The most exciting female force in music right now doesn’t have a name – or a recognizable face – just yet. In fact, she may not even be a literal female at all, though if you’ve seen her in action, you know the energies she conveys are purely estrogenic. Confused? Of course, you are: on this topic, we ALL are. We’re talking, naturally, about “iamamiwhoami”, an enigma who has come to represent the greatest online mystery this side of Web 2.0.
It started the way only a post-Y2K mystery could: on youtube. On December 4, 2009, a number of influential music bloggers hysterically alerted readers that a mysterious entity called "iamamiwhoami" had paid their inboxes a visit that morning. Their emails left no trace other than to direct recipients to a youtube video puzzlingly titled “Prelude 699130082.451322-220.127.116.11.12”. Already a peculiar scenario, yes, but wait til you watch the clip. The entire affair lasts less than a minute but makes an indelible aesthetic – and emotional – impression.
“Prelude” is an atmosphere piece, a portrait of a realm characterized by achingly familiar but unknown forest imagery. Eerie industrial synths percolate in the background, lending the otherwise idyllic scene the suggestion of ominous foreshadowing. Human limbs dance as branches on trees. Intercepted footage shows a goat delivering a calf. It is a pagan’s Narnia, alive with an unearthly pallor and seemingly unfettered by humans. Until She appears.
She, of course, is who “iamamiwhoami” has come to represent. What do we know about "She"? She’s blonde, young, and feral. She covers her face in some sort of primordial goo-mud, or tar, or possibly something more visceral. She writhes in fetal motions, twitching unsettlingly like a Japanese water demon. At every glimpse, her familiarity looms tantalizingly close – we feel we KNOW this girl. But at no point is she truly recognizable, making her existence a maddeningly attractive riddle.
Immediately, speculation mounted. Everyone immediately agreed that the cryptic clip must be attached in some way to a music artist–after all, whoever is behind the viral project selectively clued-in key music bloggers of its existence. So who could it be? The first guesses hazarded were cold, dark, Scandinavian acts. Perhaps this was the work of The Knife or side project Fever Ray, whose menacing electro aesthetic and Darwinian musical subtexts fit congruously with the sights & sounds of the clip. Except, as it turns out, it didn’t: new music leaked from The Knife and it was nothing like this.
More names were thrown into the fore: Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Lady Gaga, The Golden Filter, M.I.A. But the name dropped with the most alarming regularity was a shocker: Christina Aguilera.
Aguilera’s unlikely inclusion in the “iamamiwhoami” phenomenon developed as almost a persistent afterthought, but in context, makes perfect sense. Just as our clue-mongering hit a wall, new clips routinely emerged, each more curious than the one preceding it. The second video shifts tones from Edenistic to weirdly erotic, as the feral girl licks tar from a tree. In these dendrophiliac scenes, her features bear remarkable similarity to Aguilera’s, sending the singer’s wide-eyed fans into a frenzy. A third video, abstract and amniotic in nature, shows the woman curled into a fetal position, surrounded by floating strawberry cakes a while baby whale shark cries in the distance.
In the heads of Aguilera fans, all these signifiers began to make sense. Aguilera’s new album is reputed to be something of an artistic rebirth, featuring songwriting and production contributions from left-field artists like Ladytron, Sia, and the aforementioned Goldfrapp. The music in the videos certainly falls in line with the edgier sound fans envision Aguilera exploring this era. Plus, fans will tell you, her son’s birth influenced her new creative direction. Some claimed that they could hear “Bionic”–the title of Aguilera’s new album–echoing throughout the synthetic soundscape of the third clip. It was all adding up! Truly hardcore believers even took dubious trips into the realm of numerology and “decoded” secret messages from their idol: “It’s Me, C”, the second clip’s encrypted title supposedly proclaimed. As the quest to know more became unbearably addictive, even cynics joined in the fun. After all: the music was good, the visual were artful, and everyone loves a mystery. Little else in the blogsophere mattered in the face of Pop’s Great Unknown.
Fast forward a month: we’re no closer to solving the mystery, yet certain aspects of the campaign have hit a wall. A fourth video revealed little in the way of progressing the myth, though we now know that iamamiwhoami has crooked teeth and blue eyes (a stealthy fan detected their presence under brown eye contacts).
A fifth video, leaked yesterday, features a canine motif and seems to hint that a great unveiling is around the corner. Meanwhile, Aguilera’s publicists have denied her involvement in the viral efforts, but her most avid fans hold out hope that the singer is somehow, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, "iamamiwhoami", after all.
Perplexingly, all four viral clips have been altered slightly; seconds of “stolen” nature footage have been extracted from each, following complaints of digital piracy from the woman who filmed the goat birth. It is an unfortunate aesthetic setback (as the drawings that now occupy the footage interrupt the flow of the clips), but an extremely revealing legal snafu. Any large-scale artist – such as Aguilera, Nine Inch Nails, Goldfrapp, and even The Knife – would have taken the executive precautions to neatly avoid the “sampling” issue, which suggests the "iamamiwhoami" project may indeed be the work of amateurs, after all.
Funnily enough, it almost doesn’t matter who it is now. She (or he?) has captured our eyes and ears – which surely was the point of the campaign, anyway. An Aguilera fan noted: “Even if it isn’t Christina, this is too good to ignore. I am a fan of whoever this is; I will buy their album.”
This is as much a marketer’s dream statement as it is anecdotal evidence for how much perceived affiliation affects our ideals. New, old, or unknown, the entity behind "iamamiwhoami" has ingeniously cultivated a pioneering audience for whatever art stems from this.
Or, perhaps most thrillingly, we‘ll eventually discover that the clips themselves are the art. Perhaps we’ll never know who made them. Perhaps this isn’t high-concept marketing for an eventual musical product – perhaps this IS the product. If the journey is the destination, in this case, the campaign represents revolutionary commentary for the possibilities of social, and musical, media – if only because it violates our expectations. But expression for the sake of expression is never a hoax. For the community of curious music fans who have quietly invested their hope for the future of pop, in this viral case, the mystery might best be left unsolved.