Musician Jaguar Jonze On The ‘Soap Opera’ Of The Last 18 Months, And Her Most Important Work To Date
To say that the past year-and-a-half has been tumultuous for Jaguar Jonze would be an understatement. The Australian musician, born Deena Lynch, recovered from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, broke her silence about a sexual assault experience, and continued creating her art at a time when the music industry is struggling during the pandemic.
"[It's] worthy of a soap opera, I think," Jonze described how her life has panned out over the last 18 months, during an interview with Refinery29 Australia.
"It wouldn’t even rate that well as a TV show," she back-pedalled. "It sounds ridiculous and so much wouldn’t normally happen in such a short space of time."
But the hardships that have tested Jonze as a person have also led to some of her most important work across anti-harassment and racism advocacy, fashion and of course, music. And she's proud that she carried herself "with grace and fortitude through each obstacle."
It's all brought Jonze to the current moment, where she's eager to celebrate the release of her new short film, titled ANTIHERO. The film features a visual collection of five songs from her latest EP of the same name, where she sports bright outfits and uses "apocalyptic-cyberpunk anime" imagery to convey the wave of emotions she recently rode.
Jonze began recording, designing and conceptualising the EP after contracting COVID-19 in New York in March 2020. During her 40-day hospital stay, she said she "felt like my whole world crumbled around me". Creating music for the EP was "a way to escape my excruciating pain, anxiety and uncertainty around my health, the music industry and the world," she said.
As she remained unwell for five weeks straight, Jonze struggled with the prospect of her music career being cut short. "I was told that not being able to return to the music industry after surviving COVID-19 was a real possibility," she explained. "I wasn’t able to sing like I used to, I suffered from shortness of breath and chronic fatigue, not to mention loneliness from being in solitary confinement for so long."
This experience inspired the powerful imagery we see in her short film. "I escaped into worlds of apocalyptic-cyberpunk anime and incorporated it as fantastical symbolism into the visuals of ANTIHERO," she explained. "ANTIHERO and its encompassing visuals are all in the mind and are not to be taken literally."
After her COVID-19 diagnosis, the artist of Taiwanese-Australian heritage faced what many Asian people sadly have since the start of the pandemic: racism. From "blatantly ignorant comments to microaggressions, and discrimination to fetishisation and tokenism", Jonze had faced various forms of racial abuse even before the pandemic, but it escalated during this time.
"At the time, I dealt with it in the same way I’ve dealt with it my whole life. Repress, push aside and smile," she said of her initial coping mechanisms.
Jonze said she felt "unsafe" to call out racism while recovering from the coronavirus and facing the "societal anxiety of COVID-19. It was too much," she admitted.
It wasn't until the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence following the death of George Floyd in May last year, that Jonze felt more comfortable speaking out against racism.
"It was only after certain social movements and I had recovered and grieved from the effects of COVID-19 on my body and work, that I was able to process and give myself the validation I deserved for suffering the racial injustice I faced," she said.
Jonze said she believed Australia is "still so behind compared to other parts of the world" in terms of progressing towards greater racial equality, and representation within the arts.
"For so long, I had felt I had needed to whitewash myself both as a person and as an artist to be included and receive recognition," she said.
"At some point when I free up my emotional capacity, I hope to be able to do more to encourage an inclusive and safer environment for the next generation of Asian artists."
And just over 12 months after her COVID-19 diagnosis, Jonze chose to speak out again. This time it was about sexual assault in the music industry. Appearing on Channel 10 news and current affairs show The Project in May this year, she spoke of her own experience and said she had been assaulted by two producers.
The singer chose to go public with her personal experience to highlight the seriousness of the issue and to hold the industry accountable.
"It was important for me to speak up because I was tired of the environment I was working in," she said. "I deserve safety. My fellow vulnerable people deserve safety. But all of us survivors, especially, deserve justice.
"We just aren’t seeing enough accountability and responsibility taken by the industry yet to ensure that our working environments are safe and protected."
Talking about it on national television was challenging as she re-lived the trauma in the public spotlight, but she's grateful for a solid support network that's been "crucial" to her wellbeing.
"I’ve had a really amazing therapist by my side for two years since I first dealt with the sexual assault that I spoke about on The Project," she explained. "She is my best asset to being able to do what I have done in public."
She's since joined forces with several professionals in the music industry to create the Temporary Working Group, striving to evoke cultural change amid the #MeToo movement.
"We hope that it leads to a national consultation strategy to truly understand the systemic problems that plague our music industry," she said of the group's core objectives.
"To be able to create change, we need to hear from everyone and grow awareness of the issues that are actually at play. To deliver a national consultation strategy that is fair and able to hear from everyone is so difficult. It has taken a lot of time to ensure it is a thorough and democratic process."
When asked what's next in her personal and professional life, Jonze first reflected on the positives to come out of the pandemic, saying that it's allowed her to "prioritise" her health and wellbeing and take time for herself.
"I’ve tried to upskill and experiment in different ways to expand my mind," she said. "I’ve dabbled in painting, film editing, writing music for short films, started learning French ever-so-slowly, photography and trying to improve on my domestic skills (cooking and cleaning)."
So what is next for Jonze? "New music, new creations but also a new self," she said. "One that is unafraid, less compliant and ready to fight for my voice and artistry."
We can't wait to meet her.