Jen Awad is LA’s glittery, soul idol. She has cultivated a relentless fanbase home in Los Angeles and she has been consistently recording, releasing, and performing for the past few years; her latest EP, released this past spring, is called Jewel of the Nile, a reference to her Egyptian background. There is wisdom spread across its five tracks, but the video she put out for lead single 'Bad People' was particularly poignant. Watch it and read more about what she had to say about responsibility, compassion, and cancel culture in her interview with the 405 below.

Listen to Jewel of the Nile on Spotify. Awad and her band will be performing at the Levitt Pavilion on July 11th for free. Follow Jen Awad on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

'Bad People' is a wonderful, upbeat song, but then the questions at the end put you in a different headspace. Why provide Socratic questions?

There’s a contrast between why this song was actually written and why we put those Socratic questions at the end of that video. When we filmed the video, we were using a lot of guns. It was funny because we were very desensitized by that fact, just carrying around all these guns and pointing them at people and shooting people. Later, my five-year-old niece saw that video and she told me, “I love that video with the guns.” So when we were doing the editing, me and [co-star, editor, and director] Liz [Nistico] were like holy shit—it’s our responsibility to take a stand and say that we do not accept this, we do not want this, and in no way is this anything that we support. Even if it’s for a kitsch, camp, fun reason. Any artist has a responsibility to their viewers to say, “this might be fun and this might look cute but this is a real issue.” That’s why we included the Socratic questions.

I noticed that you didn’t use the terms “mental health” or “mental illness” in those questions. How do you feel about the way the media frames this issue?

It’s a convenient justification, but there’s more to it. The truth is, we all contribute to how other people go into their own demise. It’s not our fault, it’s not anyone’s fault, I just think it’s our lack of awareness or lack of compassion for individuals in general. For me, it’s more about a human condition of people who feel completely invisible or have been bullied by this weird society.

You mentioned a lot about education instead.

Yeah, I think education is very important. Schools should implement a class or part of the school curriculum, like a group therapy—give a classroom an hour to talk about their issues instead of people suppressing them or bullying each other. There has to be a level of vulnerability. It’s not so much that guns are shitty, but the reason that people experience psychological crises is because they are feeling ignored or invisible or are going through a lot of shit on the inside. I think we need to teach people a little bit more compassion.

You mentioned that the video was meant to be fun and kitschy. Were the characters you were playing feeling invisible or unacknowledged or like that?

I don’t know. I think the whole general intention of the characters was that anyone can be affiliated as a bad person. One minute I’m a victim, I’ve got these guns to my head, I’m feeling sorry for myself because I’m held captive by these two fucked up degenerates, and then the next minute it gets flipped and I’m the bad person. Basically the whole message was that anyone is capable of being a “bad person” if we really want to. It’s easier for us to blame our problems on other people and consider ourselves the victim. Especially when it comes to love. Because “Bad People” is, all in all, a love song. [laughs] We don’t see ourselves for exactly who we are, but we’re all capable of hurting each other. That’s basically what the characters were about.

Do you think love is bad?

I don’t think love is bad. I think love is good. And I think that love is definitely a choice, but we don’t take the terms and conditions that come with the person that we generally choose to love. We love the idea of someone or the idea of what they could potentially be, but we don’t actually love the person as they are.

Sometimes, for those reasons, love terrifies me.

Yeah, but I love transparency and the older that I get, it’s just become such a weapon for me. I find a very articulate way to express myself, but I love being upfront with people: This is exactly who I am, this is how I am. The more honest you are about who you are, I think you leave less room for people to get a misrepresentation of what they’re getting into. My favorite thing to tell people is that I’m difficult. I don’t want no one to find that out on their own. The one thing I feel very grateful for is that, anyone who’s in my life right now, they know me. They know me exactly how I am.

I don’t do online dating, that’s not my thing, but you know, we’re constantly giving our best representation of who we are when we should just be giving our truest form. Down to the fucking food group! Are we buying organic or checking for GMOs or hormones or this or that? That’s basically how we have to sell ourselves. [laughs] Then you see if people are gonna be okay with it or not. And if they’re not, it’s fine, there are so many human beings out there that are worthy of you or that will get you.

In your first question at the end of 'Bad People', you ask, if someone has done something bad, “should they be exiled?” So I was wondering, what are your thoughts on cancel culture?

I hate cancelling people. I think it’s really fucked up and unfair. We are virtually stoning people. This is some Old Testament shit. We have the facts, people are welcome to feel however they wanna feel. There is a thing called forgiveness. I believe that we’re a little too extreme these days and there’s a lot of grey area that we should kind of just live in. Be angry, that’s fine. I don’t know, [just] don’t write things off so easily.

Yeah, and sometimes judging by today’s standards can be unfair too.

It’s interesting because I think, man, Saturday Night Fever would never stand a chance today. There’s a lot that probably wouldn’t have a shot in hell today. I don’t believe in people being sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, I don’t support that at all, but I do believe that censorship is a very, very scary thing. It’s good that we are holding people accountable for their actions, but it’s also kind of scary, because now we kinda do have to give people a bit of a disclaimer to our work.

About censorship, I believe there’s also an element of being forgotten, historically.

I think that’s the whole point of life. We are given the choice to determine whether something is good or bad, and if we take people’s choice away, then we won’t ever really know. I have this friend on Facebook who puts up the most hateful things I’ve ever seen, but you know what, I’m not gonna come for him. I’m not gonna change him, that’s who he is. I’m gonna unfollow his shit. That’s my choice.

I wanted to revisit something you said earlier. Obviously there are bad things in this world that we do not condone, but do you feel that forgiveness is always possible?

I think if someone fucks up enough times, you just have to dissociate yourself from them, but you can definitely forgive people.

Do you feel that forgiveness is personal?

I think it goes both ways. I think some people need it. I think you also need it to move past something. I don’t like to carry anything at all, I’ve already gotta carry my own brain, [laughs] I don’t want to carry the issues that other people have bestowed upon me with their actions. I found a really good way of communicating my issues with people and forgiving them, but also I’m dissociating myself with them at the same time. When I see people who have done really awful things to me in public, I give them a hug, I give them a kiss on the cheek, I say, ‘how are ya?’, and then I walk away. Because there’s nothing that we have to discuss about the past.

That’s very healthy!

It’s fun, it’s strength, it’s power! People carry too much of what was done to them. The reason why people carry any of that is because they kinda feel like a bit of it is true and they internalize it and they examine themselves and they hold onto it.

We love to hate ourselves don’t we?

We’re awful, we’re so mean to ourselves! I have to constantly remind myself to stop talking shit about myself. Anytime I’m just in my head, I have to say, “stop it!” Just like that, like a parent. [laughs] It’s a hard, weird spiral to pull yourself out of, but if you’re not gonna do it, no one else will.

Do you think that writing music helps you through some of that stuff?

One hundred percent. It’s actually funny—the more honest I’ve become in my normal life, the harder it is to actually express what I need to say in my music. I love to tell stories. It’s a hard formula to make people feel good and also be like, ‘fuck yeah! I totally know what she’s saying!’ at the same time. But yeah it definitely helps me.

Sometimes I have to put it away though. Like I have to like stop writing to like shut it off because I just get so into it and then the second I write something, I’m like automatically responsible for putting it out or executing it with my band and then, fuck I gotta record it...

[laughs] You’re creating more work for yourself.

Yeah! It’s like I just made an EP man, chill on that for a bit. And I already have like a record’s-length of songs ready to go for the next round. I have to tell myself, slow the fuck down Jen!