Dinah Jane Says She 'Quit' Music Due to Depression in 2020: 'I Just Had to Stop Completely' (Exclusive)
The Fifth Harmony alum tells PEOPLE about the road to embracing her Polynesian identity and how she'll incorporate her culture into new music
After some time away from music, Dinah Jane is ready to get back in the studio — and create with her Polynesian identity at the forefront.
The former Fifth Harmony member is currently gearing up to attend a writing camp presented by Spotify, Warner Chappell and Mono Stereo Music, which will bring together several artists and songwriters to craft new music in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. "I've been a part of many writing camps, but this one's really special to me because it's me and my own people," Jane tells PEOPLE. "I'm really excited to tap into my native tongue, especially."
It's been three years since Jane, 25, released her most recent single "Missed a Spot," and a lot has happened in the interim. Leading up to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, she was preparing to embark on her first-ever world tour in support of her then-upcoming debut album. "Everything was lined up," says the California-born Tongan singer-songwriter, who postponed the plans several times before they were ultimately canceled as the world remained in lockdown.
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She made the best of the unintentional break from work but eventually, it took a toll on her mental health. "There was beauty in spending that amount of time with my family but then there was also that inner voice of, 'Who are you? Who do you want to be?'" says Jane, who recalls becoming fed up with the pressure of returning to her career. "All these questions started kicking me down at the time, and I was like, 'I honestly quit.' I told my family, 'I don't want this no more. I don't care for music.'"
Considering she'd dreamt of a career in music long before she auditioned for The X Factor and reached international success with Fifth Harmony, Jane's parents didn't understand why she wanted to leave it all behind. But she was struggling with depression. "I was honestly fighting my inner demons, and they had to understand that I was not OK," she says. "I couldn't keep going because I felt like if people in my career pushed me to keep going, I was going to destroy myself."
During that time, she couldn't even listen to music — let alone think about creating or performing her own. After pausing for a while to focus on herself, she eventually found the strength to get back up. However, she then felt bad for stepping away in the first place.
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"People were always pulling me left and right, like, 'Get back in the studio.' Or my fans, I felt like, in a way, I let them down. But they understood why I had to just stop completely," says Jane, who's since gained a more positive perspective. "I'm grateful for those hard times. I'm grateful for the relationships that have failed in my life. I'm grateful for things that didn't go as planned because they've brought me here, to a better understanding of who Dinah is."
Now, she's taking a new — and more personal — approach to music. The "Bottled Up" performer is working on launching her own record label, through which she'll release her own music and hopes to sign other artists who share her cultural background. "I'm the first female artist of Polynesian descent in the mainstream world to do this," says Jane. "I want to give that platform to the next generation of Polynesian kids."
While she's always felt personally connected to her heritage, the musician hasn't always felt that her background has been recognized in her professional life. During her time alongside Camila Cabello, Lauren Jauregui, Normani and Ally Brooke in Fifth Harmony, Jane was often assumed to be of "mixed" descent rather than Polynesian. "I would embrace [my background] here and there, but then there were times where I was just trying to fit in," she recalls.
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When the girl group partnered with Barbie and a doll was created in each member's likeness, Jane provided representation for her community as the first-ever Polynesian Barbie. "Still to this day, it gives me chills," she says, noting that the moment helped her realize the importance of embracing her identity. "I remember when I received it, all my little cousins were like, 'We want the Dinah Jane Barbie.' They want to be seen too."
After nearly leaving music behind, she's not only decided to continue but plans to incorporate her culture into her upcoming releases. "The power I want to carry through this new chapter of my life is to embrace being Polynesian," says Jane. "There is beauty and power in that."
Fans can rest easy knowing she'll share new music with the world this year. She says the new songs will provide insight into her "unique journey," as she's been writing about everything from dating and relationships to family and mental health.
With her forthcoming music and beyond, she hopes to inspire other young women of AAPI backgrounds to pursue their dreams with confidence. "Don't be like me and be shy. Embrace your stories, embrace your truth, embrace your wounds," advises Jane. "That's when the music will make sense. That's when the passion kicks in — and not only the audience, but your ancestors will be very proud."
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