A Field Guide to 1960s French Yé-Yé Pop

If you’re wondering just what on earth was with that “Zou bisou bisou” song from Mad Men on Sunday night, look no further — we’re here to help! The song was a prime example of yé-yé, the Francophone take on bubblegum teen pop that flourished in France during the early 1960s and briefly became a global phenomenon. The genre took its name from a bastardization of the English “yeah yeah,” gave the world some of the 1960s’ best pop songs, and even got a serious academic working-over from Susan Sontag, who wrote about yé-yé in her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.” And judging by the slew of articles that have appeared on the subject since Sunday, it’s all anyone’s gonna be talking about until the next episode — so click through and take advantage of our handy yé-yé primer!

Gillian Hills

We might as well start with “Zou bisou bisou,” which was sung by 16-year-old Gillian Hills in 1961. The song was produced by a young George Martin, who’d soon go on to hook up with a little-known Liverpool pop group called The Beatles, and it later appeared on the soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic Blow-Up — as did Hills herself, shedding her clean-cut teen idol image along with her clothes in the famous scene where she gets naked with Jane Birkin. Swinging London, indeed.