New French act Petite Meller makes eccentric pop influenced by jazz and psychoanalytic ideas of the libidinal subconscious. In one video, she clings childlike to the chest of a man who carries her to the suburbs and rooftops of New York, whilst another explores her childhood fantasies in the south of France, wearing a baby’s hat. In the video for upcoming single Baby Love, she goes to Kenya and discovers a choir of schoolgirls, singing and dancing and kicking up dust in the sand.
But her videos aren’t just dreamy and cute. Using an aesthetic language of pastel colours, quirky fashion choices and odd symbolic imagery, they fall somewhere between an American Apparel shoot (the brand’s photographer Napoleon Habeica works with Petite) and plain awkwardness. Are the trips to Kenya and New York artistically rooted in the influence of African music and jazz on Petite’s sound, or do they exoticise and make symbols out of Africans and African Americans? I’m also torn between disregarding the close-ups of Petite’s body as simply objectifying and admiring her playful use of philosophical frameworks to emphasise sexual agency.
However you choose to read her work, there’s an undeniable exuberance to her music. We asked her about the meaning behind some of her songs.
How have you worked out the cornerstones of your sound?
I wrote Baby Love with Swedish producer Jocke Åhlund. When we were in his studio in Stockholm, I asked him if I could beatbox since I didn’t like the programmed drums. When he turned on the mic, African rhythms came out of me. Then we added bongos and the sax, my jazz inspiration. The humming melody is a very French chansonnier melody.
I pour all my childhood sounds into my music. When I was little, I used to listen to Dizzie Gillespie and Duke Ellington records until I fell asleep on the floor covered in them. Everyone was listening to funny French disco and my mum was always into heavy poetic chansons written by Baudelaire and Sartre. For me, music will always be a combination of those two genres. That’s why I call my genre “mon nouveau jazzy pop”.
Where does your fascination with childhood, the subconscious and sexuality stem from?
I’m doing my Philosophy MA at the moment, focusing on psychoanalysis. I have always been attracted to Freud, Lacan and Deleuze, but also Shakespeare and Kant. They all deal with dreams and the unconscious mind. For Freud, dreams are based on a childhood memories that wear different costumes every night. In my Backpack video, I show scenes from my childhood, discovering sexuality for the first time through a physic game and while walking alone in the open fields and feeling pleasure for the first time. Those little discoveries of life are what I want to show in my videos.
There is a line in Backpack that goes “I can finally think of time physically”. What do you mean by that?
The water-ski scene in Backpack is the free feeling of acknowledging that things are falling into their place. That's how I feel now, growing up and realising the things that used to hold me back are all there for the sake of making me who I am.
What can you tell us about Baby Love?
Baby Love is an example of pleasure coming out of pain, which is basically the Lacanian meaning of the word 'jouissance’. It's about a broken heart and a hysterical woman dancing the pain away. I felt really connected to the story of the schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped. I can’t forget how they used to have a normal lives with dreams, style and broken hearts. At the same time, I was searching for a fashionable African film, but only found traditional ones. I wanted to show a more real reality. When I got to Nairobi, I saw Hadija sitting on the porch in a slum crossroad. She told me about her dream to be an actress and she had the perfect strong and ambitious character. I follow her in the video, where she uplifts me from my sorrows and directs me to the schoolgirls. With their joyful beat and rhythm, they exemplify the essence of life.
You often create abstract dream worlds in your videos. Do you ever feel detached from the surrounding world?
I'm just creating realities that for me are more real and more close and honest to the unrepressed content that persists in our minds. Bringing libidinal unconscious dreams into reality is what fascinates me. The fantasies become reality. Like in dreams, I see my life like chance encounters. It's about being open for it and accepting it when it come. That's how I've met my directors, manager and the cast for all my videos.
This interview was originally published on the Oh Comely blog.