We’re often taught to perceive pursuing careers in the arts as frivolous and self-indulgent – a stubborn refusal to accept true adult responsibilities and a one-way ticket to financial ruin. Jett Kwong is candid about the constant daily uphill battle of fueling your own dreams while society pressures you to abandon them. Her new single “Away” unpacks this tension and the internal conflict it creates as artists grapple with working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Kwong’s music boldly examines heritage and legacies of colonialism. Simultaneously, she continues to leave space for the narratives of others, choosing to center women and people of color in her work with the hope of fostering more inquisitive, honest dialog around identity. Listen to “Away” HERE.
Cliché: You’ve lived and performed around the world. Why did you choose LA as your home?
Jett Kwong: I went to school near LA, so it was a natural choice after graduating since I was familiar with the area and many of my friends lived here. I did get fed up and leave to live in Berlin, but after the 2016 election I knew in my heart I wanted to live in the US and be part of the changing landscape. Since then I have found my rhythm here, and an engaging, supportive community.
Your music revolves around themes of family, being a mixed heritage woman, and colonial history. How would you say each of these aspects has shaped your identity both as a person and as an artist?
All of these things have deeply shaped my identity, being that they are inherently part of me. Things like family culture, gender, and race shape the way you move in the world, in both abstract and physical ways. I believe that I am meant to convey this through my creative endeavors, and that I owe it to the many people who came before me who made it possible for me to exist. All of my ancestors and their individual experiences, mistakes, and small triumphs are what I’m trying to tap into. As a person who is half white/European, and half Chinese by way of Hong Kong, I’ve always been interested in the lasting effects of colonialism.
Your work prominently features women and people of color in front of and behind the camera. Why is it so crucial to you that women and other marginalized folks play a role in telling your stories?
I’m interested to see how more female and marginalized people tell stories because historically these are the groups who have been left out of them. The same story told by different people is going to be told differently, in subtle and obvious ways. This in turn changes the very way we look at things, consume media, and relate to one another. Because the larger story that I’m building is centered around being mixed, half Asian, and caught in between two identities, it’s important to involve people from similar backgrounds to participate in telling stories from unique perspectives.
Talk about your new single, “Away.”
Away is my second collaboration with producer LMNOP. We came up with some textures, and from there we wanted to explore the mundanity and frustration our community feels as artists working multiple jobs to sustain our creative endeavors. I think for everyone across career and life paths the pressure to “succeed” can be debilitating. “Away” is a reminder to check the pressures that society imposes, as well as the pressures within ourselves.
“Away” discusses the monotony and frustration we often feel when trying to accomplish our dreams. Have you ever felt discouraged during your pursuit of your music career? How did you rise above it without allowing it to stifle your creativity?
It is a near-daily experience, trying to reconnect to what drew me to music in the first place when I’m surrounded by life’s realities and a completely saturated market. It’s also worth considering the programming I – and many others – have received that music or the arts are not viable, worthwhile careers. In the end, only you can decide what’s worthwhile to your spirit. I’ve also found that focusing more on my enjoyment, health, and relationships has eased some of the pressure.
You’ve expressed a desire for your music to be a conduit for culture. Elaborate on this for us. What was the motivation behind broadening your musical narrative to include not only your personal history, but comprehensive cultural stories? How does a better understanding of culture facilitate more inclusive discussions of identity?
We need a broader representation of people and perspectives in general. The population, even just in the US, is very culturally diverse – and yet we mostly see a very small, specific portion of the population representing the larger body. Difference is something to be acknowledged and celebrated, and I hope we can get to a point where asking genuine questions (and listening to answers in return) is the norm. There is a PC culture that makes people afraid of asking questions sometimes, and I think that has an adverse effect, making us assume and shame rather than actually engage. Identity is complex, and there is no one net to throw over an entire group such as “Asian American” or “female”.
How would you like to see society’s attitude hopefully evolved in terms of women’s rights and social justice over the next several years?
There is such a binary way society looks at things, and perhaps that is a fundamental human flaw. I’m very interested in the space in between – there is a middle ground, fighting for balance. The more we can cultivate honesty and communication as humans, the more we can work towards small changes in our communities. There is a huge wave of female innovators and decision makers rising up, and that will shift our culture into one in which inclusion is more valued.
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Jett Kwong Explores The Pressure To Succeed in Her New Single, “Away”. Photo Credit: Ellyn Jameson.