Yé-yé music is a style of French pop music that gained popularity in France during the 1960s. The term “yé-yé” itself is an onomatopoeia that imitates the English words “yeah, yeah” and expresses the energetic and joyful sound of the music. The genre was inspired by the musical sounds of American rock ‘n’ roll and surf music and often featured female vocalists singing in a youthful, cheerful, and high-pitched style. This article will focus on discussing French female singers from 1960s, who are known for their catchy melodies and cheerful, romantic lyrics.
The term “yé-yé” was coined by French journalist Claude Lemesle in Salut Les Copains, who used it to describe the sound of the new wave of French pop music that he heard in the late 1950s and early 1960s (which coincided with the cinematic Nouvelle Vague movement, as demonstrated by the presence of Chantal Goya and Anna Karina in both movements). The term became popular in France and was eventually adopted by fans, musicians, and critics alike.
The yé-yé sound was dominated by yé-yé girls like Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, Jacqueline Taieb, and Brigitte Bardot, who had a distinct feminine style. Male singers like Johnny Hallyday, Serge Gainsbourg, and Jacques Dutronc also contributed to the genre but tended to have a more traditional rock and roll sound.
In essence, yé-yé music was heavily influenced by American rock music and, especially, the British invasion led by The Beatles. However, the personalities of many of these French female singers from 1960s, with a rebellious and playful image, made the style unique and distinct from its influences, as we also saw when discussing Spanish and Latin American yé-yé music. Here’s our playlist of French yé-yé music for all audiences.
Famous French Female Singers from 1960s. Playlist with the Best Yé-Yé Music
France Gall was one of the most popular French singers and songwriters (when they allowed it). She won Eurovision as a star yé-yé girl in 1965 with the song Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son. Gall started recording yé-yé songs in 1963 and achieved success with songs like the aforementioned one, as well as Baby Pop and Laisse Tomber Les Filles, which was covered and used in famous movies with considerable success.
Born in Paris in 1947, when the yé-yé movement declined in popularity in the late 1960s, Gall continued to have success as a singer for many years. Some of her later hits included Ella, Elle L’a, Résiste, or Il Jouait Du Piano Debout.
It’s true that some questionable lyricists like Gainsbourg tried to take advantage of her angelic and somewhat childlike appearance to compose canceled songs that we won’t mention to avoid dishonoring the memory of an artist who rejected such a theme when she understood the hidden meaning behind it. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 70.
Sheila is a French singer and songwriter who started her career in the 1960s music scene and is still one of the main figures of the yé-yé movement. Born in 1945, she began recording songs in French in 1962, although she also recorded songs in English and Spanish.
Some of her most well-known songs are L’École Est Finie, Bang Bang (which many will recognize), La Famille, À La Même Heure, and Les Rois Mages, a true yé-yé anthem.
Despite the decline in the popularity of the movement, Sheila, like Gall, continued to have success as a singer and songwriter for decades. In fact, she remains an important figure in French music today.
Sylvie Vartan is a French singer and actress who also began her career in the music industry in the 1960s and, as our list reflects, is part of it as one of the main figures of the French female singers from 1960s and yé-yé girls. However, she was actually born in 1944 in Bulgaria and moved to France at the age of 10, but well, she also had Armenian origins, so… why not?
She started recording songs in French and English in 1961 and achieved success with songs like Twistin’ The Night Away, Quand Tu Es Là, Baby C’est Vous, Comme Un Garçon, La Plus Belle Pour Aller Danser, or Dis Moi Que Tu M’Aimes (Et Aussitôt Je Viens). She also had an acting career, starring in films like Les Amis and Aimez-vous Brahms?, which allowed Vartan to remain an important figure in French music and she continues to be an active singer and songwriter.
Sylvie Vartan has always been considered a talented artist in the world of French music. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see how she continued to have success as a singer and songwriter after yé-yé music lost its prominence in the early 70s. Internationally, and not just musically, she is an important figure in French culture, as demonstrated by how everyone knows and remembers songs like L’Amour, C’Est Comme Une Cigarette.
The sad yé-yé girl or the least yé-yé of the yé-yé girls. That’s Françoise Hardy, a French singer-songwriter who, not surprisingly, began her career in the 60s. Born in Paris in 1944, she started recording songs in French in 1962, although she has also recorded in English and Spanish.
Hardy was one of the main figures of the yé-yé movement and achieved success with songs like Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles, Le Temps De L’amour, Oh Oh Chéri, Comment Te Dire Adieu, and Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour. As with her compatriots and contemporaries, Hardy continued to have success as a singer and songwriter and remained an important figure in French music for decades, being honored many times.
She is currently an active singer-songwriter who occasionally releases new albums and collaborates with important names of the Nouvelle Chanson movement like Benjamin Biolay. In her private life, she was married to yé-yé singer Jacques Dutronc, whose anthem Il Est Cinq Heures, Paris S’éveille will surely be in the yé-yé boys’ playlist, and is the mother of singer Thomas Dutronc, as expected with those inherited genes.
Another yé-yé girl not born in France is Jacqueline Taieb. This French singer-songwriter, although born in 1948 in Tunisia, is the author of the worldwide hit 7 Heures Du Matin, as well as other yé-yé songs like Ce Soir Je M’en Vais, Le Cœur Au Bout Des Doigts, or Le Printemps À Paris, all of which are included in our Spotify playlist.
Perhaps not always considered a typical yé-yé girl, some of her early hits clearly place her within the movement. Marie Laforêt is a French singer and actress who, like her fellow singers, began her career in the music industry in the 60s. And like some of them, she wasn’t born in France either. In fact, she was born in 1939 in Singapore but moved to France at the age of three.
She began recording songs in French in 1963 and achieved success with songs like Marie Douceur, Marie Colère, a completely free version of The Rolling Stones’ Paint It, Black, Viens, Viens, Ay, Tu Me Plais, or A Demain My Darling. While all the singers we mentioned would also be part of the broader French chanson movement, Laforêt might be the closest to this style and less yé-yé, but her hits are there to confirm her presence.
She also had an acting career, starring in films like Les Malabars Sont Au Parfum and La Belle De Cadix. She passed away on November 2, 2019, in Switzerland, where she had been residing since 1978. From there, she dedicated herself to being a composer, writer, gallery owner, auctioneer, and much more.
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