LA-based New Zealander Chelsea Jade’s latest single, ‘Superfan,’ is out now. She explains everything behind the stilts and the strangeness of her new video.
Chelsea Jade calls herself DIY pop, and she really does do it all herself. After a couple of years touring North America with Muna and YourSmith, the songwriter, singer, director, and dancer is back with a new single. ‘Superfan’ is a perfectly-crafted song all on its own, but with Chelsea Jade there’s always a bigger picture. The video is just as engrossing as its audio; they’re both off-centre but never off-beat.
Her previous music videos have made familiar spaces unfamiliar: a car, a swimming pool, and a barn have all been cast in abstract lights. In ‘Superfan,’ the space she distorts is her own body; using stilts, clothing, warped shadows and roaming facial features. We got in touch with her to discuss the video, co-directed by The Spinoff’s own Alex Gandar and Chelsea Jade herself.
The Spinoff: Who thought of the stilts? And aren’t you tall enough? Is that the point?
Chelsea Jade: Me. I had seen an image of somebody wearing exceptionally long trousers with no stilts inside them and it helped me to grow some connective tissue between several ideas I’d been having. I’d been hunting down exaggerated silhouettes to wear for my live show – extremely flared trousers and blazers with built out shoulders and hips — always in black. Seeing that image showing room to extend ones legs beyond their length sparked an investigation from me as to why I was pursuing these visuals.
I think it’s a common experience to inflate and deflate certain parts of yourself in company. I’m hyper aware of it in myself. I’m not easy going by nature and I fortify myself in unflattering ways to get through social situations. I become acerbic to assert my value in the room while minimising my body to overcorrect my imposing height. Like my whole being is trying to equalize in order to be accepted and enjoyed but it’s all misfiring. Stilts felt like an amusing way to illustrate that feeling of blowing yourself out of proportion and doesn’t it marry perfectly to the phrase “super fan”?
Further, I’m always interested in openly warping perception without creating any illusions. That’s why many of my videos are situated in spaces that aren’t recognizable as a specific location but are familiar. An empty swimming pool, a large and empty barn. If anything is visually achieved in post production, it’s extremely obvious and pointed. No tricks. I don’t want to alienate with otherworldliness, I want to show an abstraction of what you already understand.
Did you know how to use stilts before this?
I didn’t and I still don’t! I quietly ordered a pair in LA before I returned to Auckland to work on the video but I was duped into feeling comfortable on them by relying on the walls of my confined space. It was absolutely terrifying to be in a wide, open studio. I can still feel the sharp intake of breath from when I almost fell and had nowhere to grab onto. Luckily Rosabel (the producer) and Michael (the talent) were always at the ready side stage, wearing extremely chic hard hats and primed to sprint to my aid.
I realise this is addressed in the video, but why did you choose to use stilts instead of doing it in post?
I don’t really like doing anything in post. It’s never as funny or weird as if you do it in camera.
What’s the significance of the video being in black and white?
I had decided on a whole visual language for the body of work ‘Superfan’ introduces and it’s all in the same vein. Black and white has a loneliness about it and I think all of the music I’ve been making is about that. Optimistic loneliness. I also like the idea of details being detectable in texture. Like the feast is for those who put their face right up in all of it.
Truthfully, I think I really tested the boundaries of patience with Alex [Gandar] and Steve Gulik who graded the video! I kept asking to push the noise level so everything was crunchy which isn’t necessarily kind to the beautiful footage Steve shot on the day. I just really wanted it to be stark but lively. I think they did a really nice job with that.
You’ve worked with Alex a lot, but what’s it like to direct with him?
I feel that we’ve been gradually growing into equal footing as these videos have been undergoing their creation. This time I had decided to ask how he’d feel about sharing a directing credit but I didn’t have to. Alex brought it up first and I really appreciate that.
How well do you think “treating ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen” works?
I think negging culture and actual bullying is supremely stupid but there’s something to be said for the intimacy of soft ribbing. It’s a delicate balance but somehow quippy bullying of no real consequence is a good way to gauge somebody’s observational skills. I place a lot of value on people really partaking in specificity. Usually they’re the funniest.
You have a great sense of humour, but there’s also some really personal insight in ‘Superfan’. The part about lying awake in bed wondering if you mean to be mean — that hit home. Do you think recognising our flaws means that maybe it’s OK to have them?
The conversation around flaws is so complicated. I don’t really believe in physical flaws. Everyone is somehow hot in my opinion. In terms of interpersonal flaws, it’s a shit show. I think we’re reaching a zenith where self-care is being weaponised to the point of accepting selfishness as a necessity. On the flipside, recognising one’s own behavioural flaws seems like enough of a reaction to them and it’s not. I struggle with that. You feel incapable of being anything but a piece of shit so you don’t try. Or you think being a piece of shit is more funny than it is hurtful. All of that to say, flaws are perfectly fine if you don’t inflict them on others which is impossible if you’re not aware and actively working on them.
I love the backing squeaks and sighs. Are we going to see more of this in the future?
The only real confidence I possess in songwriting is my voice, both physically and mentally. Everything else is up for grabs. Any chance I have to make my voice the instrument is gladly taken. Leroy Clampitt — who I made the song with — is hyper aware of that and it was his idea to arrange some of my vocal smatterings into the kernel of the song. He is the nicest person to work with because he always tries to understand you so he can apply it to your experience together.
Would you care to comment on the sudden new relevance of the lyric “locked down, low key, slinking through the party”?
OMG I’m in week seven of LA lockdown and it’s brutal. I would trade the relevance of that lyric for a safe alleviation of confinement.
Are you really a Taurus?
Of course! Who has the energy to lie about something that is already imagined! But yes, I wrote the song about me so it’s true that I’m about to experience a birthday. I just hope everybody made the connection between “taurus” and “bullshit” in the lyrics.