How we approach and navigate hardships is a testament to our character. For Aiona, it was her openness to vulnerability and her ability to infuse it into her music which made difficult times more tolerable. The 19-year-old Brampton native is a newcomer to music, having only released one project— Phase A—in 2016, but is unafraid to step into her new territory. With a fine arts background, she now paints on a new canvas, this time with her voice, and as someone who dabbles in R&B refuses to be limited to just singing. “I wouldn’t call myself a singer or a rapper,” she shares with Noisey in an interview over the phone. “I would just say I’m an artist because whenever I want to express myself, I don’t really hold back when it comes to styles and different sounds. I like to experiment a lot.”
In a short amount of time, Aiona’s music has matured immensely. She tried to approach her music in a way that she thought differentiated herself from other women who did R&B, saying, “When I first started writing music and dropping music, I wanted to be different. I didn’t want to make emotional, sad music or music just talking about heartbreak or anything like that. So I started writing about all the experiences I had with men when I was dogging them or I was taking advantage of them and that surprised a lot of my male friends.” The lyrical content present on the three tracks from her first project, "insAne," "Truth & Lies," and "YE$MAN," captures the artist at a very particular moment in her life but unfortunate circumstances made way for a new means to create. “I remember when it was fall, I kept thinking about the word nostalgia and everything was nostalgic for me because that time the year before, things were good with my family and I had a boyfriend”, she mentions. “Things were different so I was like, I don’t know how to get that release out other than to make a project.”
From this, Night Vision was born. It's a project that is both a display of her independence and resilience coupled with how she began to orient herself to survive and create. “I used to work night shifts at McDonalds but the shifts were 11PM to 7AM so I never slept [much]. And when I’m in the studio, it’s always late night.”
Night Vision is much more of a public reckoning with herself and her demons. Though the EP is only a few tracks long, Aiona explores a plethora of personal and relatable issues and flexes on the final track with a boastful rap record. On ‘"Feel," she sings “Sorry I’ve been MIA, I’ve been in my head too much these days” and talking about the disconnect between herself and her friends and being online and life situations. “When I drop this EP I want it to feel like somewhat of a return.” Still drawing on the dark, trap-inspired production she’s flirted with in the past, Night Vision was her opportunity to show her listeners another side of herself and another side of her artistry. “When I started writing this project, I really want to show my true colours. I just told myself that I had to be vulnerable and I think a lot of females in the industry, or artists in the industry in general, can be vulnerable but I feel like a lot of them also stick to what they’re comfortable with. Especially with the EP, I stepped out of my comfort zone a lot.”
Most notably with records like "Fairest of Them All," which discusses the artist’s insecurity around beauty ideals, and "Feel," she bares her soul in a new way using her lyrics to bridge together her hardness as well as her own softness. She is all knowing that her abilities as a woman artist will be up for questioning but confidently and fearlessly takes on any challenges to her craft. Says Aiona, “I feel like I have to make my mark, especially as a female, the first question that everybody asks me is, ‘Do you write your own music?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah’ and they’re surprised almost, so I feel obligated to prove that as a female, I can write.”
Night Vision is a snapshot in time for Aiona. A moment that, when she looks back at it, speaks to where she was as both a woman and an artist, and she wants that to be the takeaway for anyone listening. “I just want people to remember me at 19 being able to really convey what I was going through during that time in my life, with the right amount of versatility, and hopefully just enough that people enjoy it and can relate to it.”
Sharine Taylor is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.