VOICES CARRY: Priscilla Ahn

Story by Ada Tseng.

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies.


 

Priscilla Ahn — the biracial Korean American singer-songwriter best known for angelically melancholy songs, like her first hit, 2008’s “Dream” — was so skilled at creating music from feelings of sadness and loneliness that when she suddenly found herself happily married (to actor Michael Weston), she realized she was a bit lost. Whereas before inspiration would come naturally, the 30-year-old’s latest album, This Is Where We Are, released in February, required her to dig deeper. Holed up in a hotel room outside of Palm Springs, secluded from all the distractions of the world, Ahn wrote most of the songs on her new album in the middle of the desert.

“I wanted to incorporate cooler beats,” says Ahn of her fifth album’s new sound. “I’ve always loved indie electronic music like Lykke Li, Little Dragon and chillwave stuff, but I never knew how to write those kind of songs. Finally, I got a keyboard with pre-programmed samples, and it opened this huge door of new song ideas.”

First Musical Memory: I remember learning the theme song from the movie The Land Before Time, “If We Hold On Together.” My mom got the sheet music for it, she’d play it on the piano, and I’d sing my heart out. I was probably 5 or 6, and I remember one time, I was singing and just started crying! My mom was like, “What’s happening?” I was thinking about my grandfather in Korea because I missed him. [Laughs] The song just moved me so much.

First Song: The first song I wrote is called “The Beach Song.” If you ask me to play it, I can’t remember. But I was 14, and I had just started playing guitar. I lived in Pennsylvania, so we’re land-locked, and we’d go to the ocean for vacation. So the song is about how I loved going to the beach and relaxing.

Favorite Story Behind a Song: I do a song in my live shows called “The Boobs Song.” [When Ahn was first dating her husband, she found a book of poetry in his house with an inscription from an ex-girlfriend that said: “I hope you like the poems and that they remind you of my boobs.” She then wrote him a song about it.] It’s funny, even though it stemmed from fear and sadness. It was early in our relationship, and I had to be careful because I can get jealous really easily, and I didn’t want to show that bad side of me yet. So I was like, “Oh, this is fine. I’m OK with this,” even though I totally wasn’t. [Laughs] I was young, about 22. He reacted well; he totally threw out the book. Now, I’ll tell the whole story before I play the song, he’ll be in the audience, and he’ll grin and bear it. He’s a good sport.

Fulfilling a Dream: I actually just performed at the Ghibli Museum! I did an album with a lot of Japanese cover songs and songs from [Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli] movies called Natural Colors. So I did a secret show at the Ghibli Museum on December 23, 2013, right before Christmas. That was the highlight of my life.

(Half) Asian Influences: Though I didn’t realize it until just recently, I think it all played into my songs subconsciously, even if it’s in the questions of where I belong. Even when I was little, I’d look in the mirror and think, “I don’t look like my mom, and I don’t look like my dad.” Because I’m a mixed breed of them, I thought my parents bought me at Kmart! [Laughs] But now, I’m so proud that I did grow up with a different culture.

 

Hear Priscilla croon at AudreyMagazine.com/priscillaahn.    

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Yuna Kim in Confirmed Relationship With Hockey Player

Story by Steve Han. 

Yikes! The Queen has found a King.

Star figure skater Kim Yuna, known as “Queen Yuna,” is dating ice hockey player Kim Won-jung, her agency confirmed Thursday.

South Korean tabloid website Dispatch set the Korean Internet on fire Wednesday after releasing a series of photos, one of which shows Kim, 23, taking a leisurely stroll alongside the 29-year-old hockey player in Seoul with her arm wrapped around him. Kim’s agency, All That Sports, later revealed that the two athletes are indeed dating.

“Most of what Dispatch reported is true as Kim Yuna and Kim Won-jung are in a relationship,” the agency said in a press release.

The couple first met in July 2012 while training at the Taeneung Training Center in Seoul where South Korean figure skaters, ice hockey players and short track skaters share the ice rink throughout the day prior to international competitions, including the Winter Olympic Games, according to Dispatch. They began dating in August 2013. Both of them also recently graduated from Korea University.

The photos published by Dispatch were reportedly taken on Sept. 5 last year, which was Kim’s 23rd birthday, but the reporter who broke the story decided to hold them until now to avoid being a distraction to Kim’s preparations for the Winter Olympic Games, where she controversially settled for a silver medal behind Adelina Sotnikova of host country Russia.

“We set the date for the release of the photos sometime after the Olympics out of consideration [for Kim],” said Na Ji-yeon, the Dispatch reporter who broke the news, according to YTN News. “We decided to release the photos in March after all her [competitions] were over.”

Kim Won-jung plays for the military club Daemyung Sangmu in the Asia League Ice Hockey (ALIH), which is a three-nation league with three teams from Korea, one from China and four based in Japan.

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This story was originally published in iamkoream.com.

Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen

Now you can help bring an Asian-focused television show to life! Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen showcases influential Asians using “a format that combines the best of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and The Oprah Show.” The show will feature celebrities, musicians, chefs, politicians, activists, athletes and many more.

Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen shows Asians (particularly children and young adults) around the world that there are ways to become what they dream of.”

Dina Yuen shared a few words with us to let us know why this project is one that the entire Asian community should care about.


 

Tell us a bit more about yourself and what you do.
After studying Industrial Engineering and Operations Management in college, I founded my first company, Dragon Music International, at the age of 20. With DMI I spent several years as singer/songwriter working with various producers and other artists in the Anglo and Latin music industry. Finding myself at a crossroads in my mid 20′s trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, I returned to my Southeast Asian roots.

During my extensive travels through Asia, I grew heavily involved in rescuing children in prostitution, working with orphanages and senior citizens in India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and China. The profound impact of witnessing the best and worst of Asia inspired me to create my next endeavor– multimedia company AsianFusion.

Through AsianFusion, I get to wear a multitude of hats: CEO, author (Indonesian Cooking, Iconic Asian Americans, The Shanghai Legacy), food writer, travel & product reviewer, marketing strategist, journalist (interviewing Asian celebrities around the world) and product creator– all with the underlying goal of celebrating Asian cultures and people.
These days I’m focused on finishing my next three books, developing my television show Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen and creating several product lines.

What gave you the idea to create a show focused on Iconic Asians?
Growing up in San Francisco, despite the fact that there were a lot of Asians, I was still bullied for being Asian. Through my teen years, I felt there was something wrong with the way I looked because I wasn’t the typical blond, blue-eyed American girl. Later in my 20′s, after experiencing the two extremes of Asia– the rich cultures, compassionate people and amazing food, versus the children forced into prostitution, people living in slums and corruption, I wanted to create a platform that celebrates the beautiful aspects of Asian culture. I never had Asian role models growing up, only to find out later that there are “Iconic Asians” around the world doing positive, amazing things on a local and global scale. Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen gives Asians both in America and around the world what they’ve never had before– one show where awesome Asians are highlighted, celebrated and lauded for their achievements.

What makes this show different?
Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen is unique not only because it’s the first show of its kind to focus on interviewing Asian leaders and celebrities of all industries, but also because of a format that combines Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (the fun lighthearted food scenes) with The Oprah Show (a more in-depth look into each Iconic Asians’ personal life).

Why is it so important that we showcase Asians in mainstream Hollywood?
Asians have long been an integral part of America’s foundation– structurally, culturally and financially. While mainstream Hollywood still has issues with giving fair representation to the African American and Hispanic American communities, at least our brothers and sisters in those communities have made significant progress. Both have major networks of their own (BET, Univision) in addition to major roles in television and film. Asians however, have made little progress in mainstream Hollywood, still for the most part, relegated to roles that involve cleaning (maids), prostitution, martial arts or heavily-accented stereotypical FOB roles. Given the enormous contributions Asians have made to America and the world, it is high time that Hollywood embraces an Asian-focused show not just because it’s Asian but also because it’s about amazing people that everyone can get inspired by.

How can we help?
My team’s goal is to raise 50k to get Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen off the ground and find a permanent home on a major American network. Hollywood executives have expressed to me that they want me to prove there would be public support for a show like this. We hope that all of you out there will spread the word so that we end up with tens of thousands of people contributing $10, $25, $50 or $100 rather than just a few people contributing $1k (though of course all contributions are greatly appreciated). The power lies in all of you to prove to Hollywood that small gestures from the many voices mean far more than their preconceived and outdated notions of what the public wants to see on television.

For more information and to help contribute to Iconic Asians with Dina Yuen, click here. 

National Film Society’s Comedy Web Series, Awesome Asian Bad Guys

Story by Ada Tseng. Photos by Craig Stubing, unwrittenfilms.com    

In 2011, Patrick Mendoza Epino and Stephen Dypiangco started a YouTube channel and new media studio called National Film Society. Part of the joke was that their name sounded very official and old-school Hollywood, but in reality, the playful, self-mocking and slightly absurd videos, from “Film School or No Film School?” to “Manny Pacquiao vs. Batman,” were made by two Filipino American filmmakers who riffed on everything. Eight months after they started, they caught the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which added National Film Society to their lineup. Since then, they’ve given out National Film Society “awards” (aka slightly inappropriate Barrel Man statuettes) to their confused actor friends, filmed commentary about the popular PBS series Downton Abbey, and interviewed subjects from documentarian Morgan Spurlock to Cookie Monster.

One of their most memorable videos was titled “Awesome Asian Bad Guys,” where they paid tribute to the badass Asian fighters in the action films they loved watching in the ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, in typical white male-dominated Hollywood form, these impressively skilled Asian guys always ended up dying very quickly at the hands of a Bruce Willis, an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Mel Gibson. Dypiangco’s favorite bad guy was George Cheung (Rush Hour, Rambo 2); Epino’s favorite was Al Leong, who was killed off so many times that he’s inspired an “Al Leong Death Reel” compilation on YouTube where he violently perishes in almost 20 different movies. At the end of this National Film Society video, they mention that it’d be awesome to gather all these Asian bad guys together one day and create a super team, kind of like “the Asian Expendables.”

They had no idea they’d actually do it one day. “We just thought, conceptually, it’d be funny,” says Epino. “We weren’t like, ‘Let’s make it!’”
“It just seemed like it’d be ridiculous and fun,” says Dypiangco. “And it seemed like it’d be something that’d work really well on the web.”
Once they got some actors on board — including Tamlyn Tomita (beloved for her role on Karate Kid 2), Yuji Okumoto (who played the Karate Kid’s nemesis in the same film), comedic actor Aaron Takahashi (onboard to play the villain), and even Al Leong himself — Epino and Dypiangco launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make their Awesome Asian Bad Guys web series.
A year and a half later, Awesome Asian Bad Guys is scheduled to premiere in San Francisco at the 2014 CAAMFest in March. There, it will play as a short feature, but online, it will be separated into approximately 10-minute webisodes. Though there were some “bad guys” in their dream cast that they weren’t able to lock down — including Bolo Yeung (Bloodsport, Double Impact) and James Hong (who turned them down four times) — Epino and Dypiangco’s team of Asian American actors were game to play fictional versions of themselves in the action comedy. The story begins with Tomita, who alerts the National Film Society about the dangers of Takahashi — who people might recognize as the funny guy with glasses in the Amp’d Mobile and State Farm commercials, but, in his personal life, is the leader of a gang with a diabolical plan to take down his competition in the entertainment industry.
“See, Tamlyn had a twin sister named Pamlyn whom Aaron killed,” explains Epino, with a straight face. “So she comes to us to help her get revenge.” He laughs. “Don’t ask why she comes to us. She just does.”
“She asks us to help recruit this team [of Awesome Asian Bad Guys] to take down Aaron,” says Dypiangco. Other co-stars include Dante Basco (Rufio in Hook, Ben in The Debut), who plays Takahashi’s right-hand man, and Randall Park (Larry Crowne, The Five-Year Engagement, Veep), who is desperate to join the team of Awesome Asian Bad Guys to show that he can do more than just play the goofy Asian sidekick. Epino and Dypiangco even got Nuo “Sunny” Sun, who has worked on films such as The Avengers, The Expendables and The Last Airbender, to be their stunt coordinator.
“[Patrick and I] are on the Awesome Asian Bad Guys team, so we get to do some action, but we do it as [versions of] ourselves,” says Dypiangco. “So we’re not super skilled.”
“We’re poorly skilled,” says Epino. “But we were available to do the fight training more often than any of the rest of the actors, whose schedules we’d have to work around because they would sometimes book other gigs at the last minute.”
While they did some research on other web series to get a sense of the online medium, the story mostly references The Expendables, the film series starring Sylvester Stallone and other action hero actors, including Jet Li. Yet while they were shooting, the cast and crew kept telling them it felt like they were making a Naked Gun movie.

“That wasn’t necessarily conscious,” says Dypiangco, about being inspired by the over-the-top crime comedy film franchise from 1988 to 1994 starring Leslie Nielson, “but I think people thought that because [Awesome Asian Bad Guys] is just super silly.” He laughs. “But I actually watched Naked Gun again recently, and it’s pretty good!”

 

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This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Does the Korean Entertainment Industry Place Too Much Pressure? Reality Show Contestant Commits Suicide

Story by Y. Peter Kang. 

A cast member of a South Korean blind-date reality show was found dead of what appears to be suicide on Wednesday as the show was being shot on Jeju Island, according to the Korea Times.

The 29-year-old office worker, surnamed Jeon, was found dead in a bathroom of her room at a bed-and-breakfast inn. The show’s crew reportedly forced their way into the locked bathroom after a fellow cast member became concerned.

Police found a note next to her body which stated, “I am very sorry to my mom and dad. I don’t want to live anymore because life is too tough.”

Shooting for the dating show, called Jjak, began on Feb. 27 and documents the activities of 10 or more men and women who live in a “love village” for one week. The final show was set to be filmed on the day of Jeon’s death.

Prompted by public outcry, SBS said it would not air the episodes in which Jeon appeared.

Many argued that producers often cause excessive stress to those who appear on the show by only choosing good-looking candidates with superior background. Jeon was regarded as an ordinary office worker.

 

“Even celebrities come under a great deal of stress when details of their private life are exposed. The cast members of Jjak are just ordinary people. They can be under huge pressure and stress,” said Kim Ju-wan, a netizen, commented on the show’s bulletin board.

The broadcaster said in a statement, “We apologize once again, and we will do our best to prevent similar cases from taking place ever again.”

 

 

This story was originally published in iamkoream.com.

Kickass Asian Artists Performing at COACHELLA

Story by Taylor Weik. 

Temperatures may have been chilly in early January of this year, but the 2014 lineup for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had just been announced, and all anyone could talk about was springtime and the shorts and tanks they’d get to wear in April under the hot Indio sun.

Coachella has consistently set the bar higher and higher in terms of surprises each year, the most recent example being Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s performance with a hologrammed Tupac in 2012. What could Coachella have in store for us this year? Judging from the lineup, more kickass Asian artists.

Take one of the Dum Dum Girls. The all-female rock band was started back in 2008 by singer-songwriter Dee Dee Penny, and their current drummer is Sandra “Sandy” Vu, who is of Vietnamese descent. When she’s not drumming for the girl group, Vu fronts her own music project, SISU. The drummer can also play guitar, piano and flute.

 

Then there’s Edward Ma, also known as edIT, one of the three members of The Glitch Mob, the L.A.-based electronic music group. Ma began deejaying during his college years at USC and then began producing music professionally as the Con Artist.

Alisa Xayalith is the frontwoman of the New Zealand electro rock ensemble The Naked and Famous, known for their hit song “Young Blood,” and is of Laotian descent. The vocalist manages fine in a band of all men –– she grew up in New Zealand with three brothers.

Bo Ningen is a four-piece punk band that hails from Tokyo. The members — Taigen, Kohhei, Yuki and Mon-chan — refer to themselves as “enlightenment activists from far east psychedelic underground.”

Representing the R&B genre is solo artist Jhené Aiko, who, among other ethnicities, is Japanese. Known for her soft, relaxed vocals on tracks by Drake and Childish Gambino, Aiko is easing into her own. The singer released her EP Sail Out last year and plans to drop her debut album in May.

Coachella runs on two weekends from April 11 to 20 and is already sold out. With the popularity of Coachella increasing each year, it’s cool to see a parallel growth in the diversity of its performing artists.

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get yours here. 

VOICES CARRY: Awkwafina

Story by Ada Tseng. 

In so many ways, music defines a generation or a culture, giving us the soundtrack to our multilayered, bicultural landscape. And the 10 women we highlight here not only lay it all on the line and bare their souls in their music but, each in their own way, do much to round out a picture of what it is to be an Asian woman in America. Our cover girl Yuna defies the modern definition of pop star with her inimitable voice juxtaposed with a girl-crush-worthy style of chic turbans and covered-up ensembles. We have the gossamer voiced Priscilla Ahn, whom we feel like we’ve grown with as her life journey (and music) goes from melancholy to bliss. Then there’s the flame-haired Hmong American hard rocker and an indefinable artist whose voice is featured in one of the hottest hits of the year. From sweet little ditties to feminist anthems, from odes written in the throes of love to songs that feel more like a cathartic purging, their music moves us, inspires us, rocks us. Take a glimpse into the meaning and memories behind the melodies. 


 

Nora Lum — the Chinese- Korean American rapper known as Awkwafina, who in 2013 made a name for herself with her viral hits “My Vag” (a response to Mickey Avalon’s 2006 song “My Dick”), “NYC Bitche$” and “Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margaritas)” — admits that her catchy moniker doesn’t really mean anything. She chose it mostly because it sounded ridiculous as a rap name. “I always think it’s hilarious when companies attempt to feminize a product,” she says, “and I always knew that Awkwafina wasn’t a rap game name where people would be misled about the kind of music [I] would be making.”

As a kid growing up in Queens, N.Y., Lum, 25, was influenced by the musical tastes of her Chinese American dad (Bob Dylan, Townes van Zandt), and she started her musical journey playing trumpet, inspired by the likes of Chet Baker and Louis Armstrong. Though she never intended to become a rapper, nowadays, she’s drawing attention with her funny, provocative and very share-able videos, while also being respected for her beats, rhymes and tongue-in-cheek delivery. Her debut album Yellow Ranger (also the title of one of the tracks) was released in February.

First Song: I think the first song I ever wrote (and actually sang and recorded) was when I was 15 around Christmas. I had this holiday songbook for my trumpet with an instrumental background CD. Basically, it was a really lowbrow, raunchy cover of “Jingle Bell Rock” that I don’t have to go into right now.

Inspiration for Her New Single “Queef:” There were literally tiny drunken cherubs farting out light when I had this idea. It came out of nowhere. Basically, I had this (almost spiritual) vision of a woman being endowed with superhero powers that manifested into earth-shattering queefs [slang for vaginal flatulence]. Unfortunately, the vision didn’t quite continue into what would actually happen once she had the “queefage” or how it would help fix the world’s problems.

Why Yellow Ranger: When I was young, I played Power Rangers with all my friends and remember feeling angry when people said I should play Trini [the Yellow Ranger]. I always wanted to be Tommy or Jason, or Kimberly if I had to pick a girl. Trini was seriously lame to me as a kid. But as an adult, the connotations Trini carried with her seemed less offensive and (as much as I detest the word) empowering.

On Being Labeled a Feminist Icon for Songs like “My Vag:” I minored in women’s studies in college, so it would be wrong of me to deny knowledge about the importance of female visibility in certain industries. At the same time, I think it’s also important for people to understand that rapping about vaginas is something I do because I own one. Rapping about being a woman is something I have to do by default because I’m also not a heterosexual man with a penis. I think that making songs that bring up blush-worthy content can be easily confused as either aggressive, rogue feminism or being a girl without a social filter at parties. At the same time, I am proud that my music has been embraced by other women and celebrated as something good for feminism.

 

 Wanna hear “My Vag?” Go to AudreyMagazine.com/awkwafina.    

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here. 

Spring 2014 Cover Story featuring Singer-Songwriter YUNA

Story by Ada Tseng. 

Singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai (known as Yuna) has a quick and easy remedy for writer’s block: “I just call up my best friends and ask, ‘Hey, do you have any drama that I can write about?’ Usually, they’re like, ‘Sure!’ And then I’ll show them [the resulting song] as a gift.” She laughs. “My friends are so easy.”

Many of her self-penned songs are about relationships — from happy-in-love songs (“Lullabies,” “Favourite Thing”) to heartbreak (“Mountains,” “I Want You Back”) to a perfectly satisfactory fling you know won’t last (“Lovely Intermission”). “Decorate,” a song from her first international EP in 2010, about missing a recently departed lover so much that you keep your home decorated with objects that the person likes just in case he or she comes back, is another example of a track inspired by one of her male friends. “It’s such a sad song, and a lot of people think I went through that,” she says. “[But] I’m really close to my best friends, so if they feel sad, I feel sad, too. It’s emotionally draining, but I get affected immediately.”

The 27-year-old grew up in Malaysia, making a name for herself in her home country before relocating to Los Angeles a few years ago. Her self-titled international album Yuna, released in 2012, had a famous supporter in Pharrell Williams, who produced her hit single “Live Your Life” and often mentioned her name when interviewers would ask him about new artists to follow. In addition to her music, Yuna is a fashion trendsetter as well. She runs her own online store November Culture, and earlier this year, she launched her own clothing line 14NOV, which features more conservative clothing such as headscarves, turtleneck maxi-dresses and oversized cardigans. “There are a lot of girls, especially in Los Angeles, that want to dress up sexy and fabulous,” she says, “but there are also a bunch of girls like me that would rather cover up!”

The Malaysian singer has gotten a lot of questions about her Muslim heritage since her debut in the United States, a country not accustomed to seeing a pretty girl in a turban singing and strumming her guitar onstage, but Yuna tends to downplay any potential politics in favor of talking about her music. In some ways, despite her uniqueness (the eye-poppingly beautiful fashion plate would stand out in a crowd even if she weren’t the star of the show), she comes across as your typical girl-crush. Dressed in a shimmery black-gold headscarf with gold statement necklaces and a long, black pleated skirt (“I’m really into black and gold right now,” she says), she was charismatic performing at a sold-out Bootleg Theater show in Los Angeles last December, for an audience that happened to include her own parents who had flown out from Malaysia to see her.

Yuna started creating music on the piano when she was 14, but songwriting remained a mystery to her until she picked up the guitar at 19. As soon as she learned how to play three chords, she started making up songs for her friends, teasing them about liking boys or not being over their exes.

Yuna essentially learned English through music. “At first, it was just me re-creating songs I already knew,” she says. (Her English is now fluent, with only a hint of Malay accent.) Inspired by many American female singer-songwriters, including Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill, as well as Malaysian artists like Ning Baizura and Sheila Majid, Yuna says she feels more comfortable writing lyrics in English, where you can be more conversational. “Malay is such a beautiful language that when you write songs in Malay, it has to be poetic.” She’s only written seven Malay songs — one per year she’s been in the business, she jokes.

“Deeper Conversation” was the first song she wrote that garnered public attention. In her last term studying law at university, she started a MySpace page for her music. Soon enough, she started getting requests to perform at jazz bars in Kuala Lumpur, the radio began playing her songs, and she was making a name for herself in the Malaysian independent music scene.

Her father, who worked in law but loved playing the guitar, was especially supportive, as he was the one who used to take his daughter to record stores when she was younger. “He said, ‘Only once in a while is there someone like you who can write music, so you have to pursue it,’” Yuna remembers.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Carlo Fox and Ben Willis from the indie record label and management company Indie-Pop Music had stumbled upon Yuna online. At the time, MySpace had an independent music chart, and Yuna’s Malay music was in the Top 10. If only she sang in English, they thought. When they found she did, they became obsessed with finding her.

Yuna admits she was a little suspicious of these American strangers who wanted to meet her. When she didn’t respond, Willis went on Facebook and started friend-requesting as many of her followers as he could (at the time, she had about 300,000; now, she has almost 2 million).

“She probably thought I was an Internet stalker,” says Willis. “But literally, the first person to hit me back happened to be her mom, who told her, ‘Just get on the phone with this guy. He sounds really nice!’”

“I probably didn’t respond until six months later,” says Yuna. “I was busy, and I didn’t have the courage to think about going to America. But in the end, because I had all this English music that never made it in Malaysia, I knew that I couldn’t discover my own true strength until I gave it a try.”

“I had never been to Malaysia,” says Willis, who ended up flying over by himself to meet Yuna. “But when I got there, she and her cousin picked me up, and she gave me the key to my hotel. She said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you when you’re out here.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m the one who’s trying to sign you.’ But I hung out with her, her bandmates and her family members for three days. We really clicked. I said, ‘Look, I want to help bring your music to rest of world,’ and the rest is history.”

Last October, Yuna released her second album, Nocturnal, on the Verve Records label. This work allowed her to experiment further in creating her signature sound — pop with hints of traditional Malay music. “Falling” uses an African thumb piano called the kalimba to make a gamelan sound, heard in a lot of Southeast Asian music. “Mountains” was inspired by what Yuna calls “a Borneo vibe,” whereas “I Wanna Go” makes use of the kompang, a Malay tambourine.

But her hit single “Rescue,” inspired by the Malay music form dikir barat, might be the one song that you can’t get out of your head. A women empowerment ballad inspired by her girlfriends, as well as influential women she had just met at a United Nations event, the chorus is about how even when things in life get a little difficult, the girl’s got light in her face / She don’t need no rescuing, she’s OK.

In 2012, Yuna was recognized with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the prime minister of Malaysia for her exceptional achievements in arts. But nowadays, it’s not just Malaysian fans that gush about her influence anymore.

“Once the rest of the world feels the way we feel about her, she’s going to be a game-changer,” says Willis. “And not just from the musical perspective. Whenever she’s ready, I think she’s a massive cultural figure who’s been put here to do important things.”

Want more Yuna? CLICK HERE to hear her alluring, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head music. 

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This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Paris Fashion Week: Chinese Designer Yang Li

Story by Ruby Veridiano.

There was something eerie in the air inside the Palais des Beaux Arts as everyone hushed to prepare for Yang Li’s Autumn/Winter 2014 debut. Perhaps it was the elongated silence followed by Bruce Springsteen’s somber voice belting “Dream Baby Dream” that created a bit of a haunting feeling. That, and the word “DREAMER” in all capital letters mysteriously kept appearing.

It felt as if everyone in the room held their breath until the first look appeared on the runway. It was a steely blue dress that stopped inches above the kneecaps, clean and crisp except for the waist, where an overflowing peplum spilled out to be caught and held by the model’s right arm. If one piece described the tone of the entire show, it would be this one– a contrast between the seriousness of Li’s tailoring and an effort to bring an air of optimism through volume. Models slowly sauntered down the runway with a detached demeanor about them, adding to the air of seriousness, mystery, and goth. And yet, by etching the word “DREAMER” in a floor length skirt and an oversized top, Li still makes an effort to infuse a ray of hope amidst the gloom, making for something beautifully strange.

With black as a dominant color, asymmetrical, long-sleeved dresses paraded down the runway with lengths long in the front and short in the back. Paired with black hats, it looked like an outfit fit for a modern day witch with a prerogative to cast her spell. Burgundy and camel also made the palette, appearing as high-buttoned jackets, long skirts, and straight-legged pants that reminded me of military uniforms.

Fur pieces and unexpected peplums disrupted some of the seriousness in Li’s designs, hinting at a bit of whimsy. After all, no matter how dark a personality, there is indeed, a dreamer inside everyone.

Yang Li is a Chinese designer born in Beijing. He moved to Australia at age 10 where he played basketball and skateboarded frequently. He studied fashion in London at the famed Central Saint Martins School. He is a protégé of Raf Simons.

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Paris Fashion Week: South Korean Designer Moon Young Hee

Story by Ruby Veridiano. 

Oversized menswear pieces juxtaposed with billowy volume in blacks, browns and navy sums up South Korean designer Moon Young Hee’s Fall/Winter 2014 collection. The combination of romantic, overflowing chiffon fabrics combined with relaxed tailoring created a medium between the masculine and the feminine, softening structured silhouettes.

After a trail of black and brown ensembles, the soft, creamy, marshmallow-like pieces that came as oversized jackets and pants were a treat. As one who believes in wearing whites and creams in winter, I found them to be a breath of fresh air, deliciously interrupting the darkness of black hues that are more typically worn in the cold season, especially in Paris.

The theme throughout Hee’s fall/winter 2014 collection was large proportions– oversized jackets, wide-legged pants and thick trenches with enough volume to bundle up in. Personally, while Hee’s designs are not typically the type of silhouette I would normally choose for myself, I enjoy the thought of comfort and movability in them. The theme of comfort is also reinforced through the choice of Creeper shoes, square-shaped, flat loafers that all the models wore throughout the show.

Moon Young Hee is a South Korean designer based in Paris who released her own namesake brand in 1992. She is known for her neutral colors, monochromatic schemes and her take on deconstructed womenswear.

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