“It’s a connection,” explains Julie Budet, face of the French electro-pop group Yelle. “Mean what you sing, and I think people can see it, even if they don’t understand the lyrics.” The origin of the name Yelle is an acronym of YEL, “You Enjoy Life.” And perhaps that is the key to Yelle’s continued success – the infectious reliability of pure joy. Their ebullient pop melodies transcend language culminating in a ten-year career wherein they only recorded in French, yet retained a growing worldwide audience. Namely because Yelle takes its name very seriously. The enjoyment of life is the key goal of the band and their music, “I think it’s just my goal in life to bring joy and happiness to others.”
Perhaps it’s being French, or perhaps it’s just Budet, but the song lyrics are remarkably open about sex and relationships from a woman’s perspective. “Of course we are talking about love and relationships, doubts and questions. But what makes a relationship a love story is also sex.” True to her own fashion, Yelle has a lot to say on the fun topic of sex. She does admit there is a gender difference on the subject however, “You know, they don’t really care when it’s a man talking about sex, but when it’s a woman it’s like, ‘Whoa. That’s weird, or that’s a slut.’ There is still a big gap between men and women in that way.’”
Questions about sex toys or favorite positions might be more shocking to the system if it were in English, but its all French to some. Budet finds the American view of sex strange. “If you listen to songs in pop music in general, in rap music, in rock and roll, you have such songs not about sex but using some really rude word or whatever, so it’s really weird to see the gap between the things that people are listening to and the picture of the country as prudish.” Budet respects the modern female pop star for setting an example of how strong and powerful women can be, referencing notables such as Beyoncé, and Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift and especially Katy Perry, with whom Yelle had an opening spot on the pop star’s Teenage Daydream Tour. Inspiration grew into collaboration as a Twitter exchange blossomed into a worldwide tour.
Budet and GrandMarnier (Jean-François Perrier) have been creating music as Yelle for ten years. “We started the band in 2005,” says Budet. “And in September, we’re going to celebrate the [ten-year] launch of ‘Je Veux Te Voir’ on MySpace.” They just recently started their own record label, Recreation Center. “We had the chance to produce one record for a band, Totorro. It’s great to have positive feedback and to realize that they are growing, and they are touring and things are changing in their life in a good way.” For their own music, Budet is busy releasing new videos and songs from their third album, Complètement fou, including a video for their song, “Ba$$in,” which references the beloved British television import, Teletubbies, but in a slightly subversive way. “In France the Teletubbies [come on] at six or seven in the morning. It’s a TV show that people used to watch after a hard night partying. We like to imagine people watching our music video in the same way,” Budet goes on to explain. “You will love it or hate it. But nothing in the middle!”
Read the full interview with Yelle’s Julie Budet and The Untitled Magazine for The #GirlPower Issue below:
Untitled Magazine: Well to start I wanted to ask you, I know your name originally was an acronym Y-E-L for “You Enjoy Life” and you’ve also been quoted as saying you don’t have to be tortured to make good music. Will you elaborate on the benefits of having such a positive mindset? How has it affected your sound?
Julie Budet: I think I’m just a really positive person and it’s really deep inside me. I just want to bring something like that into my music. Sometimes we have sad songs of course because you can’t be super happy all the time. To bring something positive to people and to give them something strong, it’s really a connection—to mean what you sing. I think people can see it even if they don’t understand the lyrics sometimes. They can feel the energy and the positiveness in your attitude. I think it really helps people to be better. It’s just my goal in life to bring joy and happiness to others.
UM: It’s true, your songs definitely do that for me. I love listening to them. Another thing we wanted to ask you about is your personal style. You have such a distinct, colorful look. Who are your style icons and which designers do you love working with?
JB: I had strong icons when I was younger like Cyndi Lauper, Kate Bush, and Madonna, of course. Also singers from French 80s pop music. I think I grew up with a lot of strong pictures and music videos. I think it’s also TV shows that inspired me. For example, I work with Jean-Paul Lespagnard, the Belgian designer; I met him seven or eight years ago and we started being friends. We are almost the same age and experienced the same pop culture. When working with someone I think it helps to have the same references and the same mood and everything. It’s really easy to work with him because he can really feel what I want. We try to work on different stuff for the cover of the record than we did in the past, like for Safari Disco for example. We’re working on the outfits for the stage and he’s also working with the dancers and choreographers. He knows how to build clothes for movement. It’s great to have someone to put you in something beautiful when you are not moving, but because I’m moving a lot and the guys on stage are playing drums we need to feel free for the movement and I think he really understands that and it’s great. I had a chance to work with Jean-Paul in the past and I really like him because he is a big fan of music in general, pop music particularly; he has a real vision of the connection between fashion and music and how the music can help fashion and also the opposite. It’s great to meet someone who is a real fan of music; he can understand what people and artists want to express in their music. That’s a really important thing to me, to have this connection with the people I work with.
UM: I read in one interview that you’ve considered making your own clothing line, is that still something in the works?
JB: I don’t know if I’m going to do my own line because it seems to be really hard and complicated. We already are doing so much and it’s really important for us to be super involved in the process, to decide the colors of the materials and the design of everything. I think it’s a good start to work on something with different stuff and I would love to collab. We are thinking of doing something with my friend Jean-Paul Lespagnard—just a scarf or something really easy and simple. To work on your own line is kind of hard. But why not one day? It’s something I’m very excited about.
UM: I’m excited too, I’d love to see. The next thing I wanted to ask you about is your break out hit. “Je Veux Te Voir,” was sort of a mock diss track at misogynist rap songs. How do you feel it addressed misogyny in music and what was your intention in creating that song?
JB: It actually was a really fun thing for us to do because it was just the start of Yelle. We were working in a little studio and trying stuff and we had the idea about that song. We really wanted to express something fun and crazy. It’s not a real diss song because it’s full of funny references. I’d really like to think it’s like boys and girls at school teasing each other. I like that idea of playing with someone but it was also a song to talk about the girls in the rap game and the fact that the boys are always talking about girls in not a nice way most of the time. It was funny to act in that way, of course, using humor and fun always.
UM: Definitely. I know you’ve often been approached about singing in English, but that you only sing in French. Could you explain the thinking behind that decision?
JB: You know since the beginning of Yelle, the French has been really important. In the beginning we were thinking ‘Okay, we’re starting a band maybe one day we’ll have a chance to play, we’ll have a chance to play out of Brittany and maybe in France, whatever.’ Actually just a few weeks after we put that song on MySpace, we had a lot of requests on labels and people asking ‘When can you come and play in my club?’ We were really surprised by the success of the song and we realized also that the French wasn’t a problem. So it was a normal thing for us to continue to write in French. I really like that, the fact that we are a French band singing in French and traveling all around the world with our French songs. I don’t want to try to write in English because—maybe for a collab or something it could match—but doing a whole Yelle album in English? It would be weird. I’m not sure I have the words to do it because even if I love to speak English, my English is not that good and I need to learn a lot of vocabulary myself. I don’t really like bands trying to sing in English with a bad accent and that would be the case for me. Maybe I could do something with my French accent; it could be fun but maybe just for one song or as I said, a collab with an English artist or something like that. I really like the French. I think it’s great to express yourself and to find the right words to describe emotions and feelings and to play with the word, it’s really important.
UM: Well it sounds lovely. I don’t speak French, but I certainly still connect with it. Your most recent album is your third studio album, titled Complètement flu, but the translation if I’m correct is “completely crazy?”
UM: It was produced with help from Dr. Luke. How would you say this differs from your first two albums?
JB: It was different because on the two previous albums we worked in our studio in Brittany with GrandMarnier and also with Tepr, so it was homemade. We were working in our hometown, we weren’t taking risks. When we started working on the third record we were like, ‘Okay maybe it could be good to have the help of someone else.’ It’s good to change your routine and the way you are working. It was the first time we were working out of the studio, in a totally different city, with sometimes like five or six different people in the same studio, and it’s a totally different energy. Even if I like to work with just two people in the studio it’s great to be surrounded by people who have this fun energy and this connection, just something different. I really like to realize that it’s possible that you can do something in a different way. It was really awesome to try something with him [Dr. Luke]. It was the first time he was working with a French band and singing in French, so he doesn’t understand what we are talking about. It was just about the good energy. GrandMarnier was trying to help us to find the best melody and the best way to do the songs, so it was really intense and a great experience. It was also good to meet people and to spend time not just time in the studio. I mean normal life, just having dinner or a drink or walking on the beach or whatever. It’s really important for us to share that moment with the people we work with. It’s really inspiring actually to connect in daily life.
UM: That’s lovely. Will you tell me a little bit about the decision behind the title of the album?
JB: Actually the title of the album is a title of a song and in that song we are talking about that crazy experience we had with Dr. Luke—the fact that he wanted to help us. He was a big fan of our music before we knew him. That’s crazy for a French band like us. It was super funny when we realized how big he is. You know our story: the fact that we spent time together working on that album and also the story of Yelle in general, that we just started in our little town working in our studio and crazy things happened. We are still living in Brittany and we like the fact that we are different in a way because we are doing things without thinking. We just want to have fun and make good music and travel all around the world with our music. The story of the record and of Yelle in general is in that song. I’m still super amazed about what I’m doing. You know every morning, every day, I’m always surprised and super happy to realize I am doing music. I’m a singer and it’s my job and it’s actually not a job, but its funny and crazy at the same time and I’m super happy about that.
UM: That’s a really lovely way to put it. Speaking of songs, even as a non-French speaker I’ve picked up on the fact that you often sing about sex in songs and I’m curious if you’ve faced any criticisms for this? Or does just being honest, carefree, and vocal about sex make you feel empowered?
JB: In France, of course, people understand the lyrics, so when we started to do some promos in September, I realized a lot of questions were sex oriented. Everyone was talking about that. It was not criticism, but people were curious about how and why it was so simple for us to speak about sex, relationships, and love in our music. It’s really important for me to have the chance to talk about everything, so of course we are talking about love and relationships, doubts and questions. What’s made a relationship a love story is also sex and it’s everywhere, it’s everyday in the life of a woman. It’s not a problem for me to talk about sex, it’s not taboo; it’s really important to talk about it. If we can read articles, if we can see TV shows, and hear radio shows talking about sex, we can have some songs talking about sex and not on the men’s side. Of course, you can listen to songs about sex in rap music, but its not that common in pop music so I think it’s a good thing. Actually, we didn’t think about it. It just happened and after we were reading the other lyrics of the album, we were like ‘Okay maybe we are talking about sex a little bit.’ I am super happy to have the chance to do that. I know that I feel super free in my country. I have the chance to be allowed to do it and I know it’s not the same thing in other countries. It’s great to realize in France, you can talk about sex in your song and it’s not perverted. That’s really important to me.
UM: Have you noticed a difference with the way sex is talked about in France versus the US?
JB: It’s funny because what we can see of America is that the country seems to be a very protective country regarding sex in general. It’s complicated to talk about sex in a way and on the radio, if you listen to songs in pop music in general, in rap music, in rock n’ roll, you have songs not about sex, but using some really rude words. It’s really weird to see the gap between the things that people are listening to and the picture of the country as prudish. It’s sometimes a little bit weird from France because in France it’s a little more free, but people are not really doing it. For example, I was watching a documentary on Serge Gainsbourg a few weeks ago. It was in the 70s and he was doing super sexy songs and I think it was not that easy for him to do that. Today I think it’s really easy here and that’s great to see that evolution, but still I felt that when we did that promo, that from a girl’s mouth, it’s a little bit different. People don’t really care when it’s a man talking about sex, but when it’s a woman it’s like ‘Whoa. That’s weird, or that’s a slut.’ There is still a big gap between boys and girls in that way.
UM: You caught Dr. Luke’s attention by your Katy Perry remix and you also have toured with her before? Can you tell me about your experiences on that tour? Any special moments or mementos, is she someone you admire?
JB: She’s great. I have really good memories about that tour because it was the beginning of our second record. We actually received a message on Twitter from her asking, ‘Do you want to be a part of our tour?’ I really admire her for that, she’s really involved in everything, in the process. In the rehearsal when she’s doing a sound check, she’s always there and watching what is happening. I knew that she was really involved in that choice of the opener for her tour. I think it’s great because she’s a really huge artist and she’s still really aware of what is happening in the music industry and I really like that. I like the way she’s driving her career. She’s doing her stuff, she’s weird in a way, and I really like that. It was a great experience. We didn’t spend enough time together because she is super busy everyday taking care of her fans, doing promos, rehearsals, makeup and everything so it’s really hard to catch up. When we had the chance to talk a little bit she was super nice; we were just exchanging normal girl stuff, just chatting and it was great. It was crazy because I’m watching this documentary on her and when we were touring with her, we didn’t know she was going through something really difficult in her love story. It was complicated, but she’s super strong to show up everyday and she’s giving a lot to her fans. She’s taking care of them and that’s great to see. For me that’s the most important, to do things for people. She was really involved in it.
UM: Will you tell me about your label, Recreation Center? How does it feel to be on the other side of the industry?
JB: It’s really interesting. It’s a totally different thing, for sure. It’s good to understand the other side. The difficulties and also the good points. It’s easier to understand how it works and to have a global vision on the label. When you produce an album, it’s a lot of work, not just on the part of doing music, but everything you are building, all the promos, all the design, the music video, everything. You have to check everything and be happy about everything. It’s really complicated, but it’s really interesting. I think it really helped us to realize how it works and how we can do things better for us. We had the chance to produce one record for a band called Totorro. It’s great to have feedback to realize that they are growing and they are touring and things are changing in their life in a good way and to realize maybe you helped in a way. It’s a really cool feeling and I hope we have the chance to work with them again. And with other bands, it could be super cool.
UM: So you and GrandMarnier have been working together for about 15 years now?
JB: 10 years. We started the band in 2005.
UM: That’s a long time to be working with someone. How would you describe your relationship?
JB: I think it’s a duet in the way we know each other and we have different roles in the collaboration. We bring different stuff to each other and I think we grew up with that exchange and it’s great to realize that after ten years we are still good friends. Actually it’s the most important, but also it’s an inspiration. He inspires me and I think I inspire him in a way and I think it’s good to feel that connection and to feel that something strong is still happening. It’s cool to realize that after ten years we can still have a project together and plans for the future. I hope it will continue like that, but it’s important to realize when you are making some mistakes and to be aware of each other. To have an open mind and to be curious is really important too. We realized after ten years that we are still best friends and happy to work together.
UM: Well that’s lovely, you guys make great work together. Changing subjects a bit, this is our girl power issue. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
JB: Of course, of course. I still realize things every day, I’m still trying to be aware, to read articles, to understand problems, to stay connected and to learn more. I grew up in a really open family. My father is a musician so he was at home during the week, cooking and taking care of us. He was super involved in our daily life while my mother was working. So I think it’s really deep inside me, but I still learn things from the situations of everyday life. I’m still super angry about the difficulties of others because I feel super lucky to grow up in an open family and to now have a great lover who understands me and treats me like I’m an equal thing. I know it’s hard for people and for women, so I try to help in a way, doing my little songs and talking about the girl in general and girls in situations. I think maybe it helps in a way, but I would love to be more involved and to have the chance to help others. I try to stay aware of it because I know in France we have a strong history about feminism and it’s great to realize it’s still something that people are aware of and they are trying to continue to fight. I think it’s great to see that around us and I hope things get better.
UM: Are there any specific issues surrounding women’s rights that resonate with you?
JB: It’s weird because in the last few days I was reading some articles about what’s happening in Syria, in Afghanistan and everything. As I said I feel super lucky and of course, even in France, there are some troubles, there’s still stuff to do for equality. I’m really scared about what is happening in other countries because even if things still need to change in France, we are super lucky. I’m super lucky to be a girl in my country because there are rules and people are trying to get that better, but in some other countries women are treated like slaves and it’s terrible. When you are at home in the morning reading the news and watching some terrible videos about little girls being raped or whatever, it’s really disturbing and horrifying. I want women and girls to have the same rights that I have today in my county. After that we can fight for equality and better things in my country, but to see what is happening outside of France makes me more angry. You feel like you can do nothing, but of course we can do things, I don’t know how to express it, but I think we have to solve that problem first and think about us after.
UM: Have you experienced any discrimination personally, being a woman in the music industry which is still pretty male dominated?
JB: I have the chance to be surrounded by cool people who never put me in weird or not cool situations, but for example, I was playing in different festivals and sometimes when I’m looking at the lineup I’m like, ‘But where are the girls?’ There are a lot of bands with males and sometimes it’s a little bit weird. In France, for example, we have a music festival called Les Femmes S’en Mêlent Festival. It’s all girls and I think it’s cool, but I think it’s not cool also because it’s a problem if we have to have our own festival to be in the front of everything. It’s cool, but it’s not cool! Sometimes in the music industry you feel that we need more girls. I actually think things are going better. I see a lot of girls in labels and more girls even in the media and everything so I’m super happy to realize maybe there is a balance between boys and girls. There is still some really not normal stuff, but I like to see that we have a strong icons in pop music, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj and even Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. It’s great to have strong girls in the music industry and I hope we’ll have more. I don’t want to fight against boys, I just want a balance, a normal balance.
UM: I think it’s safe to say you’re an international pop star and well known in the United States, but you first rose to fame in France as a French pop star; so on the subject of women, have you noticed any difference in the way women musicians are treated in France? Where do you feel most comfortable?
JB: I can’t really say I felt something different between France and US. I mean it’s the same game. You have to be on the good media and on the radio if you want to be known, so there is no big difference between the two countries. Maybe in French culture, I feel something a little bit more free in the way people are expressing themselves. Sometimes I feel a little bit more free about opinions and the fact that I can say anything that I want in my song and act as I want to. But no, I don’t really see a big difference between the two countries.
UM: Can you explain the ideas behind your “Ba$$in” video?
JB: Do you know the Teletubbies? It’s a mix between the Teletubbies, a crazy party with the Teletubbies. It’s funny because in France the Teletubbies are at maybe at six or seven in the morning so it’s a TV show that people used to watch after a hard night of partying, sometimes on drugs or still super drunk. We like to imagine people watching our music video in the same way, because it’s really about craziness. People either love it or hate it. But nothing in the middle!
UM: I’m really excited to see it. So what else do we have to look forward to from Yelle?
JB: I think we will do new music soon to have the chance to work with new people. We will see if the inspiration is coming!
Julie Budet photographed by Jennifer Massaux for The Untitled Magazine’s #GirlPower Issue
Stylist: Tara Williams
Hair by Rob Talty
Make-up by Elie Maalouf
Photographed at Pro Location Studios
Interview by The Untitled Magazine
This article originally appeared in The #GirlPower Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2015), pick up a copy of the issue in our online store