Malaysian singer-songwriter and activist, Yuna has been stealing our hearts for years now. Whether it's music, fashion, or activism, Yuna has always been at the forefront and she has led with passion, authenticity, and soul. Her musical style traverses the surfaces of various genres from Folk to pop to R&B. Her music has not only touched the hearts of people around the world but has helped bring attention to other artists making beautiful music in Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Filmed in quarantine in Kuala Lumpur, Yuna shared a special performance for us live from home. Yuna performs "Crush," "Likes," and "Stay Where You Are." Read our exclusive Q&A with Yuna below.
Ones to Watch: How have you been passing the time during all of this craziness?
Yuna: I’ve been trying to keep myself busy, just trying to be creative. It’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s really hard to stay creative at a time where you don’t know what’s going to happen in five months or six months. For the last 10 years of working in the music industry, I've always been on the go writing albums, recording, releasing music, touring, and then going back into the studio to write again. I’m so used to that cycle. And now it’s just "oh, I guess I’m just gonna chill for a minute." And going back to Malaysia was so unplanned. I was scheduled to be here for work and then quarantine happened. The whole world just stopped. So, I’ve been here with my husband for five months, but it’s been nice to spend more time with my parents. They’re very happy to have us back. It’s really funny because before I moved to LA, my whole life was just based in KL (Kuala Lumpur). So, it’s been really cool to connect with old friends and make music in the old studio.
Have you learned anything new about yourself during quarantine?
Oh, definitely. Having this break has changed my perspective on life. Before, I didn't have time to stop and think about things. Like "Oh, shit, I’m turning 34 this year. Maybe it’s time to have kids." I've thinking about my mom and my dad a lot and being at home is making me focus on the more important things in life. It’s not just all about work. I am such a workaholic. Even when I’m not working, I’m working. If I’m not working on music, I’m working on another project. Before quarantine, I was going nonstop. It really took a toll on me health wise, I didn’t feel 100%. I kept telling my manager and my husband how tired I was all the time. Instead of making that conscious decision of stopping and taking a break, we got this opportunity to slow down so I'm taking it. So now, nothing is happening and I’m just staying at home and self improving. I've seen my health improving and my anxiety has gone away. I’m just spending a lot of time with my cats, hanging out with my parents, and relaxing. I'm finally taking it easy and that’s how life should be sometimes, instead of constantly pushing yourself.
You seem to continuously reinvent yourself, but I don’t know if it’s a reinvention as much as it's you just unveiling another layer of yourself. Is that intentional or is that just you growing up?
I've been making music for a long time, so I definitely like to come up with things that are new and exciting. I just let things happen naturally for me. I’m always open to new ideas.
How are you engaging and interacting with your fans during quarantine?
I'm doing more performances like the one I did for you guys. Filming my acoustic shows can be fun but it can also be stressful (laughs). The challenge is that you have to keep doing it. It takes a lot to be on camera, but I've become pretty comfortable with that. I’m a private person, but at the same time, I don’t limit myself from my fans. I interact with them as much as I can. I show them parts of my personal life with my husband. When I go live, I invite my husband to be in the video and we talk to the fans together. We talk about normal life stuff, but I think that’s what fans appreciate. But I also understand the other side. Sometimes artists aren't comfortable with it.
As a musician from Malaysia, how does it feel to be a part of those Spotify billboards in Times Square celebrating artists during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month?
It’s incredible because I’ve been a part of this very special month for a few years now and it’s nice to be included. I was really happy, and my parents were really proud. My Asian American friends and fans were so proud to see that, and it means a lot for South Asian representation. It’s all about representation. There isn't a lot of Southeast Asian artists who are doing what I’m doing. And hopefully after this, it will open up more doors for Southeast Asian Americans to be on that platform. I’m really happy that Spotify did that because it’s really difficult for us to showcase our voices. So, this is one of the ways that we currently get to do that and it helps our music connect with more people.
Beyonce's "Black Is King," helped bring awareness to a lot of artists in Africa and in the Afro-pop scene. Would you ever want to do something like that for Malay artists?
Goodness, I would love to do that. I sometimes would like to call myself the Malaysian Beyonce (laughs). I Just wanna channel my inner Beyonce and do it, you know? I tried to do a mini version of that for my music video for "Forevermore." For my album Rouge, I wanted to reconnect with my roots. For a while I was really shy about telling people where I’m from. Not because I’m not proud of it but I wasn't sure if I wanted to reveal too much about my background. Now that I’m a little bit older, I'm very candid about things and who I am. I shot the video for "Forever More" in KL so I could show people the culture and all the things I grew up around. Hopefully, I'll get to do more stuff like that soon. That would be so much fun.
Who are your ones to watch?
There’s this really talented singer, his name is RINI. He makes awesome music. I love it.