Rebel Yelle

YelleOne French pop star is out to change the music industry by making Katy Perry dance

Yelle’s latest music video opens with her riding a giant cob of corn. She then steps on some broken glass, and lies down in a bed of popcorn. Maybe that’s what she means by “complètement fou?”

Not exactly, explains Yelle (née Julie Budet) over Skype. “Complètement fou” describes her band’s “completely crazy” whirlwind journey from MySpace sensation in 2007 to getting remixed by Katy Perry, featured on MTV, and having two albums spend over a week on Billboard’s Top 20.  

“It’s also the story about our band, the way we started doing things on MySpace and we built something, without building it, we just wanted to have fun and we like to play live and this is just the result of enjoying our lives,” Budet recounts in her delightfully airy French accent, disarming with her level of giddiness.

“We started working on the song ‘Je Veux Te Voir,’ and put it on MySpace, and after a few days we had a really good response from people on the Internet, and we had an email from a label in France and they wanted to sign us. It was really weird and intense […] we didn’t know where it would go, we just wanted to have fun and make songs and it happened really quickly.”

The song that ricocheted them from MySpace to international popdom—made with bandmates GrandMarnier and Tepr a.k.a Jean-Francois Perrier and Tanguy Destable—wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm from everyone. Especially not by the French alternative hip-hop artist Cuizinier of TTC, who the song mocks for being absurdly misogynistic. The first few lines playfully poke fun at his, ahem, manhood.

“It was always about ‘girl’ and ‘slut’ and whatever he called them,” explains Budet. “We thought it could be fun—a girl’s response, because in France if we have a female rapper, they don’t really dis men.”

The song speaks to bigger issues, too, she explains.

“It’s still hard for a girl to find space, to have credibility—it’s still complicated for girls, and men are all responsible in a way because they like to play with the difference and the machismo thing, so if they don’t try to go that way, to help the balance between boys and girls, it’s not going to happen,” she says. “It’s still complicated, but I’m sure it will change. I hope. I’m really fighting for it.”

The ’80s-nostalgic vibe, with colorful spandex, crazy dance moves and visor sunglasses, are all a part of how she’s playfully challenging pop industry’s c’est la vie trope, in her own tongue-in-cheek kind of way (the giant corn cob comes to mind).

And despite the jab against the TTC’s lyrics, there’s no love lost. In fact, after hearing that one of the group’s members, Tacteel, was working on a solo project, Yelle asked him to collaborate on the recent album. You can hear his vocals on the album’s namesake track.

“It matches totally with our universe, the way we are playing with words and everything,” she says. “He became a friend, because we came from the same generation, we grew up with the same references […] he helped us to express ourselves as we are.”

The new album (complete with its very own translator app on iTunes and Google Play) was released under producer Dr. Luke, who has worked with almost every top name in the business—from Nicki Minaj to Britney Spears, Rihanna and Bon Jovi. Although Dr. Luke’s name has recently been in the press for a lawsuit filed by Kesha alleging he abused her, Budet had only good things to say about him, and declined to comment on the allegations against him.

“I think he really helped us to go deeper in our music,” she says. “You always think you have your recipe, your secret, sitting in your comfy studio at home, and you think it’s the better place to work. And you go out and you discover a new place, new people, and you’re scared sometimes. And actually the magic happens, and you realize ‘OK, it can work outside my comfy place.’”

Pushing past their comfort zone seems to be working for Yelle—Katy Perry seems to think so, at least, judging from her tweet about their music last week: “I DON’T CARE IF I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT I LOVE IT AND IT MAKES MY BOOTY BOUNCE.”


Yelle performs at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $17/$20.

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