Yuna — International music sensation speaks to TIM about music, songwriting, being a Malaysian in America, the music industry, practice of faith and more.
Interviewed by Amina Chaudary
Who Is Yuna?
I thought about this, I am actually a very normal girl doing something a little bit normal in a very not normal situation. But at the end of it, I am just real chill. I am really shy, a really shy person. But it is just that I do a lot of things by myself. I am a loner kind of because I am the only child, so I am really private. I just like to be kind of like anonymous in the sense. So, yeah, I mean, that’s me.
Music is always been my passion for a very, very long time, ever since I was a little kid. So, you know, coming out here and just making music, coming from Malaysia, especially you know, it’s – being a kid from Malaysia, like I would never like imagine, this would happen one day. And for this to happen for me, is just really, you know, I am really grateful, I am really blessed to be able to kind of like to do what I do, what I love doing. And to be also, you know, to be able to just meet people and kind of like, you know, just meet fans, enjoy it, enjoy every minute of it, so. Yeah.
How did you discover your music?
I remember just like being I don’t know, six or seven and I just discovered No Doubt, and you know, I just love – I love rock music. I remember just like be in the room and pretending that I can play the guitar when I couldn’t. But that was kind of like, you know, drove me into like learning how to play the guitar, like I really wanted to just like get into music and oh, yeah, maybe this is what I want to be when I grow up. But at the same time, you know, I guess like I was brought up in a family where, you know, my mom is a teacher and my dad is a legal adviser. So, you know, they are both like really smart people. My mom and my dad, they are like the smartest people I have ever known in my life.
I always knew I was going to go to the law school, that was like, that was my you know, goal in life, like, okay, I am going to law school and I am going to graduate, and I am going to be a lawyer. So, that was in the plan but I didn’t follow through, obviously but I did graduate, I got my degree in legal studies and after that I just kind of just like, alright, well, you know, I am going to give this music thing a shot and see what happens. And my dad, he was was really supportive about it. And even though at one point, I was actively writing music and performing. And he he actually – and I told my dad, like, so this is just going to be like a short term thing, like I am not going to do this forever. And he was actually the person who told me to just, you know, stick to it and focus on my music, he was like, you know, not everybody can do what you are doing. He is like, because he is always been into music and I think you know, he was really excited, when he, you know, found out that I could actually write, like you know, write music. So, he was really supportive about it. He was really supportive and really sweet and my mom as well, you know, she was like, okay, well go for it, and yeah, here I am, you know, like I thought their love and support, without their prayers, I don’t think I will be out here, you know, being able to do this, so yeah.
Did you write music from an early age?
When I was like 14 years old I remember you know, just like writing stuff like poetry. I think it was a natural thing for me, you know, just like get into a song writing because I love music, I love listening to music, like English songs and that’s how I learned language and I think – when I was 19, I learned how to play the guitar and then, I learned how to play a couple of cords and I started, you know, just like piecing together like little by littler. It was really exciting for me. You know, when you just like find out, that you could actually do something and you can like actually finish a piece, you know, you are like, wow, I can’t believe I did this!
Can you sing something from your early years when you just started writing music?
When I was a kid, I wrote this song, I can’t remember. What was it? Okay, I remember. It’s so funny. Okay. I will sing it to you. It was like, I love you, don’t you think, don’t you think, that you love me too. It will be, it will be so damn cool. In fact it could in your arms, yeah. That was like when I was 14. I can’t believe I remember this.
And one from now?
Okay. Alright. Lights Camera, Struck a pose And if someone help you Lipstick on. Yeah. High heels higher, six feet tall, and everybody knows who you are. So, yeah, that’s Lights and Camera. That’s the recent one.
How has your music evolved?
Obviously a lot, you know, I think when I was younger, it was all about love and it was like, you know, discovering you know, feelings for someone but I think when you look at my music now, I think that is obviously it’s more mature and I don’t just try and write about relationship, you know, not all of my songs are based on relationships and you know, love or breakups. I try to, you know, tell a story, kind of just like a, something that, would be interesting to talk about. Like, I think song writing, when you write songs, it’s kind of difficult, like everything becomes like a redundant thing like you just end up, reusing the same words. So, Lights and Cameras was a song that I wrote about you know, a different side of fame. Like how, you know, people just always see the surface of it and not getting you know, into like, oh who this person really is, although it may seem like they care but do they care? They don’t, they just want you know, to see someone – yeah, they just want to see someone shoot up and like even better if they crash.
Are people here in America taken aback by who you are, a Muslim, woman, singer, songwriter, international background?
Well, I think, you know, it’s natural for people to be curious about you know, or like why or how you know, because it’s not a normal case. But to me, it’s not normal about it because I come from Malaysia, like a Muslim country and we have, you know, girls who are just free to do, whatever they want. You know, they have dreams, they can pursue it. I am so like, grateful, like Alhamdulillah, you know, like I was born a Malaysian Muslim because I am this girl who loves music and I am able to pursue it.
I think, yeah, I think over here, obviously people don’t see that, who don’t understand what’s happening around the country, they are just focused on whatever the media is telling them, you know, what I mean? And I totally understand that and when so people trying to like have this story about me as a Muslim girl who makes music, you know, I am not going to try and run away from it. It is what it is, I am a Muslim girl, you know, making music. I am a Muslim singer songwriter. But I am not perfect, you know, I am just a normal girl. I have dreams and I have passion and I have – I am also a very flawed you know, and I don’t sell myself as a you know, like a poster, you know, poster girl or whatever that people who are trying to like, oh she is this, you know, maybe I am not.
it’s not just like about, you know, being a Malaysian Muslim girl. And so, just me being a normal girl, you know, I live a normal life I feel.
I have been here long enough to really just like a accept what, you know, what people – I feel like, what people think about me, you know, and I know that people out there, just like, oh they are really surprised, you know, like I didn’t know, like Muslim women are like free to do this and that. But yeah, to me like, I am not doing anything wrong or malicious. I sing about real things like real feelings. And I sing about, you know, like pursuing dreams, for example, you know, I sing about losing someone, and these are all like stories. I feel like I am more of a story teller.
I am just you know, try to write, you know, great songs hopefully, you know, that will last like for a long, long time, people can remember and yeah.
And how about within Muslim audiences?
There is just like a lot of people who are just like, you know, not supportive in a sense that, oh yeah, you know, you shouldn’t be doing this.
Oh because, just the fact that I am, you know, Muslim woman, so you know, there is a lot of different, what do you call it – ideology, you know, when it comes to Islamic art. So-
Oh, yeah, no music is art, you know, so there is like a lot of scholars, you know, sometimes there is going to be stuff in, yeah, I mean, like, a lot of people have different ideas when it comes to, you know, music and art and religion. So, but to me, you know, it’s part of my culture. I am a Malaysian. we love music, we love art, you know, we are really artistry people, we are really colorful people. So, we are peace loving people. So, you know, what’s so bad about that?
And do you feel you are challenging music industry standards too?
I feel nice when people from other – from, you know, like another religion, for example like, you know, a woman, who is like a mom, who is Christian, would come up to me, I am like, oh my God, my daughter wants to be a singer as well and you are perfect example of you know, like you don’t have to be naked on stage, you can just like, you can just sing and not be naked, performing your sings. I am like, oh, that’s nice, you know, I mean, like at least I am, because to be know, that will never be something that I would do, like I would never like take off my clothes, you know, just to promote my music, it’s not me and I have managed to make my managers, you know, to understand that, I have managed to make my fans to understand that, I managed to make my labels to understand that. You know, and it’s not everyday you get that kind of response from people in the entertainment industry. So, hopefully, that will change a little bit of things like what is so normal about you know, what’s going on in the entertainment industry these days, people are just like out there.
I feel like the entertainment industry, doesn’t need a Muslim girl to prove that, you know, we have Adele we have like all this really talented like musicians, like who are just like, if you listen to like Edith Piaf or if you listen – you know, she wears like dress and that’s it and she just sings and it’s amazing.
I am a normal Muslim girl, you know, I do everything, I don’t you know, get into drugs or alcohol, you know, I don’t do those kind of stuff. Yeah, and I don’t party, you know, it’s just not me. I try my best to like be comfortable, you know, I am comfortable with what I am wearing and I try, you know, I try my best to kind of just like make people feel okay, you know, like I don’t want to offend anybody, I don’t want to, yeah, I don’t want to offend anybody, you know, I am just here to you know, make music.
Filmed by Nasser Eledroos
Edited by Rob Eckel