Jinan Laetitia: Indonesian pop newcomer digging into life’s contradictions

Every month in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. Jinan Laetitia is a 19-year-old Jakarta native turning heads by transmuting her emotional reality into compelling songs and fantastical visuals

Jinan Laetitia is not afraid to speak her truth. All of the pop upstart’s songs so far have been drawn from the truth that she had discovered in recent years: that “trying to be a better person is exhausting! I mean, who am I kidding?” she tells NME, her eyes rolling with a cheeky grin.

“From my personal experience, I have learned that I could really love myself for one day. Like, there’s no one I love more than myself. The next day, though, I would be like, ‘I fucking hate myself. I’m the ugliest thing in the world!’” Laetitia continues. “It’s something that has come clear to me – no matter how hard we try to be better, there will be days when we’re, like, ‘Fuck, this is so exhausting!’”

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The wearying process of balancing both sides – that has been the defining theme of the 19-year-old’s introduction to the Indonesian pop scene so far. Since 2021, Laetitia has dropped three song packages, each containing two tracks that provide differing perspectives on the same theme. Last August, she explored self-loathing and self-acceptance on ‘The Picture’, and in November interrogated the world’s treatment of her on ‘The More’ (featuring a collaboration with popular singer-songwriter Pamungkas).

The latest song pair is ‘The Mirror’, which was completed on March 11 by ‘Welcome Back’, an examination of mercurial love (“They’re out here complaining how I don’t call back / Give me a break / How should I react?”). It’s juxtaposed against ‘Favorite’, an ethereal pop ballad that examines a selfless and parental love (“I would die every night, if it’s what it takes / For my favorite little baby, I won’t hesitate”).

Laetitia’s explorations of contrasts in life and love –which are made manifest in a unique two-song release strategy – positions her as one of the more interesting newcomers in the Indonesian music scene this year.

“If you deny your shadow, if you deny the bad parts of yourself, you’ll never get better,” she says of her personal interest in duality. “Like, you’ll never know what to improve. What to change.”

Indonesia pop Jinan Laetitia interview Welcome Back Favorite
Courtesy of Warner Music Indonesia

Laetitia took flight as a songwriter barely two years ago, a time that the fine arts student bluntly describes as “one of the most stressful years of my life” as COVID-19 cut her campus life short. Struggling with the pandemic blues, one day she impulsively tried to turn one of her idly written poems into a song.

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“I was like, ‘Wait. I like writing poems and I like singing. Why don’t I put these two things together and see what happens?’” she recalls.

Seeing her “bottled up emotions” transform into lyrics and melodies led to a life-changing discovery for Laetitia: that music could be a powerful means of expression. “I’m not really an open book – even to my closest friends,” she explains. “It’s very hard for me to tell people what I feel. That’s why, for me, music is a tool that I can use to share what I’m feeling and also, the truest part of myself that also includes the parts that are shocking to me.”

“I believe the important duty of an artist is to offer a different point of view about life”

It took little time for Laetitia to start tinkering with her computer and cooking up a proper song. While she grew up listening to Paramore – to be specific, their third studio album ‘Brand New Eyes’ – she decided to choose American R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani as her muse and main reference. “Her production is very dreamy,” she notes. “So, I was like, ‘Oh, I want this song to sound like a dream [too]!’”

The final result was ‘Gemini’: a minimal pop and R&B song in which Laetitia finds herself falling head over heels for a guy who is “searching for fun and not just commitment”. She independently released the song digitally in August 2020 and, a few months later, was approached by Warner Music Indonesia. Being offered a recording contract by a major label might seem like every aspiring musician’s dream, but Laetitia was clear about her terms.

“There were certain things that I was already sure of. First and foremost, I wanted control over my creative direction and my creative process,” she says.

That uncompromising attitude towards artistry is apparent from Laetitia’s admiration of FKA twigs and Ashnikko, whom she loves for their “authenticity” and “distinctive” aesthetics. It’s also obvious from her eye-catching music videos, which she took charge in conceptualising. She took inspiration in particular from surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the multiple interpretations his work invites. “I love it when a work of art is able to both send a message and stimulate whatever kind of response that its audience generates.”

To ensure that her music videos do not fall into “a familiar template”, Laetitia works with directors that understand her creative vision. For the music videos for ‘Favorite’ and ‘Welcome Back’, she recruited Adi Djohan, an experimental graphic designer who has also worked with Ramengvrl and Cantika Abigail. In ‘Favorite’, Laetitia is surrounded by a pool of water and greenery or, as she puts it, “everything that is good in this world. A sort of paradise”. The music video for ‘Welcome Back’, in contrast, finds the artist trapped in a “barren land” with nothing but gloomy ruins.

She explains: “Those two different worlds symbolise our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with the world. That and also, how those relationships are determined by whether we harbour resentment for those things or we decide to simply do our best and look at the brighter side.”

Laetitia is currently gearing up for the release of her upcoming debut album, which she’s simply described as “me, but as a piece of music”. As she looks forward to introducing herself beyond her home country, her purpose now is as clear as day.

“I believe the important duty of an artist is to offer a different point of view about life. If something is expressed in the same way over and over again, the message will be lost,” she concludes. “That’s why I think creativity is important. You can’t grow by imitating others.”

Jinan Laetitia’s ‘The Mirror’ is out now

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