Jonna Lee, the Artist Formerly Known as iamamiwhoami, Races Against Time to Leave a Legacy Before She’s Gone
“The songs that you sung / And the words that you meant / Will be here when you are gone.”
From the moment super-sleuth stans (incorrectly) deduced that it was Christina Aguilera licking a tree and getting dirrty in the mud for #BionicPromo up to today, iamamiwhoami – or rather, the frontwoman for the project, Jonna Lee (or ionnalee), has remained a steady, delightfully strange fixture on the Swede-pop music scene.
At last, it feels as though the varied bits and pieces of her career are all coming together.
The 36-year-old singer-songwriter-director-producer-all-around-creative-powerhouse recently announced the release of her debut album as ionnalee, called Everyone Afraid to Be Forgotten, due out on February 16, 2018. (Consider this the first Most Anticipated of ’18 release.)
The album comes at the end of the long, winding and path paved since 2009 alongside best friend and longtime collaborator Claes Björklund (Barbelle) as part of their prolific mystery audio-visual project iamamiwhoami, which attracted media buzz for their ingeniously mysterious and creepy roll-out, eventually spawning three studio albums and myriad visuals over the years – even state-of-the-art live performance spectacles.
It wasn’t exactly easy to follow along with the ever-evolving narrative over the years, but the unique project attracted a collective of followers chasing the next piece of the puzzle with easter eggs, clues and references thrown into the music and videos, like an endless digital scavenger hunt.
After a series of singles released as ionnalee beginning with “Samaritan,” Jonna is fine-tuning her statement message with a more personal, self-produced album and standalone film, co-crafted with John Strandh and Comme des Garçons.
Her mission statement for the album should be read in full to ‘get it’ completely, but this part in particular stands out as the meat of the message: “As our generation pores over and pours into social media with a desire to leave as much of ourselves and our legacy out in the world – like a self-edited epitaph, to ensure that we are remembered and control how such remembrance is preserved – Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten explores the different fears and struggles we, as human beings, contend with. ionnalee has hers but, importantly, the songs are intelligently crafted so as to allow for the listener’s personal meaning to coexist.”
In the age of the millennial, it’s a concept that continues to haunt.
Everyone promises to explore her frustration with societal expectations for her as a woman and a musician, as well as being a recording artist in 2017: “We live in a time where anyone can do anything. It can be beautiful, when it’s done purely in pursuit of creative motifs, but in many situations it is only really done because of the current perception that just being a musician is no longer enough and the music has to be dressed to the nines in order to be heard. My visuals have always been part of my creation and, yet – frustratingly – they are still often being perceived strictly as a promotional tool,” she says.
The album also came after a series of health battles for the singer, including a cancer scare and a thyroid disorder diagnosis, presenting the possibility of permanent damage to her vocal chords.
“The thought of not being able to sing had never occurred to me. That would be like losing my gut,” she admits.
“Gone” is her latest release from the upcoming album and, if you’re one of the more devoted iamamiwhoami diehards, you’ll notice that the track is actually a reworking of the “Papachoo” prelude released back in February of 2010, which subtly recalls Björk‘s earthy adventuring in 2007’s Volta, a la “Earth Intruders.”
Aside from being a powerfully dramatic, beat-driven electronic march towards the unknown, the lyrics are a clear indication of the album’s intent, providing a nod to the past (“the wonder who I am” – get the iamamiwhoami reference?) to her pledge to stay true to herself up to her last breath: “This mouth on me and this voice against time / Be brave and free or be wing clipped and grimed.”
Be sure to watch the accompany visual to the very end – it might even appeal to some of your piggy kinks.
The upcoming, independently crafted collection is also a middle finger to the Way Things Are Today in the age of #NewMusicFriday: “The album format is regarded by many as a thing of the past with tracks being the primary way of consuming music,” she says. Instead, she hopes to create “an imprint that will stand with time.”
“I would like to view this as the beginning of the rest of my career. I want to grow my audience in my way, without compromising and without having to turn myself inside out. There’s a bigger, more personal weight for me with this record and much, much more at stake.”
Here’s to having the ambition to craft a body of work aiming to achieve more than just a stream.