Chick Habit: Why Death Proof, Moonrise Kingdom, and A Simple Favor all use 60s French Pop
You should be proud of me for not titling this post “The Divine Secrets of the Yé-yé Sisterhood.” Really, because I absolutely considered it for more than a few minutes. But I also didn’t know what Yé-yé was before researching for this piece, since I never realized that ‘female-sung French pop from the 1960s’ had a shorter name.
Yé-yé supposedly comes from changing the English “yeah! yeah!” into French, heavily inspired by The Beatles and other British Invasion acts. The combination of French patriotism for supporting music from their home country with the fashion and style of young women at the time merged to make yé-yé a phenomenon, albeit a camp one.
There have been a few films in the past 10 years that have used yé-yé music in interesting ways, which is something that stood out after seeing Paul Feig’s newest film, A Simple Favor.
The first time I took notice to this kind of music when Quentin Tarantino used April March’s Anglicized cover of "Laisse tomber les filles,” called “Chick Habit” over the end credits of his underrated 2007 film Death Proof:
After seeing Grindhouse in the theater and immediately downloading the best soundtrack of Tarantino’s career to date, I was entranced by this song, both the version above and March’s cover in the original language.
Tarantino uses this 1995 version of the song as an exclamation point to highlight the revenge of the girls after they pull Kurt Russell’s misogynist murderer Stuntman Mike from his car and unleash a violent beating on him. The campy nature of the song is juxtaposed both by March’s altered, more aggressive lyrics and by the violence performed by the characters in the final scene of the film.
Almost every use of yé-yé seems to employ juxtaposition, which is inherent in many of the songs themselves. Yé-yé is bubblegum, campy pop, but there is a built in sense of innuendo from the (mostly male songwriters) contrasting with the age of the singers. In Death Proof, “Chick Habit” turns that back on itself, and celebrates the women’s power in a mostly non-objectified way (not the copious ass shot as the girls walk to Mike’s car–Tarantino is having it both ways in this film). But what I love about his choice to use March’s cover the original is that it emphasizes her take on the song having a more power-pop, riot grrl sensibility.
This is very different from Wes Anderson’s use of yé-yé in the musically eclectic Moonrise Kingdom. While much of the film is set to Alexandre Desplat’s original score and Benjamin Britten’s classical pieces, the use of Françoise Hardy’s “les temps de l'amour” stands out as a choice because it is music chosen by one of the lead characters, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). She plays it on the beach for her and Sam (Jared Gilman) to dance to:
Anderson’s use of this song is closest to that of its original circumstances, but again focuses on how a woman might react to the song, rather than a man. From the lyrics, Hardy is seemingly making a statement about her own life, on her own terms. This despite that the song was written by older men and the lyrics refer to the singer being twenty as a time in the past, while Hardy was only 18 when the song was released.
For Suzy, the song is a statement of self, music that she might like separate from the rest of her family, especially since it is contemporary (the song was released in 1962 and film takes place in ‘65). And as Hardy sings words beyond her years in the song, Suzy Bishop is trying to act more mature than her twelve years, especially in this scene. She is a child aspiring to adolescence, while Hardy is an adolescent reminiscing about an adulthood she has yet to experience.
Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor is the most recent example, and the director uses a few different songs in the yé-yé style to evoke a few different moods over the course of the film. First, Françoise Hardy’s “Comment te dire adieu” is used to represent how Blake Lively’s Emily appears to Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie when they first meet. More exotic, worldly, and sexy than Stephanie’s patterned-dress Mommy vlogger lifestyle (the translated title is “How to Say Goodbye to You” which is also a fun little meta-joke).
Minor spoilers for A Simple Favor in the following paragraph.
Later, the soundtrack uses the dreamy pop of Brigitte Bardot’s “La Madrague” and “Une Historie de plage” to evoke the dream-like state that occurs between Stephanie and Sean in the middle section of the film. But then it swerves into Bardot’s swirling “Bonnie and Clyde,” not only a song not only about criminals, but the song even sounds much more sinister.
Yé-yé French pop has a distinct sound, and all three of these filmmakers used that style to imbue their films with specific feelings that inform us about the characters within each scene. I look forward to discovering even more yé-yé on screen in the future!