ionnalee Speaks Truth Without Fear Through Art ionnalee and Allie X Bring Powerful Art Pop To The Fonda In Hollywood
LOS ANGELES, CA- A Friday night out at The Fonda Theatre, and I’m going to a much anticipated show. Jonna Lee p/k/a “ionnalee”, is a Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Dancer, and Creative Director from Linkoping, Sweden. I have been meaning to see Jonna for quite some time. The first time I had seen her live, I hadn’t known her yet- she was a guest performer, touring with Royskopp at Coachella 2017. It was by coincidence that a co-worker had sent me a 30min. file of one of her audio visual performances. I immediately loved her music, but hadn’t even known that I missed part of her performance to see Hans Zimmer a few days prior.
When I found out a year later that she had launched a Kickstarter campaign to perform at the El Rey, I backed the project for a ticket. Finally, after discovering her music, and keeping up with her latest audio and visual releases, I was going to see her play live. …Until, I had to ironically go to Sweden for a cousin’s wedding, and miss the show. Third time’s a charm as they say, and less than another year later, I was finally going to be able to witness, listen to, and document one of her performances.
I arrive an hour and a half before doors open, and am already greeted by die-hard fans, holding roses intended as gifts. I pass people dressed in drag and various goth outfits. Her show is certainly a place of acceptance for people of all backgrounds, including queer culture, and is a safe space to let your inner freak-flag fly. As I wait, all I hear is chatter about how much everyone loves Jonna Lee.
The doors open, and I take my place in the photographer’s pit, as silhouettes dance along on the curtain.
Allie X opens. I’ve been following Allie X since roughly 2015 or 2016. I’ve always loved the way she presents herself, which reminds me of a Canadian Lady GAGA. “Bitch” is my favorite track, and the first song I discovered from her. She performs this one early on a neon lit keyboard, wearing a costume that vaguely resembles an 80s cartoon character. She has a dedicated fan base all her own, and we all sing along.
She cycles through her various hits including, “Catch”, “Paper Love”, “Focus”, and “Super Sunset”. She pauses to announce that her next song, “Good” is from her first album, and dedicated it to “all of the outsiders”. She holds up crossed fingers as she sings this one. After the last song, everyone boos because they want more. She comically reminds everyone that she’s the opener. She finishes on “Girl of the Year” and lovingly grabs a yellow rose from an audience member as she sings. Everyone joins in for this song.
At last, the long awaited moment. The screen projects visual akin to something from an intro to a sci-fi movie. Silver boots walk along a desert before her trademark text comes up, “to whom it may concern”. Jonna Lee comes onto the stage for her performance. The uproarious admiration of the crowd is overwhelming.
It goes without saying, but her following is strong and dedicated. She begins with one of her newer songs, “SOME BODY”. The performance emulates her music video with a hypnotic black and white moving spiral. Jonna wears a silver unitard to reflect the projections on stage. At first, I thought this was an appropriate and clever trick from her latest album, “Remember The Future”, by having her outfit resemble that of a futuristic sci-fi costume. Although this speculation may ring true, it is also a brilliant maneuver for her to literally embody and become her art by camouflaging herself on stage with these animations. The audience of course loves it, and for me I find this to be a brilliant spectacle.
The projection changed to vibrant blue and purple hues as she sang “o”, and then broke out into her choreographed military-like dance moves when performing “BLAZING”. This is an audience favorite, and everyone smashes to the electro drums, synths, and altered vocals. I love this song, of course for the music and her performance, but also because this is a music video favorite shot by John Strandh. John is a crucial member of this small independent art group, who shoots most of her music videos. Jonna takes us for a ride.
If “BLAZING” was a peak, then “OPEN SEAN” is a valley. It’s a slower song, but the audience’s energy never waivers. People know all of the words, and sway back and forth, she carries on with “fountain”. Jonna pauses, to thank everyone for coming, and states that she can’t believe it’s been less than seven months since her last performance in LA- A true testament to the success of her career as an independent artist. She then says, “I’m going to play you something from the future”, an unreleased track “ISLANDER”. This song is essentially a break down of synths, and beats but it really riles the crowd, and shakes things up for us. I consider all of this as her warm-up.
She runs off stage, but shocks us with her next performance of “NOT HUMAN”. A drag queen, Vander Von Odd, appears in the darkness, wearing a costume that I can only liken to the evil fairy godmother in “Sleeping Beauty”. This rendition of Maleficent takes on a new form as Vander morphs into something on stage that is…Well, not human. The song holds much strength and power for me in that you can go beyond your human form to do anything you please through the expression of art. The audience cheered on this drag queen like it was a Friday night in WeHo. I am able to see the drag queen perform the song with a phone to Vander’s mouth, literally lip-syncing the words to the song. Jonna joins Vander at the end of the track for hugs.
Vander walks off, and Jonna is left to perform “TEMPLE”, where everyone in the audience duets with Jonna word for word. Next was something I wasn’t expecting. The stage goes dark, and we hear the music for “chasing kites”. The only illumination comes from a winged cape that Jonna is wearing. The audiences loses it, and the phones come out in full force. I have to take a moment to not only enjoy the songs she is presenting to us, but to admire the amount of thought, creativity and work coming out one person- It’s endless. I’m enjoying every moment. This is one of the most beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen in a performance, and to watch her sway, and move gracefully as though she were under water with translucent fabric was quite simply a majestic sight, paired with a playful, dreamy, chime-filled song. At the end of the song, she loses the cape and transitions over to perform “t’.
Jonna then changes into yet another costume. From her music video “play”, she wears a wool coat that looks like long, gray hair or strands of wool. Everyone loves this track, and the outfit. She dances across the stage, putting the wind through her “hair”. At the end, she loses the costume and pauses again, “This has been a dream for a long time. How are you?” The audience screams, shouts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them cried. She sends love in her hands by embracing her chest and reaching out to the crowd. “I brought you something special tonight. You’re the first to hear a new song”. Zola Jesus walks out, and similar to Vander, she adorns all black in contrast with Jonna who has always been wearing bright silver or white. The crowd goes nuts and we all lust after a new track from our favorite artist. Together, they perform “MATTERS”. It’s a slower, darker track, but one that resembles old, Nordic women vocalists who do “kulning”, or “calling / chants”. I feel like this is something that I would hear during a devastating Viking battle on a film soundtrack. It’s cool. And it ends with a loud audience member shouting “MORE”! Jonna simply replies, “Now that’s Jesus for you” as Zola exits the stage.
She carries on to play another favorite of mine, “SAMARITAN”. The lyrics in this song actually go against my faith and beliefs, but chalk it up to the song being catchy, a well-made music video, or a collaboration with Commes De Garcons, I can appreciate it for what it is. On a more personal note, and for the sake of context, all Scandinavian countries are primarily atheist or agnostic. Based on Viking history, and its past conflict with other European Christian groups, religion for Swedes have all but phased out. It’s been a topic of discussion with my Swedish family and my Armenian-American family for my entire life. Religion in Scandinavia is something to be laughed at, or even angered by the fact that religious groups can have such a strong influence upon people and how they live their lives, or even to go as far as influencing politics. It causes war, hate, devastation and division. However, growing up in a country that values religion, and with both sides of the argument on either side of the family, I’ve come to the conclusion that faith without man-manipulating power (religion), is something to take pride in, help guide you in life, and to teach patience, acceptance, love and peace.
From an artistic perspective, I can love this song for its use of rebellion and expression, when so many institutions- who only become institutions to evade taxes, and avoid actually helping people- can be coming from a place of extreme conservatism and suppression. Ultimately, this song could represent standing up for your rights, challenging the media, the government, social norms of selfies, or anything you see unfit, and to go against the grain, and liberate yourself. That’s really why I consider this song to be one of my favorites. For the rest of the audience, I think this was another electro-pop hit that they thoroughly enjoyed. Jonna stops again with, “I just have to sit here for like 10 seconds and process this moment. I’m so thankful you came here tonight. Let me introduce you to Tomina”. She gestures to her electro-musician on stage, performing with her the entire evening.
She finishes up the show with “y”, and climbs down to be with the audience. Everyone embraces her as she is swarmed with iPhones, and selfie sticks. Once she leaves the stage after the song, everyone in the audience throws roses, including one fan who threw a homemade foil crown from her “t” music video.
The audience scream, and chant ENCORE until she comes back out on her bed of roses. She plays “REMEMBER THE FUTURE”, from her latest album. It’s a slower song, but was made from the inspiration, or rather degradation of our tech generation. Jonna once said in an interview that “Everyone is always trying to remember themselves and each other by taking photos, and documenting everything on social media”. But permanence is futile, because there is no such thing. I believe this is meant to be an extension from her previous project- A visual album, “EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN”.
Next, she plays “GONE”. This is my absolute favorite track. This is actually a bit of a hopeful song, with lyrics negating her message in “EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN”, and “REMEMBER THE FUTURE”. Essentially it is an homage to the people who have passed, and reassurance to the people living that they will be remembered dead or alive. Their presence will carry on, and everything you’ve done in life will be remembered. With this, she picks up the foil crown, and a bouquet from the floor, and triumphantly performs this track. I sing too- I love it!
For her very last act she says, “I’m so emotional. I have a flight back to Sweden”. I don’t think she can muster more words. Instead she sings, “goods”. A happy and upbeat track to leave us with. She bows, and brings her crew on stage to bow with her- Her tour manager, Tomina, her projections animator, and gives a shout out to her DP for all of her music videos, John Strandh, who is somewhere in the audience.
Jonna Lee has been successfully putting out albums since she was signed in Sweden in 2007. Even though she was signed to a label, making music she didn’t want to make, it wasn’t until an acute illness that threatens her vocal chords and airways provoked her to go independent and create her own work. Becoming an independent artist, and leaving the security of a contract can be liberating, but also terrifying. Without fear, Jonna Emily Lee Nilsson has created her own audiovisual project, iamwhoiamwhoami, in 2009 put out two albums, “EVERYONE AFRAID TO BE FORGOTTEN”, and “REMEMBER THE FUTURE” by 2017 as ionnalee, and has successfully backed her first International tour through Kickstarter with sold out venues across the globe. She has created music, video, choreography, fashion, and creative direction, for over a decade, and has made countless of music/videos with millions of views. She is a true testament and inspiration for what an independent artist can accomplish, and that they can make it for themselves without the corporate overlords dictating your art. Her work is beautiful and powerful to me. You can be yourself and speak your truth without fear. It’s just icing on the cake that I get to see and hear it through the eyes of my culture by way of an insanely talented, multifaceted, and ever-creating force of art. Tusen tack Jonna.
— Emilie (@EMSVEN13) May 13, 2019
— Emilie (@EMSVEN13) May 13, 2019
— Emilie (@EMSVEN13) May 13, 2019