petite meller is pop’s new pastel princess
We catch up with the French singer to discuss the “lil’ empire” she’s created with social media, and which giraffes are the best kissers.
Petite Meller is injecting a generous dose of joy and whimsy into pop music. Sporting delightfully playful looks from the likes of Undercover and Jacquemus, she strikes a style chord that's entirely unique. Meller is all about adapting dreams and fantasies into real life. She sings, she says, straight from her unconscious mind and takes cues from her studies in philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. And the videos for her three singles, too, have an intriguing, dream-like quality, drenched in waves of pastels and rich imagery. Her latest release, Baby Love, brings Petite into full colour. Ahead of her album release, later this year, we spoke to the French-born, London-based songstress about creating her own genre, learning to waterski and tapping into her unconscious.
Where are you from?
I grew up between Paris and Tel Aviv, until my British manager found me online and brought me to London, where everything became more serious! Though, I was at the doctor the other day and he discovered that I have two extra bones, so frankly I'm not sure where I'm from anymore.
When did you first realise you wanted to become a musician?
I never really decided that. Most of my songs are basically things that come out of my unconscious. My mission is to bring repressed life into reality, and through my videos I create realities that I hope people can join in with.
How would you describe your sound?
"Le Nouveau Jazzy Pop." It's a combination of jazz, African music, and French chansons.
You're studying for your masters in philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris - does that influence your work?
I was always attracted to the work of Freud, Lacan and Deleuze, but also Shakespeare and Kant. They all deal with the human unconscious, dreams and fantasies. For Freud, dreams are based on a childhood memory that wears a different [costume] every night. In my "Backpack" video, I show scenes of my childhood, as a girl discovering sexuality for the first time through a physical game. I also learned to water ski for one scene, which exemplifies the free feeling of acknowledging that things are falling into their place - that's how I feel now. It's about loving your symptoms, and making what used to hold you back your virtue.
You shot the Baby Love video at Giraffe Manor in Kenya. What was that like?
The giraffe was the tricky part. It took hours to convince a female giraffe to kiss me. Then we switched to a male giraffe -- he had the longest tongue -- and in a minute he licked the hell out of me!
All of your videos have a sort of dreamy quality. How would you describe your approach?
I always have the first idea for the video immediately after recording the song, then I collect all the references and work with directors A.T. Mann and Napoleon Habeica to bring my fantasies into life. I also work with my stylists, Nao Koyabu and Gabrielle Swan, on the colours and cinema references. What amazes me is that most of the people I work with, I meet on social media. That creates a new map of territories, which I like to call "my lil' empire."
What are you most inspired by?
I was always inspired by classic cinema -- the aesthetic of film directors like Bergman, Antonioni and Tarkovsky. For me, those movies are no different from songs. They're poetry. In the intro to the video for NYC Time, we paid homage to Antonioni's Eclipse. I wanted to show those empty suburban locations that symbolise the start of a voyage.
You work with a different producer for each track - why is that?
I'm very specific about my genre and the sounds I want. For example, I prefer bongos or beatboxing to programmed drums. With every producer I get a lot of interpretations of my genre. You could say that I have my own language and each producer speaks it with a different accent. I also learn a lot from them. I got my upbeat disco from Swedish producer Jocke Åhlund, African choirs from Craigie Dodds, who is South African, and an Australian touch from Pnau.
What's your creative process like?
I always sing my unconscious out; I never write things before I come to the studio. When I was writing Baby Love in the studio with Jocke Åhlund in Stockholm, I asked him If I could beatbox with my mouth since I don't like the programmed drums.
Do fashion and art influence your music?
I love the style of Antonioni's actresses, like Anita Eckberg and Monica Vitti. Their characters inspire my videos and the way I am in life and on stage. I mostly work with young couture designers I've met online. For the Baby Love video, Marta Cesaro, from the London College of Fashion, designed the huge hats. Some of the school girls wear Jacquemus. Then we used a lot of French Victorian lingerie from the Porte de Vanves flea market in Paris. The kids and I are also wearing the Spring Court sneakers that John and Yoko used to wear.
What can we expect from your next album?
A lot of sax, congos and the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir.
Text Devin Barrett