Chela is a punk. As teenager in Melbourne, Australia, Chelsea Wheatley (as her mama calls her) did what anyone else with a couple of friends and a cheap bass does all over the world: she started a three-chord punk band. It’s not only formative, but crucial, in expressing everything you possibly can with a limited palette, but as loud as possible. The thing is, you never stop being a punk, even when you start making pop music.
With just a handful of singles under the Chela moniker since 2012, she has demonstrated a keen taste for ‘80s electro-pop that digs into a rainbow hook, but hits the earth hard. That’s why you’ll find “Romanticise” and “Zero” on the taste-making French dance music/fashion label Kitsuné. But with her new single, “Bad Habit,” premiering here with a video filmed at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and strikingly choreographed by Chela herself, there’s blood on the dance floor.
“Again, again, again,” she deadpans in the opening lines, reliving past failings between syncopated handclaps that lunge with Chela’s bass, her first instrument. Where Chela once blew the chorus wide open with a big hook, “Bad Habit” opts for something more muted, and punctuates couplets like “Beat ‘til I drop, I admit it’s my fault / Hang me up and, let me have it” with a literal (and choreographed) slap.
“‘Bad Habit’ was written in half a day, almost as fast as the human error that inspired it,” Chela tells NPR. “‘I’m not a god, turns out I’m flesh and blood’ — people make mistakes sometimes. Constant reminders that we are not always as virtuous as we seek to be. In this song I am calling myself out and pleading for punishment. Perhaps the most personal piece of work I have yet delivered, and indeed selfishly created for therapeutic reasons. I only hope others can use it, too, for I know we’ve all been there.”
Chela now lives in L.A. and produced the song with Chris Zane, who has worked on records by Passion Pit and Les Savy Fav. But Zane’s also produced records for, perhaps most tellingly, Holy Ghost!, a product of the DFA school of dance: house music set on a punk edge and shoved into the pit. “Bad Habit” has some of that DFA DNA, but slithers and strikes like classic Shakira. Chela’s “Bad Habit” is a complex and desperate piece of pop music, and really I can’t wait to hear more from her.