'I’ve never quite fit in': Who’s the real Jasmine Sokko behind the mask and music?
Singapore’s very own masked musician Jasmine Sokko isn’t one to conform to society's expectations. From her obsession with music to her personal style, CNA Luxury’s March cover star is unapologetic about being herself.
I remember vividly the first time I discovered Jasmine Sokko. My Spotify playlist had automatically shuffled to Jasmine’s 2019 hit song, Tired. “I’m tired/not because of my sleep/I don’t like nobody and nobody likes me,” the musician boldly sings on the track, amid a swirl of punchy electropop beats.
Intrigued, I found myself Googling more about her and felt a sense of pride when I discovered that Jasmine is, in fact, Singaporean.
Though Tired was the track that launched her to mainstream fame, Jasmine had already been making music for years. Some of her hit tracks include her debut single 1057, released in 2016, and 2018’s chart-topping song, Hurt.
In the same year that Tired was released, Jasmine was named Best Southeast Asian Act at the MTV EMAs. She’s the first Singaporean to win the award, beating out other musicians from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and more. She was also the only Singaporean (and only woman, I must add) to compete in the top 10 of China’s Rave Now, an electronic music talent reality show, where she ultimately finished in fourth place.
At only 25 years old, Jasmine has taken the local music industry by storm. But she’ll tell you she’s only just getting started.
THE PATH LESS TRODDEN
“Growing up, I was a pretty normal kid, just much more independent than others my age because my family used to move around a lot,” Jasmine explained over Zoom one afternoon, dressed in her signature black ensemble.
Yes, she’s wearing a mask. No, it’s not because there’s a pandemic going on. Whether it’s a live performance or a music video, Jasmine is known for shielding her face by donning a mask – the reason for which she explains later. Meanwhile, the mask has become her trademark.
“As a kid, you tend to think that the world is your oyster. My friends and I had all these insane dreams. One of them wanted to be a pilot, another wanted to be an astronaut. At one point, I wanted to be a rock star,” the singer and songwriter recalled.
“As I got older, I noticed that my friends’ dreams were becoming more realistic. Suddenly, they wanted to become doctors and lawyers, but I still wanted to be a rock star. I thought I would grow out of it, but I never did,” she continued.
In school, Jasmine describes herself as “such an average student”. “I was the kind of student that didn’t get straight As, but at the same time, I didn’t do very badly.” Though she wasn’t interested in academics, she felt “pressured to keep up”.
From a young age, Jasmine knew her true passion lay in music. Friends and family, however, didn’t take her seriously when she shared her plans to become a musician. “People mostly took it as a joke. Even when I started putting songs out, my parents weren’t really supportive because it’s not a conventional career in Singapore.”
So to placate her parents, Jasmine followed the path of regular Singaporean youths – she pursued a degree at a local university. “I do think that knowledge is very important, but I’m not that into a piece of paper,” she admitted.
While in school, Jasmine worked on her music on the side. Eventually, she embarked on the seemingly gargantuan task of convincing her “business-minded” parents that making music was more than just a “hardcore hobby” to her.
“I did it in a very uncool way,” she laughed. “When I was trying to deconstruct why they weren’t supportive about my music venture, I realised the root of the problem was the financial instability. So I created an excel sheet to tabulate the finances. That was the turning point in their acceptance of my career.”
“When I was trying to deconstruct why [my parents] weren’t supportive about my music venture, I realised the root of the problem was the financial instability. So I created an excel sheet to tabulate the finances. That was the turning point in their acceptance of my career.”
CONCEPTUALISING JASMINE SOKKO
Prior to my chat with Jasmine, I’d only seen her on her music videos. She sings, she struts, she dances. She’s cool, confident, with a bit of a rebellious edge.
Over Zoom, the petite songstress strikes me as sweet, gentle and somewhat soft-spoken. “When Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, he described the protagonist of the book, Robert Langdon, as someone he idolises and wishes he could be,” said the avid reader. “The character’s fictional, but it’s mostly based on him. That’s very much how I view Jasmine Sokko. We’re the same person underneath, just different sides of the coin.”
So how exactly did Jasmine Sokko come to be? And why did she decide to wear a mask?
“I’ve always been a big fan of electronic music artistes like Zhu and DeadMau5. These DJ-producers tend to wear a mask. It’s their music that defines them, not their looks. I really loved the idea of reaching people through your music, and nothing else,” Jasmine explained.
At first, the mask was something Jasmine put on to hide herself, so she could focus on her music. But along the way, they became part of her identity. They’ve come in handy too, as Jasmine admits that in public, people don’t usually recognise her. “I get to live a normal life. It allows me to be more emotionally grounded and true to myself,” she said.
And the reason why she’s always dressed in black? “I really love fashion and I’m a huge fan of brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. These designers build their outfits around the colour black. It’s a colour that’s strong and mysterious. It’s everywhere, but you don’t really take notice of its existence. It kind of fits in with my personality,” Jasmine shared.
“That’s the more artistic reasoning, but on the convenient and practical side, it makes shopping a lot easier,” she added with a laugh.
BREAKING BOUNDARIES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
As a female artiste, Jasmine admits that shielding her identity isn’t quite the norm. “Women in general always need to take an extra step to look good or presentable. This problem is especially stark in the entertainment industry,” she enthused.
Putting on a mask, however, isn’t the only way Jasmine is breaking boundaries in the music industry. If you think that all Jasmine does on her tracks is sing, you’re sorely mistaken. The self-professed “Google and YouTube educated” musician also produces all her tracks.
It’s something people don’t usually expect.
In the music world, “there’s not a lot of female producers”, Jasmine said. “I always have to prove to people that hey, I made this track. It gets to me sometimes when people say that I’m good for a female producer. I want to be good for a producer, not a female producer. On the flip side, guys don’t hear people telling them they’re great for a male producer,” she lamented.
And in the cutthroat world of music, Jasmine deserves all the credit. She works just as hard, if not harder, than her peers in the industry.
A typical day in her life goes like this: She starts her day by reading a book. Then she works on her music until the evening, before heading out for a run. Back home, she’ll pick up a book again, before going back to her music.
I ask if she ever does anything besides music. She ponders for a moment, before saying, “It’s such a boring answer, but I’m just so obsessed with music. I have this obsession with it to the point that everything I do leads to how I can do better,” she said.
Jasmine’s dedication to her craft is impressive. In essence, she’s all kinds of unconventional. For one, it takes courage to become a musician, especially in a pragmatic society like Singapore. Secondly, she’s not afraid of being herself, even though her penchant for masks and head-to-toe black may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Am I right to say you aren’t afraid of standing out, I ask. “From the beginning, I’ve never quite fit in,” she admitted. “Even if I tried, it didn’t make me happy. There’s this quote that goes, 'Tetris teaches me that fitting in means disappearing'. I think it’s not about wanting to stand out, but about embracing who you are. If you fit in, then good for you. But if you don’t, just embrace it and be unapologetic about who you are.”
"It gets to me sometimes when people say that I’m good for a female producer. I want to be good for a producer, not a female producer."
THE NEXT CHAPTER
As a musician, Jasmine admits that the longevity of her career is something she thinks about constantly. “It’s also a good thing in a way, because it gives me a sense of urgency to put out my best work,” she reflected.
In recent years, Jasmine has been building her career in China. Her expansion into China is a way for her to be in touch with her roots. She shared: “As a Singaporean, I’m bilingual. If I can make music in English, why can’t I do it in Mandarin too?”
I may not understand the language, but that hasn’t stopped me from grooving to Jasmine’s Mandarin tracks. Music, after all, is universal, I venture. She nods in agreement. “Beyond the lyrics, at the core of it, music just conveys feelings.”
"I have this obsession with (music) to the point that everything I do leads to how I can do better."
Expanding into the China market, however, did require Jasmine to polish up her Mandarin. “When I first went to China, I got conned by a taxi driver. I wanted to go somewhere that was two minutes away but he brought me on a two-hour journey instead. I was so mad, I directly translated 'go to hell' into Mandarin, but it didn’t make sense,” she laughed.
Of course, she’s come a long way. Last year, Jasmine dropped her debut Mandarin EP, titled Made In Future. The focus single on the EP was Girls, a female empowerment anthem that featured popular Chinese rapper VaVa. “Working with musicians half the world away, with people I’ve always respected, has been a dream,” Jasmine said.
These days, Jasmine is gearing up to launch her second English-language EP, slated to debut this year. The first single, titled Medusa, dropped on Mar 5. It’s inspired by the Greek mythology figure, whom Jasmine believes is a “misunderstood villain”, and revolves around the themes of independence and self-renewal.
“It’s a great track to introduce the rebirth of Jasmine Sokko and this new chapter of music that I’m making,” she said. The new tracks on the EP will be “a lot darker”. “I’m straying away from what I used to do, which kind of scares me to be honest. People can expect the unexpected,” she teased.
Music ambitions aside, Jasmine hopes to inspire the younger generation to pursue their dreams, no matter how unrealistic those dreams may seem. “At 15 years old, kids should be proud of saying that they want to be an artiste when they grow up. And they should receive the same kind of acknowledgment from adults if they say they want to be a banker,” she mused.
Women, she added, “should be encouraged to pursue what we love regardless of society's expectations”.
Take it from someone who has turned her childhood dream into reality, despite the detractors. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jasmine will continue blazing the trail, all while being herself.
As she raps on her latest track, “I’m done with people pleasing, I’m too real for that.”
"I think it’s not about wanting to stand out, but about embracing who you are. If you fit in, then good for you. But if you don’t, just embrace it and be unapologetic about who you are."
Style Editor: Serene Seow; Art direction: Chern Ling & Jasper Loh; Photography: Joel Low; Photography assistance: Alfie Pan; Styling: Joshua Cheung; Fashion Assistance: Anthea Tan; Makeup: Larry Yeo using Laura Mercier; Hair: Calvin Gan/Hairloom using Oribe; Special thanks to The Flower Factory