Karl Lagerfeld loves the new Yelle record. In fact, he loves it so much he danced around his Paris apartment while listening to it. It’s an image some might find difficult — or impossible — to imagine, but he recently told the French pop siren himself, on the Canal+ television show Salut les Terriens.
“He sat close to me, and the first thing he said was, ‘I was listening to your new record all morning and I loved it,’” Yelle, aka Julie Budet, says in her thick French accent. “We talked about Brittany and fashion and he told me he loves my style. Then he talked about how he has a team of five people who look after his cat. He said, ‘I know I’m a jerk, but I love my cat!’”
Lagerfeld isn’t the only one who’s a fan. Since Budet and bandmates GrandMarnier and Tepr burst onto the European pop scene with their hit “Je veux te voir,” they’ve got a lot of attention with their brand of smart, bubbly pop, not to mention Budet’s style.
She’s a look-book unto herself, consistently sporting bright, eye-catching and sometimes head-scratching clothes from designers such as Jean-Paul Lespagnard and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. The band’s video for the title single from their new album, Complètement Fou, is a visual wonder, jam-packed with voguing, a giant corn stalk, glittering popcorn and avant-garde (as Budet puts it) “weird chic” looks. Her close friend Lespagnard’s shrimp shirt is a highlight.
“I wanted to work with a stylist named Jean Paul Paula, who works for Wild magazine in France,” Budet says. “I knew he wouldn’t just pick a Kenzo dress. He has lots of designer friends. He really gets it. For this video I had [French designer] Jacquemus on my mind,” she says. “I really liked the last collection he did; it’s colourful and simple, mostly in neoprene. It doesn’t move, but when you move in it, it’s really good.”
Finding the right words to describe Budet’s chameleon-like style is difficult. At a get-together before her recent show in Toronto, she sits on a leather couch in a cream, deep-V cashmere sweater over black stretch pants and all-white Reebok runners. Her hair is tied back in a loose, high ponytail and she wears minimal makeup. She’s a stunner whether sporting blinding flashes of colour or a subdued casual look.
“I feel a little schizophrenic because I really need the two parts,” she says, getting cozier on the couch. “There are the shy and normal parts in my everyday life and then craziness onstage. It’s a balance. I really like fashion and to have fun with clothes, but not to spend crazy money on it because I don’t feel comfortable with that. It’s important for me to feel comfortable with what I’m wearing each night. It’s a real decision.”
That feeling of duality carries through to her music. Complètement Fou, much like Budet, is at once calm and cool and a storm of sexuality, wild dancing and humour. The album was recorded between Los Angeles, with a little help from pop mastermind Dr Luke, and the French region of Brittany, in the coastal city of Saint-Brieuc, Budet’s hometown.
“I’m proud and happy and excited about this new record because it was a totally new experience for us to work like that,” Budet says. “Of course, Dr Luke was a great experience, but also opening up the writing process was new for us. For the two previous records, we worked at home in the studio. You just have to go upstairs to grab a coffee and you can stay in pyjamas if you want.”
With all this talk of casual comfort and pyjamas, one has to wonder how Budet often manages to like she just stepped off the streets of Paris and sounds like the hottest thing in dance music right now. The singer claims it’s because of their “small-town,” simple life that she and her boyfriend, GrandMarnier (aka Jean-François Perrier), are able to maintain their public personas. When they’re not on the road, Saturday nights mostly consist of pints at the local pub or living-room dance parties with records and friends. Their home is five minutes from the ocean, with a cozy fireplace and a view of the garden. It’s the feeling of removal from the big, bad world that makes them hungry and forces them to listen to and reach out to other artists and designers. It’s that and the fact that Budet, if she’s being honest, really doesn’t like Paris.
“I love the city, but I hate to stay there because it’s oppressive and I feel uncomfortable after three days,” she says. “It’s terrible. I can’t imagine living there. I really like the life I live in my hometown because I have my family around and my friends, and they are buying houses and building families. I think that’s cool. We are going to different countries and discovering things, and when we come back it’s our roots. I like simple life at home and crazy life on the road.”
With that, her stage manager interrupts to ask if Budet can come down to the stage for five minutes to test out a ball of lights she’ll be projecting into the audience during her performance later that night.
After a few minutes I hear her racing back up the stairs, and she leaps back onto the couch. “Okay, I’m ready,” she says, with a single hand-clap. With Budet, there’s no ego. She just feels like your really cool, well-dressed, talented friend from France.
“For me, it’s still a challenge to make people dance and make good songs and express myself through music and provoke some deep feelings in people,” she says. “I want to keep that. I don’t want to think I’m huge or famous; that’s really weird. I just want to have fun, actually, and if you always think you are a little band, you can always try for better things and evolve.”