Jhene Aiko fans have come to expect the unexpected. Hers is a bold brand of sensuality. She's not afraid to explore different sides of herself. From the vulnerable lovesick call of "Wading," to the cheeky fun of "Post To Be," and the wild and ravaged freak of "Maniac," Aiko is a woman of many faces. In that way, she's like the rest of us, but after a successful mixtape, debut album, collaborative album, and tons of guest spots on radio hits, there was still one mask she'd yet to don: dance diva.
"I usually don't do dance type of records, but when I heard ("Wake Up Alone"), I felt like it was something I wanted to try," Aiko says of her recent collaboration with The Chainsmokers.
"Wake Up Alone" is the 10th track on the dance duo's debut album Memories...Do Not Open, and it's a bit brighter and and synth heavy than Aiko's usual steamy bedroom R&B or hip-hop pop, but that's exactly what attracted Aiko to the project in the first place - that and the chance to work with a duo that was burning so bright on the radio, she'd had no choice but to become fans of their work.
"I don't fit in a box as far as who I am and what I like," she says. "The older I get, the more that I experiment with different sounds and try different things … It definitely was a fun experience. It was actually a little harder, because I'm not used to recording songs like that, and especially because I didn't write it."
Aiko is one of those artists that needs to take the reins. She laughs as she calls herself a "control freak," but it's her strong personal vision and her dedication to that perspective which has gotten her where she is today. "Wake Up Alone" was fully conceived musically and lyrically when The Chainsmokers brought it to her team. It's the tale of a star who's got everything; fame, money, and the adoration of worldwide fans, but there's one thing she still seeks find: true love.
That was a message that rang true in Aiko's heart, so she decided to give the tune a try. She hopped in the studio and started singing along to the original melody.
"I was trying to adjust to this other type of sound," she says. "It started off a little like 'oh, I don't know if I'm going to sound right on this,' but once I started recording it, I asked myself 'how would you sing this? How would you wanna do this? And that's what I did."
The end result is a smooth mix of the singer's soulful smokiness and The Chainsmokers' playful bounce. She leaned back on the beat, hitting her notes just so with a swing over the duo's synth-driven 808 rhythm. The tune dissolves into chopped-and-screwed murkiness, which might be a playful hint to Aiko's usual collaborators.
It was an experience Aiko was happy to grow from, and she said she's definitely feeling inspired to give dance vibes more of a shot in her upcoming work. It speaks extra highly of The Chainsmokers' dudes that, after letting someone else call the final shots, she'd look forward to working with them again.
"I think they're super cool, and especially when I met them," she says. "A lot of people in entertainment, you can feel if it's just fake business vibes. Sometimes, once they get the song from you its like 'okay, thanks,' and you never hear from them again ,or if you see them again they're like 'uh, I don't really know you.' The Chainsmokers have very very good energy. That's part of the reason why I was so eager to do the song. I feel the energy through their music, and like I said, after I met them, it was a real."
Right now she's very focused on her biggest project to date, a multi-faceted work that combines all her many hats into one big celebration of artistry.
"It's pretty much everything that I do and want to do," she says. "Music, poetry, acting, my love for my family, just creating, writing. I wanna treat every project like it's my last, because you never know, life is short. So I'm treating this like it's my last project, my last chance, everything."
Until that mysterious masterpiece appears, she's happy to put her weight behind "Wake Up Alone."
"I'm super excited for them, and I love the album," she says. "I hope everyone else is loving it, too."