In this age of information, it is a rare thing for a pop star to remain a mystery. But it seems like kooky left-field French singer-songwriter Petite Meller (@petitemeller) has achieved the impossible. Sure, it’s only a matter of time before we find out the truth behind her Lolita-like demeanour (rosy cheeks, pigtails et al), but to date, it is still not certain if “Petite” is her real name or how old she is. However, judging by her astronomical rise to fame, the Parisian-born London-based proponent of a genre she dubs “la nouveau jazzy pop” is anything but little. She has chalked up almost 12 million views on her YouTube channel (more than 8.6 million of those views are attributed to the music video of her single Baby Love), is friends with Karl Lagerfeld, and was seen front row at the designer’s show for Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection with Vanessa Paradis, Lily-Rose Depp and Cara Delevingne. Her debut album – which is out now and something she regards as “a journey through unconscious childhood memories of Dizzy Gillespie’s sax, Paul Simon’s Graceland album, and my mom singing me a French song by Charles Aznavour – is titled Lil Empire. In this exclusive interview with L’Officiel Singapore, the Philosophy graduate gives us a glimpse into her own fantastical kingdom of sonic journeys, new folklores and magical solitude.
You constantly make references to your childhood. For example, the blush you wear across your cheeks is a nod to a sunburn you suffered as a kid. What other components of your childhood have become a part of who you are today?
I was always in my own world, climbing a mountain alone, singing to and dancing by myself. I told the other kids that I could make magic while closing my eyes. The truth is, I still believe in it! My imagination leads me to faraway countries like Kenya, Mongolia or Senegal, where I shoot my music videos. Also, I loved listening to jazz records and my Mum would always sing French chansons in a dramatic way. All of these things made me who I am today. I’ve been led by the sounds of music to create my little realities and I invite everyone to join me on the ride!
How do people react when they see you?
Every day when I go to buy chai tea, I can see that the waitresses are trying to hide their laughter, but I’m used to it. Sometimes I ask, “What’s funny?” but mostly I wait and see how long it takes before they realise that I’m just someone who doesn't care, and that I just want to be myself. I always say, “Wear your trauma proudly.” That’s my philosophy when it comes my style. I always wear a bandage in my videos as a symbol of healing. I’m not afraid to reveal my disadvantages and use them for my art.
Kenzo gave a nod to your look for their Spring/Summer 2017 show. All their models wore exaggerated blush, and you're now their ambassador! Thoughts?
I first saw a Kenzo ad at a party in Paris that was held for the launch of their perfume, Kenzo World. It was a film directed by Spike Jonze starring Margaret Qualley and featuring an original track by Sam Spiegel. It was love at first listen! I immediately asked Sam to write music together and we did in LA. I love Kenzo. I think the brand and I share a touristic travelling inspiration in terms of music, dance and style. I loved their collaboration with H&M. It really had a connection with the New Folklorism which comes up in my videos.
You’re a Philosophy graduate. What was your thesis on?
It was about the similarity between psychosis and the sublime. “The sublime” was a term that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant came up with, and I believe this helped French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (and, therefore, us) to understand what psychosis is all about. To me, understanding the multiplicity of realities is crucial to the creative process.
Who has influenced your thinking, your music and sense of style? How are these things interrelated?
There are so many: Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, Brigitte Bardot… I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, fantasies, madness and interpretations. My songs and videos are assemblages of all those ideas.
When you first came on the scene, you were compared to artists like Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey. How did you feel about that?
Yes, I get compared a lot to Björk, South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord and so on. It’s very complimentary but my music is not really inspired by those artists. It’s more inspired by jazz, old vinyls by Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington, French chansons and African choirs. I guess when you encounter new artists, it’s easier to understand them by comparing them to others. Someone said that if Brigitte Bardot and Paul Simon had a child, it would be me – I like that! I am Petite Meller and my music is about dancing the pain away. I try to take you to a place of euphoria with my music because real life is so absurd.
Why do you think society, and the fashion industry in particular, is so obsessed with youth?
I don’t know. I grew up with my grandparents and I am fascinated by old people! In the video for Barbaric, I went all the way to Miami to film dance moves in retirement homes. I find much charm in people who can teach me about life, with their sweaters and their cigars and their glasses of Cognac – like Steven Spielberg or Woody Allen.
Why did you name your latest album Lil Empire?
The album is a ride through many countries. My ear is my compass and writing songs sends my imagination to faraway countries. In the process of making music and videos, I meet a lot of creative people whether on social media or on location, and I feel that when we create together, we build another reality that is really positive and crazy. It’s our “lil empire” which everyone can be part of too.
For the video for The Flute, you worked with designers from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. What was that collaboration like and what was the most inspiring part of it?
I loved working with Angel Chen, a Chinese fashion designer who made a lot of the costumes in that video. I enjoyed sitting in the editing room and seeing how all the collections from Belgium, Denmark and London – which were handmade for my body – could tell a story. It was about inventing a new folklore, one inspired by colours and sounds.
Have you ever had a serious creative block? How did you overcome that?
I read books and watch movies. Philosophy lectures were where I wrote most of my songs, but sometimes I just stare at the ceiling and inspiration comes.
Sigmund Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” How true is that?
I think because Freud loved smoking cigars, he was embarrassed by his own saying that every phallic object is related, in the unconscious, to sex. So I think he had to say that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and nothing else. But I don't think he meant it. I think a cigar is never just a cigar, and the same applies to everything else that exists. Interpretation gives things their meaning.
This issue is dedicated to chemistry. What does the word “chemistry” mean to you?
To me, chemistry is about the changing of atoms. Music definitely changes the atoms in my body and, therefore, the world. I also think it’s better to use feelings to explain science than to use science to explain feelings.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I have experienced love at first script-reading and love at first sound, but sight? No, never.
In general, how happy or satisfied are you at this moment?
I’m excited, mostly – that’s all I know!
Photography Sara Mautone
Styling Giorgio Ammirabile
Hair Salone Lepri Lifestyle Salon & Spa Aveda
Makeup Chiara Luinetti, Colour Specialist Clinique Italia
Project Manager Marco de Lucia/LuisaViaRoma