Jasmine Sokko, 22, Singer-songwriter

CLEO Change Makers is a movement celebrating the grit, bravery, and tenacity of young women in Singapore. Do check back here for CLEO Change Makers 2019, which will kick off on Aug 1. 

A look at CLEO Change Maker and musician Jasmine and you’d probably think, “What’s with the visor?” The singer-songwriter doesn’t only take photos in her visor, but also performs with it on. After all, it’s part of her artistic persona.

But it wasn’t something she thought long and hard about in a bid to be different. Rather, it was incidental. She says, “I started the whole mask idea when I was working on my first music video. It wasn’t intentional. It was something I had to wear because it was in the storyline. But towards the end, the director was like, ‘Hey, let’s try something. Let’s take out the last scene where you took your mask off because it’s more mysterious and open-ended.’ We did that for fun without thinking a lot about it. And then it became a thing.”

And she hasn’t regretted it. “Everything has an opportunity cost and I would have missed out… on many of my current achievements if not for sticking to my current image in this appearance-saturated-industry,” she says.

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And this dark and futuristic persona aligns with her music, which comprises melancholic electropop. “It’s strange because I have a high-pitched voice and that kind of contradicts all this darkness,” she says. The “darkness” she is referring to are her thoughts about sadness and resistance, which are reflected in her songs. “All my songs are pretty sad or angry,” she says.

Her debut song, “1057” – which is the word “lost” stylised in numbers – embodies her thoughts on getting lost in a society that celebrates numbers. She says, “One day, it hit me in school that it’s all about the grades… And for any person out there in Singapore, it’s about the Instagram numbers, the price of your car, everything.”

She gets inspiration from everything – “Some of the best lyrics came from conversations with friends or even just going out there and misreading something and thinking it’s genius” – and she pens them all in a notebook that she calls a “physical Twitter” because it’s full of short lines.

In fact, a line from “1057” – “All day we will live our lives, chasing the dollars and maybe get drunk in numbers” – was inspired by a late-night conversation with friends, where they were discussing about how they didn’t like being defined by their GPA and social media accounts.

Sometimes, she also records melodies on her phone, especially when her inspiration comes out of left field. “When you’re not consciously working on music, the melody just comes to your head at the weirdest times, like on the way to the toilet… My voice notes app is full of all these embarrassing things,” she shares. Her biggest fear is losing her phone and having people listen to her voice notes.

Sometimes, she asks her friends for feedback on her music, and the feedback is not always positive – but she doesn’t mind one bit. “I really like… constructive [criticisms]. So when people say bad things, I kind of forget if they’re not constructive or I can’t work on them.” But she admitted that she has cried over some comments about her music.

She reckons some of the harshest and most unconstructive comments include “That song is s**t”. “When I put in almost weeks of effort only to get that kind of comments… You know, actually it sucks,” she says. “It’s kind of good if someone writes you an essay on why your song is bad. Like, this synth can be louder, this drum can be softer. But it’s the worst when someone tells you, ‘I don’t feel it.’”

But she reveals that talking to people made her realise one thing: “The song that means the most to me might not be the song that means the most to people. It’s important to be honest and genuine and also know what other people want.”

The singer is one of the top most-streamed Singaporean female singers on Spotify. But she reckoned the reason why she beat out veteran Singaporean singers like Kit Chan is because we’re now in the digital age. She says, “I always find it a little impossible to compare two different individuals in real life – it’s like trying to compare an orange to an apple. [Most of Kit Chan’s music was released] during an era when music was consumed predominantly through physical CDs, whereas I exist in a time when people listen to music on digital platforms. Kit Chan’s fans are still very devoted to her physical releases, choosing that as a medium to consume her music.”

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She may be making waves on Spotify in the past year, but it wasn’t until recently that she got a stamp of approval from her greatest critics – her family.

She reveals that her parents were initially against the idea of her becoming a singer – for all of 21 years, in fact – and asked her to focus on school first. She says, “I always hated it. They would treat it as a hobby.”

To convince them, she did something unique last year: “I figured that my parents wanted me to get a stable job because of money. So the way to convince them was to do an excel tabulation of how this would work out for me. (Laughs) But it worked.”

She says her parents only started taking her music career seriously this year. She recalls, “It was during my mum’s birthday – and she started wishing for everyone, like to my brother, ‘Good luck for your school’, to my dad, ‘Good luck for your business’. And then when she reached me, she said, ‘Good luck to your music.’ She didn’t say school. And then I teared.”