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Yéyé Pop in France

Innocent Melodies with a Dirty Message

Yéyé is a style of pop music, performed predominately by female artists that began in the early ‘60s in France, Italy and Spain. The name came from “Yeah!Yeah!”, a frequently reoccurring lyric used in the pop songs’ backup vocals. Yéyé success is usually credited to Serge Gainsbourg, a French musician who composed for some of France’s most famous Yéyé stars. Popular French yéyé singers include Françoise Hardy, Frank Alamo, Gillinan Hills, Shelia and France Gall.

Although Yéyé music often had innocent themes, the naïve singers were still used to deliver an underlined, adult message. One of the most famous career flops is France Gall. Her popularity in France began in 1964 and she was soon sent to the famous composer, Serge Gainsbourg. He wrote many hits for Gall including “Laisse tomber les filles”. At this time Gall’s songs had very childlike themes and Gainsbourg wanted to give her a more mature sound. In 1966, Gall released “Baby Pop” at only 18 years old. The song’s lyrics hinted at the loss of virginity but did not cause too much of a stir from the public. It wasn’t until her hit “Les Sucettes” later that year when she cased a scandal.

Une sucette is the French word for “lollipop” and comes from the verb sucer meaning “to suck”. In her song, “Les Sucettes”, Gall sings about a young girl who enjoys lollipops and when the lollipop “goes down her throat, she is in paradise”. The apparent double meaning for oral sex was too risqué for 1960s France and ruined Gall’s career. Gall claims she was unaware of the songs underlined message and was taken advantage of by Gainsbourg (which is believable until you watch the music video). Although Gall was never able to reclaim her innocent persona again, Yéyé pop has remained popular over the years with comebacks in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

Yéyé music is even present today in the United States. Françoise Hardy’s song “Les temps de l’amour” was featured in the 2012 Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom. France Gall’s popular hit “Laisse tomber les filles” was later covered by April March and used in the Quentin Tarantino film Death Proof in 2007.

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France Gall and Serge Gainsbourg

Written by Sarah Brennan. French Connection aires Wednesday nights from 10-midnight.