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Nov 15, 2010

Yé-yé Girl Style

The Yé-yé girls were a breed of popular singers in the Sixties, primarily in France, but later in other parts of Europe, Canada, and even Japan.   They all shared a few common traits: they were young, they were pretty, they had long straight hair, and they couldn't sing very well. 

Among the most popular were France Gall, Françoise Hardy, and Jane Birkin (who was English but best known for singing in French).

This is France Gall.

This is Jane Birkin (with Serge Gainsbourg)

And this is Françoise Hardy:

The voice was almost always breathy and child-like, without vibrato, and their recordings were produced to sound echo-y.  The Yé-yé girls were also hip in an understated way, before the more dramatic Swinging London explosion.

Cathy and I both love the Yé-yé girl look and sound.  Some of the songs have stood the test of time.  The lyrics may often be banal, but our French isn't good enough to know the difference. 

The yé-yé (the name is derived from the English, yeah, yeah) sound never really caught on in America.  American audiences, raised on trained popular singers like Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Patty Page and Connie Francis, were used to a bigger, more adult voice.  A few American non-singers attempted the yé-yé sound (since you didn't really have to sing, anyone could do it) but with little success (Patty Duke singing "Funny Little Butterflies" comes to mind.)

In their mini skirts, knee socks, newsboy caps, and long flowing hair, the yé-yé girls embodied a kind of casual, youthful chic that has proved timeless.  Is it any wonder Cathy (and I) love them so?

Have a look -- and a listen.  They all sound the same: it's not your ears.

Here's France Gall singing Christiansen:

Here's Françoise Hardy singing Mon Amie la rose:

And here is British Jeanette (a personal favorite, who sang only in Spanish and was popular in Spain in the mid-Seventies):

Jane Birkin's biggest success was no doubt Je T'aime Moi Non Plus with then-husband Serge Gainsbourg.  (This is the Birkin who inspired the Birkin bag, btw).  It's hot!

And that's the condensed version of Yé-yé!  What do you think: Yé-yé ?  Or non-non?

Readers, has there ever been a pop singer(s) who influenced your style?

If so, who?  (Please don't say Britney.)

Is it someone Cathy should know about?   Do tell!


  1. Non-non... to Each his own.

    I was a teenager in the late 80's. I just knew I was Pepa of Salt n Pepa. Even had her hair and outfits. SMH

  2. Ah, Monsieur! I've been lurking, but for this one I have to come out and comment. Francoise Hardy does know how to sing. She also wrote all her songs and her voice is compatible for her songs. Without knowing French you for sure cannot tell while this style of singing is good for the songs. If you did see "The Barbarian Invasions", her song "Friendship" is the theme song for the movie. BTW, the movie is very good and I would encourage you to see it at the earliest possible (at a DVD near u). Dear Monsieur, you should try the water before jumping it. I doubt that Cathy could pull a Francoise off though, mon cher, though her voice must be already too deep without the need of smoking more gauloises.
    La Fifi from a blog that is way overdue to come

  3. There's also Brigitte Fontaine, who is less well known but still very influential to this day.

    France Gall's Les Sucettes was written by Serge Gainsbourg and rather less innocuous than it might seem, with double-entendres a plenty about licking a very different kind of lollipop... France Gall was young and too innocent to know what she was singing, she has said in retrospect, and was very shocked when she found out. Good old Serge Gainsbourg...

  4. Oui! Oui! This is totally bringing me back to 1995 - I am completely ignorant re. yé-yé anything, but this is reminding me of the stereolab-astronaught wife-etc. of my earlier years. Now I'm all about 70's radio pop. Jim Croce rules my world...

  5. I vote Oui Oui! I've always loved this brand of hipster girl singers since I first heard "I'll Be Your Mirror" sung by Nico. I've heard some of these names, but never knew they were singers- and I'm a little bit in love at having any excuse to listen to singing in a foreign tongue.

    Right now I feel really,really drawn to a style esthetic I can only describe as Liz Taylor circa 1963 crossed with Cher..

  6. I am pretty well-exposed to classic rock, pop from the 60's and 70's being born in the 60's and having a mom who listened to the popular music, but I have never heard of them. I will have to ask her, she was 18 in 1962, so the right age to have been aware of them. As far as influence in style, in the 80's, hard rock bands, with the "BIG" curly hair (naturally, not permed) with streaks in it, bandannas, parachute pants, think Def Leppard.

  7. Ouch, the icky music of my childhood :-). I preferred jazz and Cuban salsa, personally.

    But you're omitting a couple of important characters: Sheila and Claude François for instance, both drag queen standards to this day. Claude's early death (electrocuted in the bathtub) has contributed to the perenity of his songs. Not to mention his style: he's the inspiration for the son character in Ozon's latest movie 'potiche', another future cult item with Catherine Deveuve (just saw it yesterday, I highly recommend it). And then there was Sylvie Vartan who married Johnny Halliday ('jownee') the French poster child for drug abuse, poor thing, but later became quite a decent actress.

  8. I have a couple of Sheila albums I bought in the 70s because we studied a couple of her songs in French class. Good fun. I like Francoise Hardy too.

    One of my favourite singers was from your neck of the woods - Blossom Dearie. Saw her on a couple of her tours of Australia, a joy to listen to.

  9. The only one I've heard of is Birkin but not speaking French they all sound alike and boring. They bring the emotion of a stone to it all.

  10. Try Holly Cole

    And I agree with Anonymous who said "Francoise Hardy does know how to sing. She also wrote all her songs and her voice is compatible for her songs." She has great intonation and phrasing. In a different class than the others. Music! Easy to get opinionated about music real fast!!

  11. I'm just a bit too young to remember all of this, but after seeing some of the videos it strikes me that Carla Bruni might be a modern, albeit older, version of the ye-ye girls.

    She's a pretty good style icon at any rate.

  12. ye-ye, in small doses, while driving my French car, making me feel tres exotique here in Straya

  13. i actually LOVE ye'ye'! i used to frequent a club called par avion that would play ye'ye, britpop, japanese pop and american surfy pop tunes- i danced my tush off every night- especialyl to the poppy france gall. i actually own a bunch of serge gainsbourgh and france gall- this was a nice little post that totally made me want to dust off some of my ye'ye and tap my feet! :)

    my music clothing inspiration- i ahve to say jarvis cocker from pulp- yes i'm a girl, bu the heavily influenced me to wear pants and not jeans (although he does wear jeans these days) in teh britpop 90's he was all about polyester clothing and slacks- not jeans. :)

    i still prefer pants to regualr jeans- but i also wear a lot more dresses these days too. :)

    candida doyle the keyboardist from pulp inspired me to wear bright colors and funky crazy huge rings... :)

  14. Jane Birkin starred in the Peter Ustinov version of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile and also Evil Under the Sun. I do like Death on the Nile.

  15. I have to agree with Anon & A Little Sewing on the side about Françoise Hardy. She is a cut above the rest...


  16. ah! funny you mention f.hardy + connie francis... i have an mp3 of connie doing an english version of "on dit de lui" that is so awful it's embarrassing to listen to!! apples and organges :-P

  17. France Gall won Eurovision (the same pre-Idol singing contest that introduced Abba to the world). I love her songs as well as the orchestration. A friend of mine said she was popular in Hong Kong in the 60s as well. I found your post via Burdastyle. Thanks!

  18. Oui! I love the ye'ye' style and sound!

  19. I discovered ye-ye a couple of years ago and can't get enough of it -- especially the girls. I disagree about the quality of the singing. Yes, Francoise Hardy was a good singer, but so was Sylvie Vartan, in my opinion. France Gall has such a distinctive voice that I know it's her even on records I'm hearing for the first time.

    For a real trip, search Mareva Galanter on YouTube. She was Miss France in 1999, so she's too you to actually be of the ye-ye generation. However, she did some remakes of several of the classic ye-ye tunes, with videos in the style of those 1960s' Scopitones. They are really fun to watch.


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