It was a long kept secret who was behind the project iamamiwhoami, whose videos went viral on the internet. But now the debut album ”Kin” is out and Jonna Lee is ready to talk.
The story begins with an empty apartment and before it ends in a black box, the blonde manages to dance (or fight or sleep) with Wookie-like creatures, take the form of one of the beastly figures herself, wander in the desert in just her underwear and maybe, or maybe not, commit suicide by jumping from a window. The album “Kin” is hard to categorize. It hovers somewhere between music video and video art, between short film and performance, and is built around a series of short movies that together build a narrative.
The project iamamiwhoami was started almost three years ago, and from the beginning, who was behind the electronica videos that regularly showed up on Youtube was kept a secret.
People made all sorts of speculations: Trent Reznor? The Knife? Christina Aguilera’s management received so many questions about the project that they delivered an official denial. It wasn’t until the woman in the video clips revealed herself without makeup that anyone recognized her. It was the Swedish Jonna Lee, who had previously done singer-songwriter pop and sang a duet with Ed Harcourt.
– I had a craving to do something new. Something creative, exciting. And I had an idea for some music that didn’t fit with what I was doing at the time, tells Jonna Lee when we met her in a studio just south of Stockholm.
The visual aspect is incredibly important for iamamiwhoami and it’s a part of the whole package. We would deliberate back and forth for a half-hour about how the photography was going to be before we’d finally agree.
This is the first real interview she’s given on the project. Only now that the videos have been released as a single album is Jonna Lee ready to talk about it. But all the hush-hush has been important from the start, she explains. When the idea was born, she and the team, which also consists of producer Claes Björklund, director Robin Kempe-Bergman, photographer John Strand and designer Agustin Moreaux, had to lock themselves away to work in peace.
– Being able to do it undisturbed was really important; it was the only way it could have happened.
Were you disappointed when people figured out it was you?
– We didn’t try to hide it. When it happened, it was pretty evidently me in the videos, so it didn’t really come as a shock. But in general everything became a lot different then, and it was almost that much more important to shut out the world in order to keep working.
You must have thought it was funny when people thought you were Christina Aguilera.
– I thought when all the empty talk had quieted down, what we had made would be what’s left. I heard the speculations; it was impossible to avoid them. There’s a certain comical synergistic effect in how all the hearsay can become a truth for people.
The iamamiwhoami videos also contain secrets. The first video clips were given numerical codes that the viewers gradually translated to words. They are full of recurring symbols: children; nature and trees; the hairy Wookie creatures; and, in the latest in the series of videos that became the album “Kin”, a black cube. The Youtube comments on the videos are full of speculations and theories about what it all means, and there are blogs completely dedicated to iamamiwhoami that upload stills from the videos and analyze them.
It’s all a little reminiscent of the skillfully crafted mystique around the TV series ”Lost”, where viewers feverishly looked for clues and patterns but the answers that were given were never truly as satisfying as the mystery itself.
– That’s how it is even for me. If I gave all the answers, I wouldn’t be able to keep doing this. It’d be the last signature I write, says Jonna Lee.
Are you ever going to tie it all up in a bow and explain what it all meant?
– It gives me a bad taste in my mouth just thinking about it. It’s like sharing your innermost secrets; that’s not particularly attractive for anyone. I don’t think the audience wants that, much less me. It would make me feel extremely naked and exposed.