Jhene Aiko lets her manic tendencies run free for the sultry Fisticuffs-produced track "Maniac." To unveil her latest offering, the Slauson Hills soulstress tapped esteemed director and photographer Steven Taylor and a master in the Japanese art form of shibari to create an art project that involved her being tied up in rope.
"Working with Jhené on the Maniac shoot was a true pleasure," Taylor tells Billboard. "Not only was it an inspired idea on her part by involving the shibari artist but she also allowed me space to be creative within that. I'm really proud of the motion pieces we created in conjunction with the song and I hope it helps connect her fans and listeners to her vision on an even deeper level."
After discovering images of shibari on Tumblr about five to six years ago, Aiko wanted to share her sexy, kinky side with the sensual track, which she made alongside Detail and close Twenty88 collaborator Big Sean.
Below, the petite powerhouse discusses the inspiration behind her Maniac art project, mixing pleasure with pain and the meaning of sexual empowerment.
What was the inspiration behind the Maniac art project?
I was in the studio with Fisticuffs, who started the beat. We're always just coming up with ideas and I just started singing about being a maniac. I think that the older I get, the less afraid I am to express all the sides of myself. "Maniac" was such a fun beat. I wanted to make sure that I explored the fun, sexy side of myself. I also got in with Detail, who's an amazing songwriter, and [Big] Sean -- I love Big Sean -- and they collaborated with me on this song.
How has your creative process changed for this track in comparison to other projects?
I used to depend a lot on my extracurricular [activities like] smoking weed and drinking, and I always would take a short cut but the older I get, I feel like I can moreso channel my creative energy rather than having to be under the influence of something. I've always been like this but now more than ever, nothing is off limits. I feel comfortable to really truly be myself -- every part of me. There's nothing I feel like I can't share. Maybe a few years ago I might have felt a little shy about expressing my sexuality, my silliness or my playfulness but now it's whatever. I care less about what people are going to say or what people think and it's moreso just about expressing myself -- having the freedom to do whatever I want to do.
You mentioned showcasing your sexy side. What does sexual empowerment mean to you?
Sexual empowerment means just embracing your sexuality, doing whatever makes you feel comfortable and not worrying about society's standards and what they think is sexy or acceptable. It's just being true to yourself and not worrying about what other people's opinions are on how you express your sexuality. I think of course, as adults, you should be responsible with your sexuality and your body but at the same time, it's just about not being afraid to express it, whatever it means to you.
You worked with Steven Taylor on the visual aspect of the art project. Explain the concept behind that.
The concept is this art form of Japanese bondage called shibari. It's something I saw years ago that really just caught my eye because I felt like it just looked like art. This is something that the Japanese do and it's decorative tying. They do it for sensual purposes too but it's a true art form. I have this a kinky spirit sometimes. [Laughs] If something looks a little painful, then I'm like, 'Yeah, I wanna try that.'
When we were shooting the pictures and working on the behind-the-scenes stuff, it was such an experience while I was being tied up because it actually was pleasurable. It looked so cool to me, like I wished I could just go out in this and not be cold. Steven's direction was such a big help because he really brought some cool ideas to the table and the reason why I called it an art project is because the pictures and the statement is just as important as the song. It's not just, oh, I'm releasing a single. We captured this moment that I feel like me and Steven came together and really created.
Was it painful being tied up?
It wasn't painful. It was certain poses where the rope would tighten up on certain parts of my body. Like I could feel the pinching but at the same time, for some reason, that felt good. I think my pain tolerance is a little different. I have so many tattoos and obviously I gave birth to a child. Nothing is painful after that.
How did you come across shibari?
I think I was on Tumblr five, six years ago and it was one picture that led me to the name. Then I searched the name and pulled up all these pictures. When we were thinking of what I wanted to do for this song, I'm like I know 'cause there were a lot of different ideas that we had but then the image popped up in my head. I really wanted to take it there even further but then I also wanted it to be easy to digest and I just wanted to be comfortable because I saw pictures of girls hanging with their nipples out. I was like, yeah that looks fun but that's probably something I should do just with my boyfriend and not for the world. It was really fun. I liked it. I'd do it again. I bought extra rope. [Laughs]
Would you consider yourself a maniac?
I think I definitely have manic tendencies, especially when I'm alone in my head, there's a lot of stuff that goes on. There's those moments where I'm in the mood and I'm just like, ah, I feel like I have to express myself to the fullest level of expressing myself where I'm just like... hop on a dick like a maniac. [Laughs]
Is this the first single off a project based around the same theme?
This song is just an art project. It's one of many is what I'll say. I've been working on a lot of things that I am going to share soon with everyone. For me, I don't really think of it in the traditional sense where it's like this is that. I just like to create pieces and share them as I create them but I'm definitely working on a lot of things that I'm excited to share with everybody.
Anything else you'd like to add about the Maniac art project?
I hope everyone enjoys it and isn't afraid to express their inner maniac -- responsibly, of course. And do not try shibari if you're not a professional. I had an actual professional tie me up -- he was a master in the craft of Japanese rope bondage so to any of my fans [who want to try it], do not attempt this at home.