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Sexuality: The Music Videos of Sébastien Tellier

By contributor @eltname

Not that I like to give credence to the claim I’m bad at sticking to deadlines, but I am.

When I heard that Permanent Plastic Helmet was planning to delve into the world of the music video, I thought – “Ooh, I should write something for that. I love music videos. They’re my best.”

And many weeks of wasted opportunities later, this is it.

But of course, they weren’t wasted opportunities at all. Because for the past month or two I’ve just been watching Sébastien Tellier videos over and over like a Hot Chip metaphor.

Here are my favourites:

5. ‘Look’ (dir. Mrzyk & Moriceau)

To understand Sébastien Tellier’s music videos you need to understand that “Sébastien Tellier” is the literal French translation for ‘erotica’, He oozes sexuality – a handy trait and one that presumably influenced the naming of his 2008 album. For the video for ‘Look’, French directors Mrzyk & Moriceau don’t mess about. If you’re not interested in three minutes of an animated close up of a girl’s derrière then this probably isn’t the video for you – especially when it starts pumping out diamonds. However, if you can stomach that, then look closer as the drawings evolve as she walks ever onwards, revealing not just what lies under her clothes, but (in a moment of Antonio Banderas inspired madness) what lies underneath her skin. Sexy, elegant, simple – it just works.

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4. ‘Divine’ (dir. Ace Norton)

2008 was, to quote Didley Squat, A Good Year. I made the leap to London, I worked on music videos for Guillemots, Metronomy and South Central. And Sébastien Tellier represented France at the Eurovision song contest. Also taken from Sexuality, ‘Divine’ is very much a song about all things carnal. The Daft Punk-produced single (and album for that matter) is aurally charming but the package is a beacon for just how important music videos really are. It is the comically hirsute performances from a succession of cut-shot ersatz SebTels that makes this song whole. Hearing it on the radio just doesn’t have the same impact. For chaste Eurovision spectators who had probably never heard of the Frenchman before, Norton makes Tellier a caricature of himself and provides us with the overly beardy I’m Still Here image we all remember. This is probably Sébastien Tellier’s most important video.

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3. ‘L’amour le violence’ (dir. Roman Coppola)

Interestingly this video received quite a lot of stick in industry circles. In it, Roman Coppola shoots SebTel in a Parisian apartment. That’s pretty much it. There’s soft lighting and softer focus, some J.J. Abrams lens flares, some unwieldy reverse zooms, and the odd quivering hand-held close-up of Tellier singing. Coppola was accused of effectively copping out and cashing in on his famous family name. But such an unassuming yet powerful song deserves this kind of minimal, head-on treatment. It’s not quite as literal as Coppola’s effort for Phoenix (‘Funky Squaredance‘ – the first music video ever chosen to be a permanent exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Arts) but Tellier’s repetition of the lines “Tell me what you think” begs a certain intimacy that would be lost in any other video.

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2. ‘Kilometer’ (dir. Jonas and Francois)

I’m not really into pornography. But if I was, I suspect I’d be into really niche stuff. Like watching stunning French girls in tiny excuses for underwear jiggling around SebTel’s house as they try to eat animatronic hot dogs. Think it doesn’t exist? You don’t know enough Tellier. If this was any other artist, we might conclude that the setting for ‘Kilometer’ was a party where our star had cut loose for the weekend. But because it’s Sébastien Tellier, it seems a given that this is less ‘one-off’ and more ‘pretty average Tuesday morning’. Jonas & François replicate the gratuitous ‘ass-shot’ we saw in ‘Look’ here, but in live action. They also appreciate, and indulge in, the sense of the absurd that Tellier commands so well on screen. The shot of him holding court over his harem who applaud as he balances a spoon on his nose sums the video up perfectly.

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1. ‘Cochon ville’ (dir. Alex Courtes)

Where to begin? His first new material since 2008, My God Is Blue is a slow burner as albums go. But again, underlying the important role that music videos play, the promo for its first single is vital in catching the attention of its audience. And, like the cultish devotees that appear in this very not-safe-for-work video, once you’re hooked, there’s no escape. Alex Courtès delivers debauchery on a scale previously unimaginable in most mediums, much less the music video. It makes Project X look like something on Newsround. David Knight for PromoNews beautifully describes his turn here as “the guitar-wielding Rasputin of Sex”. It’s a fitting allusion for his performance as a crazy-eyed cult leader, surrounded by writhing naked, fisting, fingering, glitter-cocked, foot-jobbed, firework-stuffed PYTs. The face at 2’17” was pretty much mine for all three minutes of what I would claim is the greatest video of our generation. Honestly – who keeps a blue & gold macaw there? Sébastien Tellier, that’s who.

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