FEMME'S NEW MUSIC VIDEO FOR LIGHT ME UP AIMS TO CAPTURE HONEST HUMAN EMOTION
FEMME'S NEW MUSIC VIDEO FOR LIGHT ME UP AIMS TO CAPTURE HONEST HUMAN EMOTION
Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
Laura Bettinson, better known by her stage name FEMME, is shattering the pop star archetype by refusing to embrace it. An anomaly amongst her synth-pop, 808-thumping peers, the English singer and songwriter has shied away from the support of major labels, instead choosing the liberation and artistic freedom that being an indie act can muster. She writes her own material from start to finish, exploring pop music as a world of fantasy and exaggeration where the end goal is providing both her fans and herself with a fun, unique experience. Inspired by sixties girl groups, seventies disco divas and nineties chart toppers, FEMME’s debut album “Debutante” will be released on April 15th, not too long after her upcoming performances at SXSW. Today, V is premiering the music video for her track “Light Me Up,” featuring the singer alongside a plethora of fans, whom she brought into the project via social media. Watch “Light Me Up” above, and catch our talk with the rising star about being a woman in pop, Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour, and the surreal nature of her striking music.
You’re a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in music. How did you get started?
FEMME Basically, I've always sung. I really enjoyed singing as a kid as far back as I can remember. I learnt instruments from a young age, like piano, but then it wasn't until I was sixteen that I started writing my own songs. That was mainly with piano, at first. When I left school to move to London, that's when I started messing around with electronics. I ditched the piano and kind of condensed it all into a suitcase and started doing gigs with live electronics and things like that in London, and then from there I started doing studio stuff and programming. I've just been doing it ever since. That's kind of been my journey, just keeping my head down and getting on with it. My parents aren't particularly musical. My dad has a theater background; he's a theater actor. So that certainly I think shines through in my live show. Our show is very much a show as opposed to a traditional live band gig, kind of thing.
You're also involved in direction and choreography. Maybe that came a bit more from your father?
F Yeah, definitely. I was like the girl, like many girls at school, who would just spend a lot of time in my bedroom with my hairbrush in my hand and blasting out my favorite tunes, pretending I was in the Spice Girls or Destiny's Child—all of those bands. So it's kind of bizarre and makes me laugh that it's become my profession, and that I'm doing exactly that and somehow being able to get paid for it. I've just continued my childhood dream; I've never quite grown up.
What is the song "Light Me Up" about?
F When I wrote it, I actually didn't think that I would end up singing it. I remember writing it and thinking, “Well, it's a nice song, but it doesn't really feel like my voice yet.” So I kind of reworked it a few times. Basically the song is about being pulled out of the dark, essentially. You know how you have those moments in your career or just personal life where you're just like, "What am I doing?" And you just sit there in darkness, just wondering what move to make next. So that song is about somebody coming and that promise of, you know, if I'm going to pull myself out of this, then you kind of have to be there next to me and pull me up.
Where did the idea for the video come from?
F For the video, really, I wanted to just capture genuine human emotion and laughter and the idea of “Lighting Up.” Basically, off camera, every single one of these people is being given a different prop. But they didn't know what was going to happen. So it all started with their eyes closed. And then we asked them to take their shoes off and we'd put their feet in a bucket of ice, or we had a puppy on set that they didn't know so there would be a dog in their laps. There were loads of these types of props. There was like feet in mushy pees and yogurt and loads of different things. Air horns were one that worked well because they were so loud, so in the video when you see people jumping out of their skin, it's because we've just blasted an air horn in their ear. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just had this idea. I make music independently so a lot of the time I'm doing these things on quite a tight budget, and I wanted just a very simplistic concept and also visually something that I knew would kind of carry off. It's meant to be striking and very simple.
I liked the fact that you weren't just using model types in the video.
F Actually, a lot of them were fans. I didn't cast it at all. I just said, "We're making this video in this tiny studio in Seven Sisters,” which is an area in north London. I said on Twitter and on Instagram, "If you want to come be in it, then send me an email." And then I gave them the address. I didn't ask for photos. I didn't really want to know who was going to walk through the door. I just wanted it to be very natural. I was willing to shoot anyone who walked through the doors and just see what happens. So that's what happened! We got loads of different faces in there. Some people were meeting me for the first time but were big fans online. There's a couple of people in there who are under sixteen, so they've never been able to get to a show but they've been fans of mine for a long time. It was a nice opportunity to connect with some people and thank them for their support.
I'm sure the fans appreciate being a part of the video as well!
F I think so! But they haven't seen the video yet...(laughs). I think everyone looks amazing, right? Everyone kind of outshines what I do which is so nice.
You mentioned that you're doing things independently. Why have you shied away from working with any major record labels?
F Basically, why I didn't go that route is because I'm a pop artist—a female pop artist—that produces my own music, and I've not really done a lot in major label world. So when I went in to a lot of those meetings, they were very much like, "Oh! This is great. You have a look, you can sing, you make pop music…" Then we'd make a load of tunes with a couple of guys. Which was cool, and I did that for a while, but the tunes never sounded like, to be honest, as good as what I thought I was doing on my own. It didn't have enough personality as when I was making the music and the beats. So I just continued to produce my own music. All I aim to do is make music that challenges the listener a little bit more than what we have on the mainstream charts at the minute. But with some personality. I feel like sometimes, major labels can get quite lazy with new artists and not really let [their personality] shine through sometimes, which is a shame because there are so many major pop icons, I mean the Madonna's, the Prince's, Michael Jackson...Adele, you know? They all have these massive personalities that shine through and I think that's the key to great pop music. It's strange to see a lot of those big labels sort of squeeze that out by putting the artists with the same songwriters and the same stylists and the same video directors, you know? It's kind of strange. It goes into this sort of generic mill, and what goes in is something very unique and what comes out is very bland. I didn't want that to happen to me because it's my life (laughs). I want to listen in twenty years and be proud.
I do feel like, for female pop stars, there is a bit of a cookie-cutter approach when it comes to big labels.
F Yeah, it's very strange. Not to get into the male/female thing in pop but, you know, you have a lot of guys who are producers like Jack Garratt who are great and very current, and then you think well, Grimes is like the same thing but she's almost not as celebrated...I don't know. I mean there are loads of women who are producing their own beats and doing these one-woman shows and for some reason, if you make pop music, you have to have it produced by someone else. It's strange.
Despite not being with a major label, you still have a lot of major accomplishments. You’re performing at SXSW soon, for example.
F I have spent quite a lot of time in the US, off and on, over the past few years. The longest stint that I was there for was the end of 2014 when we toured with Charli XCX; we opened for her and were there for about six weeks. That was super fun. It was amazing. And then since then I've been back; we played Coachella one year and then we played CMJ, in New York. And then we'll be at SXSW this weekend.
Is your live show just you on stage or what is the vibe?
F My live show is just a full-on glitter fest. It's somewhere between M.I.A. and Santigold...or for more mainstream, it's sort of like ABBA meets something very camp and glittery. I'm joined by three other girls; two of them are dancers and backing vocalists and the other one DJs, among some other things. So it's just basically a full on, choreographed performance. I'm very influenced by sixties music television and those first TV performances, which I find really charming. And also Andy Warhol and Pop Art. So the whole thing has a sense of the surreal about it. It's definitely not a Taylor Swift pop show. It takes a lot of inspiration from Madonna's 80's era, you know, those very simplistic acts where she was joined by two other women and the backing vocalists. There was something very powerful about that. I think it was the Blond Ambition Tour. There’s just a lot of strength and power. But more than anything, I hope that people come to it and see that we have a sense of humor. Because you know, I'm making pop music for a living. I don't take that too seriously. Every day is a laugh and I'm getting to do it on stage with my best friends. I think why it's connecting with people, and maybe women especially, is because they look at it and they think, "I could do that." It's not too intimidating, and I didn't think the music was alienating. I hope it's not alienating. I don't mind if my fans are teenagers or older-aged people; you get such a range of people at my shows.