-Yé". Jornal blitz. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  17. ^ Lopes, Mário. "E no início era o yé-yé". Publico.pt. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  18. ^ Birgy, Philippe (2012-09-15). "« Si cette histoire vous amuse, on peut la recommencer »". Volume! (in French) (9 : 1): 151–167. doi:10.4000/volume.3004. ISSN 2117-4148.
  19. ^ "Fordham University – Central Authentication Service (CAS)". Eds.b.ebscohost.com.avoserv2.library.fordham.edu. Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  20. ^ "Red Bull Music Academy Daily". Daily.redbullmusicacademy.com. Retrieved 2018-12-02.
  21. ^ Yé-Yé Land Archived September 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "Susan Sontag: Notes On "Camp" [rough unofficial]". Interglacial.com. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  23. ^ "Doing Time - I Was A Ye-Ye Girl". Discogs. Retrieved 11 May 2019.

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