Yé-yé was a style of pop music that emerged from Southern Europe in the early 1960s. The term “yé-yé” was derived from the English term “yeah! yeah!”, popularized by British beat music bands such as the Beatles. The style expanded worldwide, due to the success of figures such as the French singer-songwriters Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy.
Although originating in France, the yé-yé movement extended over Western Europe. The Italian singer Mina became the country’s first female rock and roll singer in 1959. In the following few years, she inclined to middle-of-the-road girl pop. After her scandalous relationship and pregnancy with a married actor in 1963, she developed her image into a grown up ‘bad girl’. An example of her style were the lyrics of the song “Ta-ra-ta-ta”: “The way you smoke, you are irresistible to me, you look like a real man”. By contrast, her compatriot Rita Pavone cast the image of a typical teeny yé-yé girl. For example, the lyrics of her 1964 hit “Cuore” complained how love made the protagonist suffer.
In Italy the yé-yé wave ended around 1967, vanishing under the emergence of British rock-blues / pop, and psychedelia. Parisian-born singer Catherine Spaak had a massive success in Italy, with a style very close to Françoise Hardy. Other significant yé-yé girls include Mari Marabini, Carmen Villani, Anna Identici and the girl-groups Le Amiche, Le Snobs and Sonia e le Sorelle.
In Spain, yé-yé music was at first considered to be against Catholicism. However, this did not stop the yé-yé culture from spreading, although a bit later than in the rest of Europe; in 1968 Spanish yé-yé girl Massiel won the Eurovision song contest with “La, la, la”. Subsequently, she failed to maintain her success, and the sweet, naïve-looking singer Karina enjoyed success as the Spanish yé-yé queen with her hits “En un mundo nuevo” and “El baúl de los recuerdos”.
At the end of the 1970s there was a brief but successful yé-yé recurrence in France, spreading across the charts of western continental Europe, with electro-pop influenced acts like Plastic Bertrand, Lio and Elli et Jacno and in a more rocking vein, Ici Paris and Les Calamités (a subgenre dubbed “Yé-yé Punk” by Les Wampas leader Didier Wampas). Lio especially had a string of hits during 1980, the most famous of which was “Amoureux Solitaires”. This new brand of yé-yé, although short lived, made good use of the new electronic keyboards and synthetic drums that had surfaced recently with new wave music.
Yé-yé grew very popular in Japan and yé-yé music is in the origins of Shibuya-kei in the 1990s and Japanese idol music. There is a Japanese version of the 1965 Eurovision-winning song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” composed by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by France Gall. Japan has released a DVD copy of Cherchez l’idole featuring Johnny Hallyday, a notable yé-yé singer. One of the more popular yé-yé vocal groups was Les Surfs who appear in Cherchez l’idole performing their hit song “Ca n’a pas d’importance”. (Wikipedia)