Yelle: Translation Unnecessary
On one hand, it makes sense that Yelle have amassed a devoted following. Their electro-pop stylings are easy on the ears and on the dancefloor, and frontwoman Julie Budet is a magnetic force onstage, not to mention enviably chic. On the other hand, their lyrics are almost exclusively in French and have spread to a market that’s not known for being crossover-friendly (read: America). Sheer charisma trumped singing along, first on debut LP Pop Up in 2007, then on 2011’s Safari Disco Club. Budet, alongside producers GrandMarnier (Jean-François Perrier) and Tepr (Tanguy Destable), has found a winning formula that’s taking Yelle all over the world.
Of course, it’s an evolving recipe—while Pop Up was bright and bratty in all the right ways, there were four years of growth to convey on their second effort. The songs on Safari Disco Club may not have been as immediately catchy, but they bore the unmistakable marks of maturity and still got bodies moving around the globe.
I met Budet in New York City earlier this year, just before the release of the Valentine’s Day-appropriate single “L’Amour Parfait.” The track was a long time in the making, ultimately receiving finishing touches from Aeroplane. “He’s been a good friend of ours for a long time,” Budet says of the Belgian producer. “He knew we had been working on that song for two years, and we didn’t put it on Safari Disco Club because we weren’t ready for it.”
The result sees Yelle taking things slower and more minimalistic, along the lines of Safari Disco Club’s “La Musique.” “L’Amour Parfait” also features an irresistible hook with an unexpected twist. “In the song, we have this English sentence, ‘I don’t know what you mean but it means a lot to me,’ and lots of our fans are telling us that they don’t understand the lyrics, but it means a lot to them because of the energy, the melodies and everything,” Budet says. “It was important to us to have this little wink. Actually, it totally [fits in] with the rest of the lyrics of the song.”
“L’Amour Parfait” may divert from form, but don’t expect them to stop being some of synth-pop’s favorite francophones. “We spend a lot of time in the U.S. and we like to speak English, so even with our French lyrics, sometimes we’re using English expressions,” describes Budet. “It’s totally natural to use it in our songs. But yeah, we don’t want to break the market and sing in English. The most important thing is to keep that, because we like to express ourselves in French. I think people like it like that.”
The trio is spending even more time in the U.S., recording their third LP in Los Angeles. It’s a long way from the group’s home base in Brittany, on the west coast of France, but Budet knows the importance of finding the right time and place to make the magic happen.
“You have to accept it’s a cycle, and when you’re not ready, you don’t have to push it,” she says. “I’m sure if you push it, it’s not going to be good. I prefer to wait for a good moment, and if it happens, it happens.”
With the same laissez-faire mindset, she doesn’t mind taking long breaks between albums either; the record they’re currently working on is slated for release early next year. “It’s not a question of being lazy, but we need to be sure of the songs, to be sure we like them and are proud of them, because we’re going to sing those songs 2,000 times,” she says. “So we have to really like them.”
She’s not exaggerating. Yelle’s biggest bangers are still from their debut album, and they’ve had a reputation to maintain over the years. “When I am singing ‘A Cause Des Garçons’ or ‘Je Veux Te Voir,’ I still like those songs a lot,” Budet says. “But I grew up. I think we’re trying to work on this aspect of the show, maybe rework the songs, to continue to have them but to do them in a different way.”
While those older tracks still hold up for a reason, they’re clearly the product of an artist in her early 20s. Now 30, Budet finds herself able to look back—and forward. “I think we’re going to stay in this mood because we grew up and we’re older,” she says of the band’s turn toward the serious. “We probably talk about the same things, but in a different way.”
The singer hints at another seismic shift for LP3. “We don’t want to do another Safari Disco Club, we want to do different things,” she says. “Of course, it’s going to stay Yelle songs because of my voice, the way we are producing and everything. But we try to be open to different producers or writers to see what happens, if we like it. This album’s going to be a new move for us.”
It will also presumably be accompanied by a fresh visual direction, as well. The group is planning to tap designer Jean-Paul Lespagnard again, who previously kitted out Perrier and Destable in safari outfits and draped Budet in mysterious fringes. â€œI think it’s cool to continue to work on a vision like that, to prepare a complete package,” she says. “We are thinking about the live show, and we’re thinking about the songs and how it will be on stage.”
Regardless of what direction the next record goes in, Yelle’s appeal is unlikely to get lost in translation.
“I can’t really explain why us or why our music, and I don’t really know what’s different or what to think,” Budet says. “But I think the fact that we are dancing a lot and giving love, that’s the reason why people like it, even if they don’t understand the lyrics.”