French electro-pop band Yelle has always stuck it to the man – well, to one man in particular. In 2005, Yelle frontwoman Julie Budet took issue with the misogynistic and demeaning lyrics of popular French hip-hop group TTC. She decided to take down singer Cuizinier in very public fashion – in a pop song.
Called Je veux te voir (I want to see you), its sweet sing-song vocal and bouncy beat belie the acerbic lyrics. The song opens with (translated in English), “Cuizinier, with your little sex surrounded by red curls, I can’t believe you think that you are wanted.” Unsurprisingly, it caused a stir in France.
“It was probably not usual at this time to hear those kind of lyrics coming out of a girl’s mouth,” says Budet. “It’s weird, you can listen to super hardcore stuff from boys, but it’s still really shocking to hear the same things from a girl.”
This double standard doesn’t seem to restrain Budet from saying exactly what she wants. “I don’t care, I want to feel free to say whatever I want, even if it’s a bit shocking,” she says. “I was 22 or 23 and I was not thinking about the consequences, I just wanted to express myself.”
In spite of the bawdy lyrics, Je veux te voir was Yelle’s biggest hit in France, reaching number four on the charts. Cuizinier never responded publicly to the song. “It was kind of complicated for him to deal with the girls screaming that at him,” Budet says, wryly.
“We sent him the song first before putting it on MySpace, but he never replied.”
Je veux te voir launched Yelle, then comprising Budet, her partner Jean-François Perrier aka Grand Marnier and producer Tepr (Tanguy Destable, who has since left the band). Their debut 2007 album Pop Up and riotous live shows found fans around the world.
When the band broke through, nu-rave music was all the rage – think Simian Mobile Disco, the Klaxons and CSS – and Yelle’s perky, highly danceable pop was both bang on trend and a rare case of French-language songs connecting with English-speaking audiences. After three albums and with a fourth in gestation, Budet says she has no plans to start singing in English now, despite the additional success that might come with that.
“Writing a whole song in English would be really hard for me… you have to speak the language to have the vocabulary to express precisely what you want to say,” she says.
Besides, Yelle are already happy with what they’ve achieved. They’ve toured the US extensively (including three appearances at Coachella) and their remix of Katy Perry’s Hot and Cold caught the attention of high-profile American producer Dr Luke, who co-produced their third album, Completement Fou (Totally Crazy) and released it on his Kemosabe label in 2014. A month later, American pop star Kesha alleged that Dr Luke had sexually assaulted and abused her for years.
“I would never not trust someone who said they been assaulted, but it’s always hard to have a friend involved in someone like that,” says Budet. “I was in shock and disappointed. I want to let justice take its course.”
It’s been four years now since Yelle released Completement Fou. The string of singles the band has put out over the past two years suggests that the new album won’t venture too far from the playful fare for which they are known and loved. In saying this, when they appear at So Frenchy, So Chic in January next year, Australia may be treated to another side of the band. “I’m 35 but I feel like I’m 15, I don’t want to grow, but I’m starting to realise I can be an adult too and still have this childish thing inside me,” says Budet.
“We still want to make people dance, but we’re probably going to explore something a little slower and find a new way of doing music.”
Yelle are performing at So Frenchy So Chic in Adelaide on January 11, Melbourne on January 13 and Sydney on January 19. Tickets are on sale now. Broadsheet is a proud media partner of So Frenchy, So Chic.