By Jocelle Koh

When I came back to Perth for the Summer, I did not in my wildest dreams expect to meet Taiwanese-Australian artist extraordinaire Jaguar Jonze here. But yet here she was, seated in front of me in all her signature leopard print glory. I had met Jaguar aka Deena Lynch the day before at a music mentorship program for West Australian musicians, and given that the previous episode of our Level Up podcast was very much inspired by her amazing social media strategy, the serendipity was too strong to ignore with this one.

A self-managed artist who has gone from strength to strength with her uniquely sensual and vulnerable alt-rock sound and striking east-meets-west visuals, Deena is one of few artists who has truly pivoted the pandemic to her advantage in 2020. As she so succinctly puts it, she made COVID her bitch.

Becoming Triple J’s most-listened artist in 2020, scoring brand deals with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Adobe, and fighting for accountability and change against sexual predators in the Australian music industry, it’s mind-boggling to know that Lynch achieved all this after spending 40 days in the hospital battling COVID-19.

Yet she is very transparent about social media and digital media’s role in her success on the whole, sharing that the brand partnerships she garnered last year were 200% down to the social media presence she’s created during this time.

With four Instagram accounts, a Facebook, a Twitter and a Patreon page, Lynch has created these beautiful, immersive safe spaces for her art where meaningful discussions can occur. To begin with, we asked her the burning question that’s on everyone’s minds – how does she manage it all?

“Sometimes I struggle to be honest, and I have been struggling more as my career grows. At the beginning, it was fine. Like everything was under control…Now I’m finding that I have to be a lot more considered in my efficiency…it’s getting really difficult which is why I use Hootsuite. It’s kind of it’s expensive. But it’s been worth it for me because I feel a lot more decluttered in my brain, knowing that I’ve kind of planned it out for the week… But at the moment, I kind of consider them all my babies and I need to feed my babies.”

An indomitable mix of vulnerability and determination, I guess this is what makes Lynch an artistic force to be reckoned with. It’s particularly interesting to see that despite having a substantial live presence as well as other avenues of opportunities, Deena continues to prioritise her online relationship with audiences with an almost protective quality. And Lynch shares that for her it just comes down to her genuine love for connecting with others.

“For me, music and art is about connection. And that’s being my most genuine, authentic self, connecting with other genuine authentic selves out there… I don’t actually love music, and I don’t actually love art. I love storytelling. And I love expressing… I’m not obsessed with the music technicalities…I’m not obsessed with the technical qualities of art either, I just love being able to express better and to connect with people better, and build these worlds. That’s what’s fun for me.”

But what’s so special about Jaguar Jonze’s social media presence isn’t just her beautifully set out Instagram pages, the striking visual branding across them or the consistency with which she uploads content. Instead, it’s about the mindset she has created around social media which focuses not on quantity, but on quality.

“You don’t need to have crazy numbers either because I have an amazing community that I’ve built around it like, yeah, maybe I don’t have, you know, a million followers. But I have engaged followers and people that believe in what I do, and I don’t need to be anything else but who I am. And that’s important to me.”

Yet on the other end of the spectrum, the passionate mental health advocate was quick to add that she has her fair share of insecurities due to time spent on the platforms.

 “I recognised that I was falling into this insecure toxic cycle because I was being faced with a lot of images that were photoshopped or face tuned or altered. And I was starting to plant in my head this comparison and…that’s toxic social media for me. And I’ve started just like muting or unfollowing any content that like makes me feel affected that way, or make sure I sit within my gut and go like, ‘Why do I feel this way? Is it logical or rational?’”

Always brutally honest about her take on things, Lynch shared about the importance of boundaries especially when social media becomes a personal investment.

“I just wanted to be honest with that, because it’s not like…yeah, make social media your own place. It’s like, no, it’s actually extremely toxic. And you got to have your own boundaries with it. And I do too, even when I do am building like my cute little safe sanctuaries. Like, I still have to limit how much time I spend on it.”

And all this, as well as putting in the effort into curating your brand and presenting it effectively on social media platforms is what creates the sustainable mindsets artists need if they’re in it for the long haul. Deena also shared her best tips about fielding branded collaborations, and especially for artists how important aligning branding is.

“I mean, brand partnerships are awesome. But again, what is the goal, and that is definitely to cross promote, and to be able to align so that their own branding is not affected. That’s why people don’t want to work with someone who had just been pumping out… sneakers, left, right and centre…the message gets diluted eventually… but I really believe like the brands that I’ve been working with care about artistry, care about storytelling, protect and build their branding themselves, and are a lot more strategic about it.”

So while many might think fairytale-esque brand deals with Christian Louboutin just fall into the lap of lucky artists like Deena, I believe that it’s just her long-term investment in a healthy social media mindset and foundation that’s paying off – in a big way. Before rounding off our interview, we asked Deena for her best tip for artists handling social media:

“I would say to manage your mental health and your relationship with social media. I know, sometimes it’s hard to unfollow people, because there might be like, a network and stuff. There is an amazing function called mute… sometimes just do that for yourself. If you’re in like a low state, or a very, like vulnerable state, tune out the content that doesn’t serve you… And if you need a break, take a break. The world doesn’t run off ahead and leave you behind. I feel like we have that mentality. But um, yeah, it doesn’t happen like that. You can touch and go with social media as you please. No one will notice.”

The world of social media in 2021 is a polarising and often unsafe place. Yet its impact on our lives and the way we see the world around us is absolutely unparalleled. It could be a terrifying bubble of uneducated opinions and fearmongering. It could be a battleground for racism and sexual harassment. But it could also be the key to creative and financial independence, and a platform that allows us to demand accountability from non-transparent parties like never before. But whichever it may be, like any landscape it requires research and a road of personal discovery to find a space within it which empowers you.

It seems to me that in the realm of music, few independent artists have ever made it very far in their understanding of the social media landscape. Which also means that few have truly learnt how to harness its creative potential. Yet Lynch is one of few who have somehow been able to grab the medium by the balls, milk it for all its worth, and leave with her sanity intact. Taking what she needs and cutting herself loose, like some sort of social media assassin. And that to us, is how you kill it in the social media game.