[13 June 2012]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
Remember this video?
Yeah, that one. The one with the woman licking the tree in a highly sexual fashion while the weird synth music plays behind her. At first, iamamiwhoami was a strange anomaly that no one could figure out. Was it Trent Reznor’s new side-project? (He denied it after being hounded with questions throughout early 2010.) Was it Lady Gaga’s way to just unleash her wildest, weirdest fantasies on celluloid? (Nope.) Instead, after much speculation and debate, clever Internet searchers discovered that it was actually . . .
. . . this woman.
Amazingly, underappreciated Swedish singer-songwriter Jonna Lee, who came off as a somewhat brighter Sheryl Crow (or at least Aimee Mann), had somehow gone underground and turned herself into that inexplicable tree-licker. Yet one weird video wasn’t enough: slowly but surely, insanely high-quality music videos continued to pour out of this strange little YouTube account, and even as the visuals got wilder and wilder, the songs slowly began to turn towards something approaching pop music (the video/song “b” seems to really be the tipping point). iamamiwhoami seemed to be entirely self-financed, and, perhaps most impressively, the music wasn’t even being released commercially. Even iamiamiwhoami’s “live concert” turned out to be a crazy, staged event that took place across a litany of carefully-constructed set pieces. The project didn’t seem to have a way to make money, but that didn’t stop it from capturing the minds and thoughts of curiosity-seekers the world over.
Then, four months ago, videos began leaking for something called Kin, which we now know is the first official release from iamamiwhoami, an audio-visual album that comes in both CD/DVD and vinyl/DVD formats. Although the “album film” concept has been done several times over, never has the possibility of one ever seemed so exciting. iamiamiwhoami’s stopped being named after strings of numbers or standalone letters—they now were full words, and, at one point, even three words (”in due order”)!
While the songs of Kin are assuredly the most accessible that iamamiwhoami have yet done, they aren’t mere pop songs or videos (while she dresses up like a Wookie hooker in the video for “play”, one can’t help if she’s slyly commenting on the state of most pop stars, looking ridiculous for the sake of sales). Yet with the incredible “goods”, iamamiwhoami seems to be in full-on celebration mode.
With a black backdrop, a checkered body suit, and a white diamond square around her neck, Jonna Lee goes through a video that harkens a lot to Robyn’s stunning clip for “Call Your Girlfriend”: minimalist setup, colorful lights, lots of dancing.
Sometimes on “goods”, the words aren’t entirely decipherable. Yet that doesn’t prevent it from being any less catchy: the thumping drum intro, the low bass synths, and—best of all—that glass disco chorus in Lee’s upper register which is positively transcendent in both tone and delivery.
Although we’ll still be playing “Call Me Maybe” in the months to come, one can’t but wonder if at long last, iamamiwhoami will break through, and if this is the song that does it. All we know for now is that whoever wins that Song of the Summer crown, it’s going to be one hell of an interesting battle . . .