Yelle Conquers the States, Again

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Photo provided by Yelle

In late March 2008, American MTV ventured outside of its comfort zone by featuring Yelle as “Artist of the Week,” despite the trio’s insistence on singing strictly in French. Just as Europe devoured the singles after they were posted on MySpace,  Americans began chanting “Je Veux te Voir,” often times unaware of the words’ meanings. Through the explosiveness of the band’s first album, Pop Up, Julie Budet, Jean-François Perrier and Tunguy Destable danced their way around the language barrier that has kept most European groups trapped overseas. After being one of a handful of bands in the last decades to accomplish this (the few others include PSY, Nena, and Los del Rio), Yelle is coming back with a new album, still in French but produced by American chart topper Dr. Luke. 

“I don’t really know the secret,” admits Budet when asked about their International success. “We are still totally surprised because we just don’t know why.” She believes that a part of the reason has to do with the live shows—she insists that when Americans go to a great performance, they are keener on sharing their experience with family and friends than other countries. “Even if people don’t understand what I’m saying, they like the melodies and the energy of the music.” Before Yelle reached the States, their overnight stardom in France felt unimaginable. “A week after we posted on MySpace, a record label called and offered us a deal,” Budet admits with an air of awe. “I’d never been on plane before 2007 when we had our first show outside of France in Sweden. Then we flew almost every day for ten days in South America.” 

After three years of touring for the first album, and then one and a half for the second, Yelle took a hiatus from the road. The abrupt stop took an unexpected toll on Budet. “It’s actually really hard to deal with it when you’re back home. It’s kind of depressing. You’re at home and it’s grey and rainy, and you’re alone. Even if you’re still at the forefront of your life, there’s not that crazy energy you had on tour, and all of the love.” Then came an unexpected opportunity, perhaps the most colossal yet. 

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Photo by Maciek Pozoga

After a show in Los Angeles, an unknown man approached the group through a mutual acquaintance, said he really liked their stuff, and asked if they’d like to work together.  “We Googled him and were like, oh shit that’s Dr. Luke!” Shortly after, the producer and Yelle began sending beats back and forth, discussing what they liked and didn’t. Eventually, Dr. Luke invited them out to LA to record the new album. “It was a different process than we were used to, because we liked to start with the words, like a sentence or hook that we’d say in French. Here, he was starting with the melodies…we worked on the music and then back to Brittany (France) to do the words. It was like fitting lyrics into a puzzle.” 

The birth of the album between LA and Brittany became a theme for the group. When asked about the cover art, which features the singer’s face obscured by blue popcorn, Budet answers, “We were thinking about the link between the US and Europe. Popcorn is really strong in US culture, and even European.” However, the cover has to do with more than the transatlantic nature of the album and group as a whole. “We wanted to have my face closer, because on the first record I was far away, hidden by a hat. This album is more intimate and I am telling people more private things. On the other hand, it’s also reserved because I’m not showing my body. It says, ‘Come closer, but I will not show you everything.’”