Several years ago, I joined a vocal training camp. While I’ve already forgotten most of the things that happened, there’s a statement from one of the camp coaches that stuck with me even after all these years: “Always listen to people’s demands if you want to increase your chances of surviving any creative industry.” And honestly, it makes sense… well, at least in my book.
You see, almost every entertainer has been asked about their definition of “success,” but we all know that by society’s definition, it’s primarily driven by public opinion—and that automatically requires them to be more attuned to the preferences of their target audience. They have to keep up with the latest trends, observe the changes in charts, and monitor the market’s general behavior to stay relevant in a highly competitive landscape.
That’s why whenever I sit down with public personalities and ask them about who they’re dedicating their craft to, I already expect an answer in the back of my mind: fans. True enough, almost everyone I previously interviewed had a similar response; the keyword being “almost” because 22-year-old singer-songwriter Jason Dhakal proves to be an exception.
“If [my music] is dedicated to anyone, it’s dedicated to myself,” he says, subtle conviction seeping through his voice. Talking with Jason doesn’t feel like an exclusive one-on-one with a rapidly growing musician but rather a casual catch-up sesh with a friend. Most people would probably be taken aback by his bluntness, but in our case, it helps a lot in making the conversation flow. “When [working on] a song, I don’t really go: ‘Will people like this?’ It’s all more of like, will I like it? Does it make sense to me? How much does it mean to me?”
For those wondering, Jason started out as an independent artist who relied on the Ableton software installed in his trusty laptop. But after signing under Warner Music, he finally got the opportunity to work with a professional team. “[My songs aren’t] recorded by just a laptop anymore. We utilized a live band, from the drums to the guitars—everything. Oh, and trumpets. Every [song] has trumpets. You know, after signing under Warner Music, everything has become much more organized.”
But how exactly did Jason end up in the local music scene? While most kids his age were dreaming of becoming doctors and teachers, Jason was aspiring to be a singer. He didn’t believe it was attainable, though, until he turned 16 and made music for the first time.
“I heard myself in a song and I was like, ‘Wow, this might be the thing that I could do.’ And now that it’s actually happening—complete with a label and proper management—I look back on that kid and realize why I could never not be in love with [music].” He then pauses for a moment as if trying to grasp the memory of how he was when he first started producing.
Without a hint of hesitation, he proceeds by saying that being in the industry is a privilege, which is why he can’t see himself falling out of love with it. “I can get burned out from it, sure, especially if I’m forcing myself to work. But I can always just take a break and think back on why I’m here in the first place.”
Besides, music has already become his emotional conduit. He finds it easier to translate his feelings into song lyrics than just straight-up ranting them to someone. He believes music can “mask the heaviness of his emotions” without taking away its authenticity. Most importantly, performing those songs in front of an audience mimics the feeling of opening up to a non-judgmental stranger—liberating and exhilarating.
Now, here lies the issue: Not everyone is a “non-judgmental stranger.” There are times when the 22-year-old musician would encounter rude comments, but nothing his strong personality couldn’t handle.
If Mark Manson has given us an entire book about the subtle art of not giving a fuck (you can read an excerpt for free, by the way), Jason has also come up with his own ways of staying unbothered: “It just goes along with time, really. After going on stage countless times and seeing people watch me perform, I eventually got used to [the attention] and developed a belief that it doesn’t matter if [they] judge me. Because at the end of the day, I’m the one on stage—living my dream.”
Plus, he tries to stay away from the toxicity of social media by spending his free time forming things out of Japanese puzzles or watching movies. (Although he knows most of the internet memes our chronically online team randomly recites throughout the shoot day, so I’m not too sure if he’s actually pushing through his social media detox.)
While celebrities and other public personalities are generally expected to please their audiences, every individual still has the prerogative to decide on how to approach their craft. It just so happens that Jason chooses to prioritize his creative vision over audience satisfaction—and this manifests greatly in his latest release “Manila.”
“Since I’m from Oman, ‘Manila’ [by The Hotdogs] has become a staple song at our OFW community parties. I grew up hearing this song a lot, so when I went to the studio one day, I immediately [discussed it with] my producer. He laid down the chords after, then we figured it out together from there.” Jason’s goal was to reimagine this classic OPM song into something modern—sultry and jazzy—and I personally think he succeeded in doing so. (Give it a listen if you haven’t already and be the judge.)
As with his career, Jason has a strong belief when it comes to love, too (despite being “so bad” at it that he always falls for “the worst people in the world”): “Choose people who choose you. If you’re still questioning yourself if they like you even after several hangouts, don’t bother [anymore]. You need to be with someone who outwardly likes you back. You can’t just keep on waiting and wishing and breaking your own heart due to uncertainty.”