by Joey Dalla Betta

Sonia Ben Ammar is one of the Internet’s most striking features. Researching her is like doing homework by the light of your favorite TV show; each photo you come across is more—let’s say, distracting—than the last. In retrospect, I’m grateful my many requests for an in-person interview did not pan out, and slightly embarrassed by my perseverant insistence.

The self-described “little French girl” crackles through the phone. Surprisingly, there’s not so much as a distant echo of Paris in her voice, due in large part to her education at The American School of Paris. She’s reserved, quiet in her demeanor, careful in her language. Sonia does not want people misunderstanding her.

“A lot of people know me as a model because that’s what worked out earlier in my life; I got really lucky with a lot of jobs.” At 19 years old, with international fashion campaigns for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Miu Miu behind her, this feels modest. She continues, “But music’s always been my main focus.”

People know very little about Sonia Ben Ammar. Even after days of research, I knew only 3 things: she’s doing well for herself as a model, she’s dated two high-profile boys, and she’s in the process of embarking on an as-of-yet undefined musical career. This is virtually all anyone seems to know about her. Even her Feed—the postmodern reflection of self that is and always will be indiscrete parts performance and authenticity—is brilliantly titled itsnotsonia. Freely associated features of the account for clarity of imagination: “flossing” in the candy aisle, the beach, makeup, sweatshirts, bandeaus, photo shoots, confidence, Coachella.

Ben Ammar has spent almost the entirety of the past year working diligently on an EP, her first extended display of herself to the world, which she will release as SONIA. Some days, she spends so long in the studio that she consumes almost nothing but cookies and milk. I find this painfully endearing.

“I’m only just finding out who I’m becoming. I feel like I’m a different person every week, every month; I’m constantly changing, constantly evolving.” She pauses. “So how do I give that fluidity a stable place in my music?”

I imagine this constant transformation will represent itself naturally, even if she tried to strip the upcoming EP of its perspectival multiplicity. Which she will not. “I’ve made sure the theme of the lyrics is consistent. It’s always about what’s inspiring my life, whether it’s heartbreak or heartache or love, disappointment in people…I guess it’s a little darker.” She laughs. More giggle than laugh. The sound sends my heart right through my ribs: fish on the table. She continues, paying it no mind, “I think my biggest influences are Michael Jackson and Prince. They’re who I grew up listening to, and honestly they inspire everything I do. A lot of soul music too. I love Aretha Franklin.” This conversation took place a few weeks before her passing. RIP.

This is the second surprising thing I learn about Ben Ammar, the first being her Kardashi-indebted vocal intonation, though her anachronistic taste in music ultimately makes sense when I learn that she’s been composing music on the piano since she was five, that her mother and father play piano and drums, respectively, and that her grandmother sang opera.

“I don’t really listen to new music. I don’t really know what people like at the moment.” This may be the first time someone who has the potential to become the new face of brooding summer pop (think The Weeknd with a voice that’s equal parts Selena Gomez and Carly Rae Jepsen) has uttered such words. “I feel like I live under a rock.” This is confirmed when I bring up Carly Rae Jepsen’s not-so-new record, Emotion, which I guess may be an exception considering its subject matter and perceived influence on SONIA’s first—and only—single, “Ocean.”

“She’s still making music?”

I don’t know much about her relationship with Selena, but the The Weeknd comparison does happen to be grounded in Truth; she’s been working closely with Jason Quenneville, who’s co-responsible for Starboy’s smash hit single, “Starboy,” and most of the lesser known but frankly better record, Beauty Behind the Madness.

“I think we’re pretty similar; he’s not a very open person, he’s very to himself. We really understand each other.”

It dawns on me in this moment, ironically, that SONIA—for both the project’s apparent path and influences, not to mention the individual’s voice and quasi-solipsistic worldview—is unbelievably “American,” à la Justin Bieber x Diplo.

“I’ve been in LA for ten months now. It’s very, very different,” she says of the city Jean Baudrillard consistently accused of merely simulating reality, of applying the stage makeup a little too thick to see the skin. “There’s some culture shock, but I’m adapting pretty well. I’m very used to being outside, visiting the city, going to museums, walking around, getting coffee with people. But in LA I’m in my bubble. I’m in my space. I’m alone. I’m in my studio. I’m the hibernator. So it’s very different in that sense,” she says of her life in the city Jean Baudrillard consistently accused of fostering alienation with its sprawl and overreliance on rolling metal bubbles.

“I mean LA’s really the hub for music,” she informs me when I ask why she decided to leave Paris, a move I can’t say I completely understand as an LA local. Aside from the countless producers she was interested in working with—and the unwavering knowingness, since she was young, that she would move here—SONIA is primarily here because They sold her the American Dream. “They sell you this American Dream: that anybody—no matter your background, where you’re from, who you are—can achieve something, that the door is open to everybody. Which is only half true; it can and does get dark, but that’s how they sell it.” Contemplative silence. “To be able to dream though, to put that in your head, it’s kind of a beautiful thing.”

What a lovely sentiment—just what I all but needed to hear expressed in this moment. For someone like myself, raised in a city notorious for fame-hunting fakes, it’s refreshing to encounter sincere passion. When Sonia says she’s here chasing the American Dream, she means it. There are no ulterior motives, no traces of wanting anything more than a life where she may continue to write music she loves, from the bottom of her “little French heart.”

I ask when we may expect her debut.

She tells me she aims to release her as-of-yet untitled EP in the fall.

I tell her I’m sincerely looking forward to hearing it.

“I can’t wait for you guys to hear it. I’ve put my entire freaking soul into it. I’ve been working so hard. It’ll be worth it.” She giggles again. “I genuinely hope you’ll like it.”

This last you feels a bit more personal, like she’s really telling me she genuinely hopes I like her EP.

For a moment, I wish I’d been more insistent on an in-person interview before swiftly self-administering a reality check.

Then, as if a small part of her knows she’s playing a cruel game with my heart, she says, “It was so nice talking to you. I hope I can actually meet you in real life sometime.”

Of All Lies, Art is the Least Untrue

Photographed by Parker Woods

Styled by Zoe Costello

Hair by Marissa Marino

Makeup by Allan Avendano

Nails by Merrick Fisher

Flaunt Film directed by Ali Maister

Music by Blake Walker