Design & Living / Culture Talks

The Ethereal New Musical Endeavour from Jonna Lee

The Swedish musician and visual director presents her new solo project, ionnalee, and shares the story behind the Comme des Garçons pieces she wears in it

ionnalee is the latest artistic incarnation of Swedish musician and visual director Jonna Lee, who along with her independent, socially aware collective and label, Towhomitmayconcern, mystified then beguiled the world with pop gesamtkunstwerk, iamamiwhoami. Now, Lee steps forth solo, having begun her career this way a decade ago, following seven years enshrined within iamamiwhoami releasing otherworldly, audiovisual creations that drew millions of views. 

ionnalee is a natural evolution, a conduit for her singular vision, imbued with experiences past, yet marking the dawn of a fresh era. Still, solo does not designate alone. The visuals for the project come courtesy of WAVE, Lee’s directorial partnership with cinematographer John Strandh, while its exquisite costumes have been crafted by Comme des Garçons — the culmination of a lengthy artistic relationship. Samaritan, the trailer which premieres today, is merely the first chapter of their joint endeavour: a gripping, cinematic voyage themed upon society’s endless appetite for valorising then demonising women. So, welcome to the bold new realm of ionnalee.

On embarking on a solo venture once again…
“I started work on this album five years ago. I was initially going to release it after the first iamamiwhoami project, which wasn’t meant to be longterm, just an experiment that we did for fun, yet it became so important that I wanted to keep doing it. But my artistry stretches beyond and progresses after it, so I had to look in the mirror as I wanted to see what it would sound and look like to be just Jonna. I haven’t been concrete with my lyrics before as I wanted people to find their own image of each song, and also as they were released under iamamiwhoami, but now I can be personally responsible for the material.”

On balancing artistry with social conscience… 
“I’ve had the opportunities to do things in other [commercially driven] ways, but I always end up feeling like it has to be done the right way and that has influenced every choice I make. I try to be as conscious as I can in what I communicate. I feel it’s my responsibility to try and put things out there in best possible way for people to be affected by them.”

On the inspiration for Samaritan’s narrative… 
“As a woman and as a girl, it was insane how I was treated because of my gender at times, and a lot of people experience that, so that’s part of it. And as an artist, any artist but especially a female artist, you are lifted up onto a pedestal, and we tend to adapt to that, dress to please that. So, I wanted to take the opportunity [to address this], to try to do something uncensored, because I can. I wondered why I hadn’t been more outspoken before. I’ve done it in more abstract ways, but never this concrete. I’ve also been struggling with motivation over the past few years, so it’s about that too: What’s in it for me sharing my work? Why am I putting myself in this position? What drives one to stand on stage and want to be uplifted and adored? So that’s another element I’m working around: my own insecurities.”

On collaborating with Comme des Garçons…
“I was introduced to Adrian Joffe, which was a great honour as Comme des Garçons has so much integrity and we share creative values: they’re gender neutral, have artistic designs, and an alternative point of view. Adrian and I discussed collaborating further, and this project was perfect for it, so we met in Paris a few times then I shared some information on the narrative and started sketching what it would look like. It’s been a long process, and it’s ongoing, as I’m still in the midst of it all. Having a creative partner on this release was also a major push for me to actually do it. There’s nothing I like more than making music and visuals, but it can be tough when you’re an independent artist, as you’re also your own ambassador, and I’m not the best at promotion. So having this collaboration connecting it all together while marking this ten year anniversary was instrumental.”

On her Samaritan costume…
“The black and blue soldier dress, is an unreleased piece from last year’s collection so it hasn’t been seen. I wanted a warrior’s outfit that would function on film, in the right colour, and everything including the details was perfect with that dress. It’s such a beautiful creation. Unfortunately it’s quite heavy, but it’s amazing.”

Samaritan by ionnalee is out now.

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