Chela Knows She's A Star And Now She's Ready For Us To Catch Up

By Rebekah Gonzalez

August 17, 2023

Chela couldn't not be an artist even if she tried, and she has. "When I've tried to turn my back on music and get a "real" job, I've found it so impossible," the Filipino-Australian musician told iHeartRadio in July. After her new song "Hard 4 You" was featured on our round-up of LGBTQ+ artists releasing new music, we connected over Zoom where Chela was bright-eyed and happy to talk about her artistic journey despite having a late night out in Sydney the day prior. Even a quick dive into the world of Chela makes it easy to see why she would find a regular 9 to 5 unappealing. Take, for example, what Chela was up to the night before our interview.

Every Thursday night you can find her curating and DJing a weekly party called Dólor Rosa at the Ace Hotel Sydney. "It's a place where you know that you can feel safe and surrounded by other queers. And it's so, so important and so special. But this space in particular," Chela said, pointing out that the party takes place in the hotel's main lobby, "I think the beauty of it is, is about the openness and the variety of people that come through."

Before founding this inclusive queer utopia, she's spent the last decade steadily releasing music and directing music videos that feature her own distinctive choreography. It's all even more impressive once you find out that Chela has, ultimately, been bringing her artistic vision to fruition on her own. That "openness" Chela helps foster every week at Dólor Rosa is very much present in her body of work.

"Hard 4 You" and "Cool 2B Queer," her first two singles released on independent music label Spinning Top and her first releases since the COVID-19 pandemic started, are beautifully breezy pop songs full of synths and catchy melodies. Their accompanying music videos, co-directed by Chela, are just as memorable as the songs. In both, but especially "Hard 4 You" in which she woos her partner in an empty "retro-futuristic" city, Chela embodies a kind of assuredness and swagger that transcends gender. Put plainly, she's just very cool.

"I feel really chuffed about that because, in the music video, I didn't want anyone to think, 'Oh, but who's the boy and who's the girl?'" Chela said. "I mean, actually, it's quite clear that I'm a little bit more masculine and that Lydia [Kivela] is a bit more feminine, but we're not adhering to these super ideals of what a lesbian is."

While "Hard 4 You" is a celebration of falling head over heels in love, a stereotype often placed on queer women (Google "u-hauling"), Chela's previous single "Cool 2B Queer" is a very personal story about reconnecting with an old flame that manages to also touch on the subject of performative allyship. "Remember when you told me you could never love somebody like me? Now you're about it, just for the crowd," Chela sings in the pre-chorus before boldly stating, "Now that it's cool to be queer." It seems as though such a cathartic epiphany would take a while to formulate into a song as catchy as "Cool 2B Queer," but Chela shared that it really only takes "a short time" for her to create art from personal experiences. In fact, it seems that Chela has a beautiful grasp of and comfortability in her artistic process. Her biggest obstacle as an independent artist is funding and it's also the reason she has yet to release her debut album.

"Honestly, if I had all of the money in the world, then my ideas would be coming out and coming to fruition so quickly," Chela admitted. "People don't realize it takes a lot of money to actually be able to materialize a song and a video and a release, you know? One of these releases cost $30,000. So because it costs, let's say, roughly $10,000 to finish a song if it's a high production song with high production producers, which these two songs were, it costs roughly $10,000 to make a video, and then it costs $10,000 to do all of the PR and marketing. And then there are all sorts of other costs on top of that, too." Chela continued, "I don't think people realize. [They] just churn through so quickly and they just think, 'Oh, great, I love this song for a week.' It's actually kind of heartbreaking but I think the appreciation of music [has] diminished so much in the public sphere."

"I mean, I could be a SoundCloud artist if I wanted to and just make bedroom lo-fi pop, which I would love and I'm totally capable to do," she said. "And I could release songs quite regularly and make a bunch of lo-fi stuff. I guess I have... released a lot of lo-fi stuff before [her videos for "Romanticise" and "Full Moon" are good examples] and I love lo-fi production, but I guess I do have a certain way that I like to produce things and it just takes time due to money."

There hasn't been a major label involved in her career thus far— although Chela revealed she's ready to change that despite a bad experience on a label as a teenager. "There's not much I can say legally about the situation, but it really turned me off the music industry"— but the bulk of her output will have you fooled. While her two new singles exemplify this new approach to her career— they are a tad more polished and categorically pop than prior releases— the rest of her music is just as memorable, personal, and well-constructed. Chela's discography, which consists of a handful of singles and one EP Delivery released in 2019, is full of electropop bangers that are catchy enough to play casually but it doesn't take many listens to start latching onto interesting phrases that ride a fine line between relatability and ambiguity. Listening to her music makes you feel like you're getting to know Chela better while still giving you the space to project your own experiences and interpretations onto the music.

Hearing Chela talk about the inspiration behind one of her earlier singles, "Zero," makes it clear that she's always been an exceptional artist who truly thrives at expressing her experiences through the medium of music. "I wrote that about the same person that I wrote "Cool 2B Queer" about," she said of the song which came out nearly a decade before the latter.

What really marks the shift in this new era of Chela's career is her willingness to play the game of the music industry. "I think you just need to take your success in different ways these days," she said of measuring one's career in the age of streaming and social media. "If people have really enjoyed it, and a lot of people have given me good feedback [on "Hard 4 You" and "Cool 2B Queer"], and you feel really proud of what you made, then I think that's how you quantify success. But in terms of making it worth it to make a full-length record for next year... the tide is always changing, but I think in the current circumstances it would be good to maybe work with a major label even though that terrifies me." While she works on her music career, Chela luckily has other interests and skills she's eager to pursue. She's hoping to start a film production company soon. "I'm very passionate about writing and directing. I just finished a script writing course, and I'm currently working on a queer TV show," she said before revealing that she's also recently landed an acting job.

Chela clearly has a lot on her plate but she's determined to keep making and sharing music despite the many obstacles of the industry. "It's out of my control," she said of her creative drive. "Like even yesterday I woke up with a song idea. I was like, 'That's a really good idea,' and I recorded it into my phone. I accidentally ran into my ex-girlfriend at midnight when we were both walking home separately. Oh, my God. It was wild. We sat in a park and cried and yeah, it was so intense. It's just life experience. I have ideas come to me nonstop and I just know that I wouldn't be happy unless I did something with them because I think I do have good ideas." Her fans think so too.

Here's to Chela releasing new music, the way she wants to, soon! Until then, check out her music on iHeartRadio.

Advertise With Us
Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.