BillboardPH celebrates #WomenInMusic, by recognizing their contributions to history and society. Today, we celebrate one of Southeast Asia’s brightest pop stars Yuna, whose global success as a singer-songwriter has challenged double standards of religion, ethnicity, and sex in the music industry.
Last year, with the help of the Neon Lights Music And Arts Festival team, BillboardPH had a little chat with revolutionary artist and entrepreneur Yuna. Though she settles now in Los Angeles working with Hollywood producers, the story of her roots direct us all the way back to where she started, Malaysia.
This month marked one of Yuna’s first shows in the Philippines, with her performance as an international artist for Wanderland Music And Arts Festival 2017.
You’ve written Bahasa music for a localized audience in Malaysia and you’ve also branched out globally with your English songs. When it comes to songwriting, which comes more naturally to you, English or Bahasa?
Definitely English. The minute I started writing music, it was English – a lot of English songs. With Bahasa, I kind of needed help a little bit. I needed more time to develop songs in Bahasa. Definitely, it was English music that I was drawn to. It was more natural for me to sing in English too.
It was a little bit difficult to put it out for the South East Asian market because they were just looking for songs in Bahasa – those were more famous. I could do that. I feel like I’ve done that and I did quite well in Malaysia just delivering one Malay song after another other, but my passion was my English music.
I really felt that was a bridge that was waiting to be connected. Like from one island to another! [laughs]
My songs to me were just really special and I just knew that it could go somewhere. If you could imagine a girl with a bucket of cakes thinking: ‘These are amazing. I wanna have people try them. I’d be a waste if I didn’t.’
Is that why you moved to LA?
I kind of decided to take that leap and move forward and move out of the country. Really just challenge myself because I needed that. I couldn’t stay put anymore. Everything was repetitive for me after a while, so I just needed to get out and see the world and see what I can do.
You’re also a law school graduate, in what way did your time in law school augment your career in music?
It definitely affected my music career. I think there was a sense of discipline and professionalism that came with it. A lot of people think that coming into the music industry can be very emotional. They don’t think so much of the business side of it – the moral compass to guide their way around the music industry.
Going to law school helped me first and foremost to have the discipline to work really hard. To go for whatever I want without giving up. If you take up law in college, you just have to deal with it and not give up.
Did you consider law school instrumental to your music career when you were studying?
For me it wasn’t an option. I didn’t come from a rich family. Education was really important for me and I went to a government school. So I really just had to stay and brave through it and finish what I started.
I did that. And you know, I learned a lot of things. I learned how to work with people, how to communicate, public speaking, getting confidence ,and being on stage talking in front of people.
All those things, I learned from going to college. I’m glad I did that. I think, because I went to law school, I could have this conversation with you right now. That’s how I learned to speak English really well. That’s how I learned how to communicate with people out here.
I learned how to adapt with different situations I go through out here. Yeah if I have to deal with difficult people, it’s really nothing. I’ve dealt with this in college. It’s definitely helped me.
I see. So it was an investment for character building.
Yes! Character building! And of course the education part of it. Like academy, contract, law, important rights, etc. You know the law contract so when you sign, you know what it means. Some people don’t have that.
Definitely, I came to the business prepared; you have to look out for yourself. You have to know what you can do and what you cannot do.
You said earlier that law school taught you to work with people. And as many of us know, you’ve been participating in many collaborations: Jhene Aiko, Usher, Pharrell, etc. What is the most valuable takeaway you’ve gotten from collaborating with all these artists?
I’ve learned a lot. I learned not to be selfish. I was a little bit like a purist before. “Ugh, I don’t want to try anything else. I wanna stay true to my sound.”
In music if you do that, it’s great but you have to evolve from time to time. Cause you’re a creative person, you cant be that one thing all your life. Be you, but you have to evolve to a better and more solid form of yourself.
Collaborating helped me do that. I’m a better artist because I learn from other artists. I’m a better singer because I work with other singers. I’m a better writer ’cause I learn from other writers. I have to constantly work with them, work with different producers.
Once in a while I find people from the film industry that I get to talk to and learn from. Not even collaborating but bringing stories to life. It enriches your talent as well. Collaboration is really important f you wanna learn and cerate something out of the box.
You can’t just live in your own bubble forever. It’s important to go out and see the world. Be creative. Find a different way to live for the fullest. Not just in your career, but in your life.
If I wasn’t open to working with Pharell, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be able to work with different producers from different genres of music. Now you can put me in the studio with anybody and I’m able to write something.
Definitely collaborating and working with other people is key to success. You just have to constantly learn from other people as well.
Speaking of collaboration, you worked on a collaboration with one of our local acts from the Philippines, The Ransom Collective! What was it like working with them?
It was great! I had a great time working with those guys and girls. They were super cool. I met them for the first time at the video shoot. It was such a fun way to work on a song together. Because we really did work on the song together: Me, GAC and TRC. We’d get together on Skype and talk about the song. E-mailing back and forth.
Oh, so most of the songwriting was coordinated online?
Yes! And after that we met at the video shoot in Penang. Which is really cool. I actually got to sit with them and have a conversation.They were all like super super nice. I’m obviously the oldest among all of them, but they’re so cute you know?
They’re so sweet and easy to work with. I had a great time working with them. And I think they’re all super talented. I wish them all the best in their music career because they’re so young and talented already. They don’t need luck, they just need a lot of support from their fans and from their home.
So aside from releasing and performing music, you’ve created your own clothing line? Was fashion something you were always passionate about?
I’ve always been a fashion enthusiast ever since I was a little kid. I would read magazines and I would go through my mom’s clothes. I’d enjoy wearing her huge skirts, feeling very pretty. And her earrings! I was always so intrigued by all of it you know?
The creating the clothing line was another step. Just something I needed to do to express my fashion. Hatta Doma, the fashion designer who makes clothes for me all the time – for my shows, my concerts. He made this amazing floral skirt for me and I loved it.
I thought ‘Oh my god! We should do this for all the girls in Malaysia! We decided to come up with a complete clothing line for everybody. I’m glad that a lot of people are loving our designs. It’s doing pretty well in Malaysia and overseas. I’m excited to see where we could go from there.
article via: billboardPH
March 20, 2017.