Filipino R&B singer following her musical intuition to viral fame

Angelika Lois Ponce is well aware that TikTok can be both boon and bane to a nascent music career. Just eight months ago, the 22-year-old architecture undergrad who makes music as Jikamarie dropped her debut single ‘Lutang’ (Filipino for “float”) – a song about feeling trapped and wishing away fatigue and frustration. What started out as a demo shared on TikTok last August went on to become an escapist alt-pop anthem that topped Spotify Philippines’ Viral 50 playlist in October. ‘Lutang’ now has at least 15million streams on Spotify alone.

Things have since been moving at breakneck speed for Jikamarie: she’s signed with Warner Music, performed her first-ever live gigs in two cities, has featured on a track by fellow rising artist JRLDM – and this week, she’ll be releasing her third single, ‘Aking Buwan’ (‘My Moon’), a song about unrequited love.

And yet, while getting ready to shoot the ‘Aking Buwan’ music video, Jikamarie tells NME she’s still processing, well, everything. “The proper journey of becoming an artist which normally takes years to experience, I had to go through in eight months. It took such a toll on my mental health,” she confesses.

Between making music and getting her bearings, Jikamarie admits that she’s also questioned whether her “overwhelming” early success was a fluke. Spoiler alert – it isn’t. The Quezon City songwriter tells NME more about navigating viral success, her love of K-pop, and what she has in common with Billie Eilish.

‘Lutang’ is now eight months old with 15million Spotify streams. How much pressure are you under when releasing new music?

“A lot of pressure [laughs]. It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity that the first song I ever put out into the world received so much love. Before ‘Lutang’, I really wanted to pursue music but it felt so scary and far-fetched in my mind. I’m very, very grateful that ‘Lutang’ gave me the opportunity to make more music. But because it’s also been so overwhelming, the difficult part was just trying to survive the past eight months.”

Because you’ve needed to adapt to this new career very quickly?

“Yes. Normally you start out small and build your way up. It was the opposite for me. It was up right away so I have a long way to fall. I’ve been going through mental, emotional, and career shifts the past months and I’m still in the process of adjusting, and I know that my journey is still starting. One thing about working with something you’re passionate about is it doesn’t guarantee that you don’t feel stress or pressure, or difficulties.”

“I feel like a lot of Filipinos can relate when it comes to choosing between practicality and passion”

Did you grow up in a household that encouraged music-making?

“My parents are pastors but they were both in a rock band in college. My dad teaches music in our church and he also taught my brother and me to play instruments – I play guitar, ukulele and a tiny bit of keyboard.

“But as far as making music as a career, my parents never really forced anything on us. Though they would give us practical advice, and my mom was initially wary about me making music because we’re not a rich family. I feel like a lot of Filipinos can relate when it comes to choosing between practicality and passion. That’s what was running in my head when I wrote ‘Lutang’. I just finished a major architectural plate at 4 or 5am and I was really unhappy. I thought to myself, ‘Do I really want to be an architect? I want to be a singer.’ If I was rich I’d have left architecture earlier in a heartbeat. But it wasn’t an easy choice and there were a lot of factors I had to consider. With my parents and with my family, we chose practicality but we never lost love for music – there isn’t a quiet moment in our house. There’s always someone singing or playing the guitar.”

Your brother Kenneth Ponce has also produced three of your songs so far. Is the Finneas-Billie Eilish dynamic limited to just these songs or is there more?

[Laughs] “I guess our dynamic does look that way. It just started with ‘Lutang’ but up until now he still produces my music, and I prefer it that way because I can tell him honestly what I want and don’t want. He’s also an architect, but my brother knows more about music theoretically, and production-wise, so I trust his critique. We can fight over the arrangement and can say, ‘Oh that’s ugly!’ etc, etc. That’s how we talk in the studio, but when we leave there’s no bad blood, because we know that that heated exchange produces the best possible potential for the song.”

Your upcoming single ‘Aking Buwan’ sounds like a tender kundiman. Was it a conscious effort to do a different song lyrically and musically, to maybe show your range?

“When it comes to my songwriting, I try really hard not to limit myself. I usually go the route of R&B and bedroom pop when it comes to arrangement, but it’s not really a big deal for me what the genre is going to be, it’s all about following my intuition about what the song requires. Lyrically, I can be very straightforward like in ‘Kailangan Ko Ng…’ which is me just listing what I need. It’s very direct. It doesn’t call for use of super deep Filipino words. But on ‘Aking Buwan’, using poetic and flowery Filipino words just fit with the old-song mood. I think I’m very instinctive when it comes to songwriting, but the ultimate goal for me isn’t to show range.”

The song is also about unrequited love. Was it inspired by someone in your life in particular?

“Not really, that aspect of my life is very uneventful [laughs]. But I’m a K-pop fan and so are a lot of my followers, and I feel like they can relate to that. That feeling of wanting to meet your idols and tell them how much they inspire you, and how it’s both comforting and agonising to have them in your life. I wanted to write a song about what it feels to be pining for someone who’s far away from you, so I wrote that song on TikTok live with my followers. I only wrote the first stanza with them and the rest with my brother. The only parameters I laid out were to portray distances, like the star and how far away it is from the moon.“

Jikamarie interview Lutang Tiktok Aking Buwan single
Jikamarie. Courtesy Warner Music Philippines

Because you made your name through TikTok, do you worry about artistic credibility or not being taken seriously?

“Oh, I get a lot of hate comments and reviews about my music – they say I’m a one-hit wonder, or that my music is just for TikTok. It’s difficult because I’m a very sensitive and emotional person. I internalise every comment. I’ll think about it 24/7. I’d question myself like, ‘Oh my god, maybe I’m not that good, maybe this was just a fluke.’ And my family would yell at me, ‘Why would you listen to them? These are bored trolls stuck at home so they’re hating on people on the internet.’

“And even now I still get those types of comments. I try not to take it personally because I know that’s part of the job too – not everyone is gonna like you, not everyone is gonna be pleased with your music. I’m working on accepting that no matter how sincere I am with my work, not everyone cares, and you can’t force them to like you. I’m purposefully subjecting myself to happier zones so that I put in better work.”

Jikamarie’s ‘Aking Buwan’ is out April 22 via Warner Music Philippines