The music industry demands many talents that often supersede the ability to solely make music. An album, for instance, is rarely intended as a one-dimensional product, but rather an experience that embraces various creative realms. No contemporary act executes this phenomenon as gracefully and thoroughly as iamamiwhoami. Their awareness of modern society is the focus of their distribution methods and while visually they have established some of the most conceptual and aesthetically beautiful videos in years, the music alone holds its own ground.
In late 2009, a group of short but highly elaborate music videos began to spread out anonymously through the internet. In them, we witnessed a variety of cryptic symbols, as well as intense footage of animals giving birth and a mysterious blonde woman covered in black oil that swirls around in liquid and has a fixation with licking semen-oozing tree-trunks. The people responsible went by the moniker of iamamiwhoami and their sneaky antic became an instant viral snowball with the release of each video clip.
Many puzzles surrounded the secretive project, especially its purpose, as it was clear that this was not intended to trigger a publicity campaign. Instead, iamamiwhoami were focused on producing a series of remarkable music videos in which the faceless protagonist would welcome us to explore a magical world of both ethereal and frightening imagery.
By the release of t (the penultimate piece to a collective of singles entitled bounty) in June 2010, iamamiwhoami’s frontwoman gloriously lifted the veil to confirm the many speculations of her ever-growing cult following, revealing herself to be Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee. The brilliant twist, however, was that Lee had already established a career within the industry as a rather less innovative presence, one more similar to the likes of Sheryl Crow than the otherworldly creature unraveling before us. Even more impressive was the fact that neither she, nor anyone else involved, seemed to want to take credit for their numerous achievements despite the evident progression of their endeavors.
In November 2010, iamamiwhoami announced that they were recruiting someone from amongst their fans to participate in a very special event. Later in the month, audiences were instructed to watch a webcast concert performed in the wilderness, where the chosen representative ventured into a surrealistic world, just like Alice did when she fell down that famous rabbit hole. As the live stream continueed, we saw the young man exposed to a series of rituals set out by Lee, who additionally took on a sort of White Rabbit/Queen of Hearts role, culminating as she seemingly burned him alive in a cardboard coffin during the climax of the show.
The future of iamamiwhoami after the concert seemed rather unpredictable, particularly because it felt like the last page to a very definitive chapter. A short hiatus followed, and two new songs (which we now see served as interludes between bounty and a forthcoming album) were released, giving everyone hope of further adventures for Lee and her intrepid comrades.
Sever arrived in February 2012, and it confirmed that a new project, entitled kin, was indeed in the works. Its accompanying video contained many characteristics familiar to anyone aware of iamamiwhoami, e.g. the dreamy cinematography, the precision of graphical perspectives, the enigmatic symbolism of certain artifacts and characters (in this case a large creature covered in what looks like a Ghillie suit), and of course, the chameleonic skins of Jonna Lee. Nevertheless, something about sever seemed relatively different from the former pieces. Lee’s demeanor, specifically, demonstrated a strong sense of withdrawal and though her gaze was never focused on the camera, the vulnerability of her expression was apparent from the opening sequence of the video. To make an even bolder statement, Lee’s face was shown stripped of any extravagant make-up and distortions, implying that the game of hide-and-seek was over and thus that kin was set to document other aspects of their intricate chronicles.
In the visual department of the crew, director Robin Kempe-Bergman is responsible for turning Jonna Lee’s complex fantasies into episodes that essentially form a structured motion picture. Every video they have created together is connected to a larger story product of her extraordinary mind, and throughout the songs of kin the connecting thread is even more evident than before. Accordingly, each episode merges into the next one, bringing our blonde heroine from a parking-lot where she’s abducted by the curious Ghillie Suit characters (presumably known as “Clumps”) in drops, to a soirée in a secluded barn where she dances the night away to the riffs of the jubilant play. At this point, iamamiwhoami is exploring her own identity within the tale. The Clumps have adopted her as one of their own and she is faced with the decision of giving in to their offering or breaking out of the temptation.
Later, in idle talk, iamamiwhoami’s search for self-realization comes to a near conclusion when she manages to overcome the Clumps who almost got her off track. Triumphantly wearing their characteristic coat, she returns by foot to the apartment where we initially saw her in sever, only this time she is going beyond the four walls and into another dimension conveniently located inside of a closet.
While smooth beats and finger snaps decorate rascal, iamamiwhoami crawls her way through a sandy desert dressed only in a white brassiere, knickers and socks. Here, Lee attempts to justify the reasons for her unorthodox actions (“As the rascal taking it all – am I taking it all?”), but an air of regret lingers in her eyes, and her body, covered in adhesive bandages, suggests a victorious warrior who nonetheless walked away wounded from the battle.
Kill begins exactly where the previous track ends: iamiamwhoami rests atop of a rocky mountain, yet guilt not longer seems to dominate her. Instead, she sings with ravishing confidence, “Come on, just kill these demands and notions; all this commotion is not worth it,” in what many assume to be a narrative about letting go of the past or the metaphorical symbolism of kin to that of conceiving a child. The latter is a strong theory, considering that two minutes into the video, Lee’s water “breaks” on the ground. Plus she has referred to the physical release of the album as a “baby that required nine months of hard labor and is now given to the audience to look after it.”
Needless to say, the imagery of kill hints at potential answers to the trail of riddles iamamiwhoami scatters throughout her saga on kin. Occasionally, for instance, we find Lee sitting inside of the closet she climbed into at the end of idle talk. Is she subliminally blurring the line between her own reality and dreams to confuse us? Are we looking into her mind – or her memories even – while she’s still in the apartment? This would explain why it often appears that the story of iamamiwhoami is told from two different perspectives, like someone who simultaneously operates from alternate realities while exhibiting the consequences of both.
For the grand finale of kin, we’re treated to a debauchery of synths and beats in explosive goods. This is a farewell, “Don’t expect to hear from me ’cause I have got to feed our hungry mouths/I do enjoy your company/but we must work to keep you content,” but also an honest disclosure to indicate the necessary measurements that must be taken to support such demanding projects. Moreover, goods marks the birth of a brand new iamamiwhoami, one who cherishes the hardships of her fate, yet rises like a glorious phoenix upon a dawning empire with unmatchable supremacy.
With the release of kin in different formats, in addition to signing up with mainstream management and touring, it’s no surprise that Jonna Lee has decided to elaborate more on her role as iamamiwhoami. In August 2012, the Swedish songstress agreed to be interviewed by The Guardian, where she provided some answers to her followers, including the names of her collaborators. But most importantly, she described the process of her metamorphosis and how it has evolved from an ambiguous experiment into a fully developed entity. Nevertheless, Lee is a fierce mother to her work and continuously refuses to “over articulate,” as she puts it, when asked about the semantics inside the universe she has created. With few, but intelligent, words, she declares her preference for allowing her audience to formulate their own interpretations of iamamiwhoami. She assures us that the interaction between herself and the fans has not only been of tremendous significance in shaping the growth of kin, but also serves as motivation for future projects.
However, now that iamamiwhoami have revealed many of the aspects that originally made the project so illusive, will they be able to manipulate our curiosity moving forward? Nothing can accurately predict the direction Lee and her team will take next, so as the audience we are simply better off just not asking any questions.
Photos by John Strandh and iamamiwhoami