My Frenchie flag was flying high as Yelle concluded her Safari Disco Tour of the U.S. in Philly (at Union Transfer). She turned out to be quite the performer. A pop phenomenon abroad, the French export nails her own brand of electronically inspired, hip-hop-kissed dance pop. With her second record, Safari Disco Club, she’s kept her momentum toward eventual stratosphere-status.
1. She came out in a crazy, leafy, camouflage costume. The kind of thing deep-cover, stealthy intel soldiers would wear when trying to infiltrate enemy lines. In the jungle. Clearly, this is the urban jungle and she had come to penetrate our hearts with charm and our eardrums with ze funk.
2. She played a song early in the set, after she’d taken off her poncho of leafiness, that I could swear was a Robyn song. It had the melody and the production that sounded like “Who’s That Girl,” the 2005 gem from her self-titled “comeback” record. It totally was. Yelle recorded it as “Qui est cette fille?,” part of an iTunes Foreign Exchange program. Robyn laid down “A cause des garcons” as “Because of Boys.” Must. Get. That. ASAP.
3. There are probably a half-dozen of her songs from her two records whose titles I know by sight and sound: “A cause des garcons,” “Ce jeu,” “Je veux te voir,” and “Safari Disco Club.” My French is still intermediate. But when you listen to a record and focus more on beats, instrumentation and moods, which her records have in spades, there’s less importance laid on a cognitive connection to a title. You hear the first few notes of an American pop song and think “Oh, this is ‘Party in the USA’ by Miley,” but when you don’t know the language you think, “Oh, this is that song that sounds kind of like dancehall.” It makes for a different experience.
4. After removing her camo cloak, she revealed a color-blocked and glittered short dress with big shoulders. She looked so French with an angled bob mastered by Victoria Beckham and a tall, skinny, flat-chested frame. She worked that stage hard with frequent trips to both sides, dance moves for days and endless enthusiasm. “Are you ready to dance, Pheelee!?” she screamed and the crowd responded in equal parts, “Yeah!” and “Oui!” Oui, by the way, isn’t easy to turn into a scream—it ends up sounding like “Wheyyyyyyy!”
5. The gays have been hip to Yelle for a while, but not many were in attendance. Anyone who’s been to a Kylie Minogue, Ke$ha or Robyn concert would’ve thought, “Am I at the wrong show?” No, it was heaps of youth in ecstatic mania. There were parents outside Union Transfer waiting to pick up their children. My friend noticed some of these kids mouthing every word. It’s impressive—American white people knowing every word of a foreign-language pop record? Unfathomable. In fact, there was even a family who looked quite French, who brought their 3-year-old and 5-year-old girls in matching turquoise hoodies. It’s OK, they had earplugs in, but that mom totally used to party.
6. One song had a straight-up drumline drum beat that could’ve come from a Diplo production (or Stomp The Yard). Yelle’s sound is hard to categorize and that’s one of the most intriguing things about her. Not only does her language not form a barrier, the sheer magnetism of her production draws fans from many walks of music. Other artists that come to mind who go for this are CSS, Uffie, Peaches and Ladyhawke, with a mix of Hot Chip, Simian Mobile Disco and Hercules & Love Affair. Then, of course, her newest is totally disco-inspired, with disco drum beats all over it and all up on that stage with a kickass live drummer named Jean-Francois Perrier. How French is that?
7. A favorite of mine from SDC is “Chimie Physique,” which she killed at Union Transfer. It translates into “Physical Chemistry” and she follows the title phrase with “entre nous”—“between us.” It sounded a lot better live with a fuller percussion sound. Bien fait.
8. Her third and final outfit was a marvel. Honestly, I was expecting a little more visual flash: projections, props, lasers and light shows. Luckily, the UT folks tend to do a pretty bangup light show, but SHE was more show than I could’ve expected. She worked a full-body singlet, like head to ankle, that looked like a cuckoo Nordic ski racer’s suit; a red-and-blue unitard with detailing down the legs. I wonder if she has to wash it after every show—girl got sweaty.
9. Their chit-chat was so damn charming. Before the encore, Perrier, a tall, handsome Frenchman, made us make some noise. He lifted the microphone stand and hovered it above the crowd at the lip of the stage. “Do you know how to scream?!” he asked in his thickly accented English. The crowd did, naturally, know how to scream, and he pulled the mike stand back to his face and said “OK, you know eet.” Perfect.
10. Points go to the trio in the crowd rocking masks with feathers all over them. They looked handmade and diligently, lovingly crafted. It made for awkward passings-by when they would squeeze past you and you’d get feathers in your face, but you didn’t really mind. It was a safari, after all. “Les animaux” were out.
PW's Music Issue 2014