Global Artist Spotlight: Jasmine Sokko
The Singaporean electronica singer-songwriter on the aesthetics of Virtual Reality, the future of Asian music and going big in China
Every generation has had hallmark genres which defined a particular era in music. For the Eighties, it was disco, dance-pop and soft rock. Nowadays hip-hop, R&B and trap are trademarks of the time courtesy the likes of Beyoncé, Post Malone, Drake and Cardi B. Electronica singer-songwriter Jasmine Sokko however wants to make music that looks past time and genre. “I would be very happy if people listening to my songs can go like, ‘Oh that’s Jasmine Sokko! That sounds so Jasmine Sokko!’” she says. “I don’t want to get confined into a genre but I do have my own sound. And if people can hear and identify that with me, that would be great.”
Originally from Singapore, Sokko made a mark not only on the local music scene but also in China when she participated in the Chinese electronic music talent reality competition show Rave Now in 2018. The show was mentored by the likes of C-pop star Lay Zhang and Norwegian producer Alan Walker and Sokko was the only Singaporean contestant and one of six acts to make it into the finals. But this was no easy feat. “Based in Singapore, I’ve always made English music because that’s the main language here. But in China, I had to do music in Mandarin which I was really terrible at so I was really struggling,” Sokko shares. “By the end of it though, I learned a lot about song writing in Mandarin and it made me realize how beautiful and intricate it could be. So I embraced it, and in the process, I became more inclined to making music that is bilingual.”
The 23-year-old first debuted in 2016 with the single “1057” which went on to place first on the Top 50 Viral chart that year. Her latest track “Tired” has garnered international attention thanks to the song’s relatable theme and lyrics, as well as the music video’s tradition-meets-futuristic aesthetic which doubles as commentary on colonization. To learn more about the track as well as understand the producer’s artistry and her outlook on the future of music, we dialed in Sokko at her home base in Singapore.
“‘Tired’ is a song I wrote because I’m an introvert. At some point, I got so sick of socializing that I felt like I wasn’t being my genuine self anymore,” she says, echoing a sentiment that is common and relatable to so many today. The music video features Sokko in her signature mask and in striking scenes where elaborate sets span cultures, complete with a giant maneki-neko or ‘Welcome Cat.’ “It is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever done. We flew abroad and put together a massive team. We shot continuously for over 18 hours!”
Visually, the scale of the music video feels larger than her previous tracks such as “#0000FF” and “Hurt.” Each of these songs tell a different tale, every bit personal to the singer. “The song comes from a space of honesty and it was a vocalization of the frustration that builds when you have to socialize,” says Sokko. “It’s not easy to connect with other people and I am so happy that I could connect with so many people who felt the same way through the song and the music video, even though I wear a mask.”
Sokko’s first and most lasting impression is her futuristic style and the various masks she sports, ranging from those that look like CDs and VR (Virtual Reality) headsets. “I’ve always loved the whole idea of technology and the future–the mask idea initially came about because I wanted people to focus on my music and not so much my appearance,” she explains. “I then came across VR, which was a cool aesthetic. I love the whole futuristic technology theme and wanted to bring that into my music videos.”
The music scene from a global perspective is at a very interesting stage right now where collaborations are happening not just between artists from various parts of the world, but also varying intersections of cultures and sounds. Sokko lends her own unique perspective on the topic, saying, “I came across a French artist called Moi and what was really interesting to me is that her songs are bilingual –she has mixed both English and French. I thought, this is what the future sounds like! With music now, you can put your own culture, your own personality inside your song and have so much diversity in it.” Sokko likens this occurrence in music to the American fast-food chain McDonald’s. “The brand is everywhere in the world, but they localize their brand in each country and they all have local products. The future is one where people embrace this diversity because of new and refreshing elements. You can travel the world by listening to different music from different places – that’s how I envision the future,” she says. It’s a dynamic we’re seeing emerge especially strong in Asia with artists like South Korean group BTS, Lay Zhang and even India’s Raja Kumari.
While multilingual music is not a new development, its scale and awareness is global today thanks to the Internet. When asked how she feels about modern music genres which continuously evolve due to this global cross-pollination, she muses, “That’s a tough one. Things just keep changing, so it (defining genres) is tricky. I don’t know what the future of genres will be like but they evolve as technology changes. Nowadays, most music is made on the computer where you can add authentic samples into your song so there’s fewer limitations. It’s so interesting!”
Singapore’s music scene with its native talent is now expanding but similar to India; being an artist does not seem to be a popular career choice with the parental division. Sokko found it to be pretty mind-blowing that this scenario is the same for both countries, with the mindset that music is not really a ‘safe’ occupation. After expressing that India has a great music industry in spite of this, she shares her own challenges in becoming a full time musician, “Singaporean parents generally don’t support the idea of doing music because almost everyone here goes through the usual cycle of education–do your graduation, get a degree and then get a stable corporate job,” she says. “I personally hate the whole idea of this because its so confining. I didn’t want to follow this path but I also didn’t want to ignore my parents’ wishes completely because I do love them and I care about what they think.” She adds that she did still want them to care about what she feels and in the process realized that their main concern was financial stability. “Because music is not where you can get like, a stable income and yearly promotions. It’s hard for them to understand. I had to convince them and be pragmatic.”
Following this vein of conversation, she offers rather unique advice to aspiring artists. “In my experience, when I found it hard to convince my parents to see music as a proper career, I asked them to think of it like a business startup. And if you yourself treat it like a business startup, the faster you do, the faster you’ll grow.” It is probably this sort of parallel thinking that takes Sokko around the world, fearlessly working on newer projects and getting her music heard.
So what’s next for Jasmine Sokko? She’s currently on a tour through China and ready to take on more. “I’m currently working on a new music that’s both in Mandarin and in English,” she reveals. “And also an upcoming music video, which will be my first song to officially release in China. It’s quite scary for me but also very exciting!”
Jasmine Sokko is currently sharing a day in her life over at Rolling Stone India’s Instagram. Follow along here!