Pop stars sing lyrics; Jhené Aiko sings feelings. If the music industry was a teen movie, Jhené Aiko would be the quiet girl jotting down poetry in her worn-down spiral notebook who surprises everyone in the final scene by belting out a soul-jarring ballad. A standing ovation. Lights down. Credits roll, and you’re suddenly aware your eyes aren’t dry. When I listen to Jhené Aiko’s music, I feel like I’m peering into a part of her—like she’s beckoned me into a private viewing of her innermost thoughts and feelings. The singer—who once said, “After each song I've lost like a piece of me, because I've put it into the song”—has amassed a devout fanbase with her vulnerable approach to song-creating. She sings both woefully and soothingly about topics like love, heartbreak, loving again, and psychedelics with the same thread of intimacy throughout. Listening to a Jhené Aiko sing is getting to know Jhené Aiko, on some level.
But Aiko is full of surprises, and her trajectory is only getting started. Case in point: as of last week, she can officially add beauty brand “face” to her resume. Kat Von D Beauty tapped Aiko—who calls herself a beauty buff and tells me her bathroom counter resembles a Sephora—to front their new True Portrait Foundation, a liquid-to-powder formula that acts like an Instagram filter for your skin IRL. “I’m honored,” Aiko says, eyes lighting up, when I ask her about the new gig. “I’ve been using Kat Von D products for years now, so for me, knowing it’s cruelty free and vegan, and looking at their campaigns and how they’re so inclusive of different-looking women, real women…I’m honored to be a part of it.” Over the next few moments, we discuss Aiko’s journey to self-love, her cats (give Grammy a follow on Instagram), her Pisces tendencies, and the scientific benefits of sound healing. A joke about a cemetery gets told, and not by me. I leave the interview realizing that Jhené Aiko is her music, sure, but also an animal lover, devoted mom, fellow beauty obsessive, and someone who’ll never be defined by just one thing. And isn’t that what being a beauty icon all about these days? Keep scrolling to get to know Jhené Aiko.
On how she perceives beauty:
"I grew up in a home and family where there’s a spectrum of different-looking women and people. So, I think I grew up with a real appreciation for just all different types of beauty. To me, everyone is beautiful. But it was hard growing up to find people to relate to in beauty campaigns. I didn’t see a lot of mixed-race people in campaigns. Now, I think in 2019, we’re moving in a better direction of showing the full spectrum of women, period. Of all different shades and shapes and sizes. I’m looking forward to seeing even more of that. "
On her beauty icons:
"Luckily for me, I have two older sisters and my mom. They were always my beauty and style idols. Whenever people ask me who my idols were, I always say my mom and sisters."
On her journey to self-love:
"When I was a teenager, I used to wish I was a little lighter or a little darker, so people knew how to categorize me. I would go on auditions and they would be like, hm…we’re not sure what to make of her. They’d ask me to speak Spanish or Japanese, and I’d have to tell them I didn’t speak those languages. They didn’t know what to do with me or how I looked. I used to wish that I was more of one thing than the other just so I could fit in. But now I feel like we are seeing more of every different type of woman."
On the person who changed everything:
"My daughter. She’s 10 now. She’s definitely helped me see myself in a new light because I have to lead by example, you know? I’m always making sure she knows how naturally beautiful she is and how she needs to embrace what she looks like. Even with her hair—I remember one time she came home from school and asked me to straighten her hair. I was like, no, you have beautiful hair! She has naturally curly, beautiful hair. Even when she’s playing in my makeup, I’m like, this looks great, but know that you look great without it."
On her current hair routine:
"My hair is naturally curly and I just try everything. I like to make sure that everything I use is paraben-free and as natural as possible. Because I do go back and forth between straightening it and having it natural, it doesn’t really curl as much as I want it to. These days, I braid my hair into two braids to make it look crimped. Right now, I’m using low heat on it because I want my natural curls back. [I feel most powerful when my hair is] pulled back in a bun. Because it’s purely my face. It forces me to feel like, I am me. There’s no hiding anything when my hair is pulled back."
On her biggest sources of motivation:
"My daughter. My three cats. One of them, her name is Grammy, she’s the baby…she’s sassy. It’s fun to channel her when I’m writing her Instagram captions. She’s just building her brand. [Laughs.] I’m motivated by life. And when my fans come up to me and say how my music or poetry has helped them, or that they can relate. It just makes me feel like I have people who are listening and that my work is really helping."
"I am studying and practicing sound healing using these crystal bowls that are infused with precious gems. I’ve always felt like my music had a bigger purpose than distracting or entertaining. Because I write music from such a personal place, and I write it to heal whatever it is I’m going through, the more that I’m getting into my purpose, the more I realize that it is healing for other people. So, I started studying sound healing and using the singing bowls in my music, tucking them into the track. Sound healing actually promotes healing on a cellular level. The song Triggered was me expressing frustration, which can help heal, but I wanted another component that was actual science-backed—really healing.
I’ve been really into mantras. I’m doing a project with all mantras and singing bowls. My mantra right now is, “I am protected.” Always. Just repeating that. I call it a modern mantra because, of course, there are ancient mantras in different languages, but I wanted something that was relatable that anyone and everyone could use and not feel like it’s something weird, or like, “It’s witchcraft!” Which also, I’m like, and? [Laughs.] I really, truly believe in the healing power of sound."
"Sleep. Mindful breathing. I meditate all day. Thích Nhất Hạnh is this Vietnamese monk. He has some really practical meditations; one is called the red light meditation. I live in L.A. He has a meditation for every time you’re at a red light—it’s your moment to breathe deeply. It’s about always practicing deep breathing, not just taking five minutes to have a “perfect” meditation where you shut off everything and turn off the noise in your mind. Sometimes, it’s just five minutes in your car."
On being a Pisces:
"The thing about Pisces is that we are all of the signs in one. The most Pisces thing about me is that any give moment I can be anything. And changing my mind…and also having an open mind. The least Pisces thing about me is my rising sign, which is Sagittarius, which is very extroverted and very social. Sometimes my Sagittarius rising will make plans and the day of, my Pisces Sun is like, you don’t want to do that! You want to stay in bed and sleep and play with your cats. Sometimes my Sagittarius rising gets me in trouble [Laughs.]"
On beauty lessons she learned in her twenties:
"Washing my face at night. I used to have all my makeup on and pass out and wonder why I would break out. Having enough water—those little things that creep up that make you realize you need to pay attention. Getting enough sleep. Protecting my energy and making sure that I’m not giving too much… keeping my real family and friends around me and staying protected in that way."
On DIY skincare:
"I like to put together my own little concoctions with natural things. Since my first breakout, I’ve been the type to try whatever. My drawers look like Sephora. But I noticed that I actually have sensitive skin so when I use things that are more natural, they work better. I soak chamomile tea bags, neem oil, lavender…just things that are more natural."
On not being zen 24/7:
"I’m not always zen. [Laughs.] I try. I try to always stay centered and do whatever I can to not take it there, but there are definitely times when I’m ‘turnt.’ People are always like, you’re always so relaxed! But the people closest to me know. Also, I’m really funny. Like, could probably do stand-up."
On her five-year plan:
"I’m a free, go-with-the-flow kind of person. Whenever I make a plan, it doesn’t always work out. I have some things I’m working on that within the next five years, some big things, that I want to accomplish. But I have faith that they will be accomplished. One is having my face blown up for a beauty campaign. I’ve always thought I had a unique look that wasn’t “commercial” enough to be the face of something. So, yeah. Now it is."