Sunday, June 21, 2009

Until recently, I only had a very superficial understanding of what the Yé Yé movement represented. For me, it conjured up images of pretty French teenagers like Françoise Hardy or Sylvie Vartan. They would inevitably sport blunt fringes, baby doll dresses and uncomfortable shoes. Despite my obsession with France Gall's 1966 album Baby Pop, I didn't understand the revolutionary aspect of Yé Yé: it was the first time ever in the history of music where women were at the forefront of a cultural movement. Sure these girls were singing about broken hearts and bruised egos, but it was more than just that. These girls were singing about romantic blackmail and mistreatment and perhaps more pointedly, they were singing about aspirational matters, like how they wish to be treated by men.. and although it was all packaged in a such seemingly innocuous way, I think that's a pretty empowering thing to sing about.

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When you discover that the vast majority of these songs were written, produced and marketed by men, Yé Yé becomes something of a paradox. You begin to notice that these Yé Yé girls shared a deliberately naïve kind of sexual appeal. There was a great amount of emphasis placed upon the youth of these girls, not only in their personal iconography, but also in the "child-like" instrumentation in the music itself. You begin to notice that these songs were underscored with instruments such flutes and xylophones that you would otherwise expect to hear in the songs of children. You have to wonder why there were so many allusions to youth in this genre.

Yé Yé becomes even more perverse when you consider Les Sucettes, performed here by an 18-year old France Gall and Serge Gainsbourg. Gall thought she was singing an innocent song about a girl's love of aniseed lollipops, but as Gainsbourg would have it, Les Sucettes was filled with smarmy puns and double éntendres. When Gall discovered the true meaning of the song, she refused to perform any of his songs and soon broke up the partnership. Gall later said that she had no idea of the true meaning of Les Sucettes, claiming that she was mortified that Gainsbourg would have preyed upon her innocence in such a way.

The story of Les Sucettes has become inextricably linked with the story of Yé Yé. It is a wildly popular tale of manipulation and erotic subtext in song. But even more than that, it reiterates the idea that we often see in romantic literature of the sexually experienced man being matched with the sexually inexperienced girl. In all historical accounts of the Les Sucettes debacle, Gall is always made to account for her lack of knowledge while Gainsbourg is never made to account for his sexually provocative lyrics. It was just a joke at her expense.

It is unfortunate that Yé Yé doesn't really hold the promise of sexual freedom, but it is still fascinating to consider the scope of its influence. But you have to remember that listeners would have aspired to be just like Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan or France Gall. Listeners would have aspired to have their beauty, sophistication, personal strength and independence. Their songs would have provoked thought and reflection and consequently, they would have changed the way teenage girls think and act. If you forget everything I just told you about the insidious underbelly of the Yé Yé movement, you can really begin to embrace something that is exciting and so very liberating in these songs.. and I encourage you to do so with this week's podcast.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Mod Podcast #14
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - Carmen
France Gall - Laisse Tomber Les Filles
Maryrene - Cette Fille N'est Rien Pour Lui
Natacha Snitkine - Le Jeu du Téléphone
Marie Laforêt - Marie Douceur, Marie Colère (cover of the Rolling Stone's Paint It Black)
Danielle Denin - Je Lis Dans Tes Yeux (cover of the Beatles' I'm Looking Through You)
Erick Saint Laurent - Eleonor Rigby (cover of the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby)
Karine et Rebecca - Moi, Je Dors Avec Nounours
La Petite Lily - Je N'aime Pas La Choucroute
Jeanette - Porque Te Vas
Cosette - Les Cheveux Dans Les Yeux
Soeur Sourire - Dominique

Download (31.7 MB)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Merci.