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

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

Robert Lopez: The First Filipino American to Win an Oscar for Composing Frozen’s “Let it Go”

Last night, during the 86th Academy Awards, Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez won the best song award for “Let It Go,” from Disney’s Frozen.

The success of “Let it Go” is undeniable. Robert Lopez has composed a song which has become a worldwide phenomenon that has inspired countless covers, parodies and tributes. But an even more inspiring success is that Lopez has made history by being the very first Filipino American to win an Oscar.

Additionally, Lopez is the first Fil-Am to join a prestigious group called “Egot” which consists of individuals who have won the four top entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

How rare is this group? It contains only 12 individuals including Audrey Hepburn and Whoopi Goldberg.

Previously, Robert Lopez received Emmys for his music direction and composition in “The Wonder Pets,” a Grammy for “The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording” and two Tonys for “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon.”

A few days before the Academy Awards, Lopez spoke to Inquirer.net about his nomination. Lopez apparently didn’t even know he was in the running to be the first Filipino American Oscar-winner.

“I was not aware of that! Wow,” Lopez exclaimed. “I hope, win or lose, that Filipino artists everywhere take my example as proof that you don’t have to look a certain way for your dreams to come true. It just takes hard work, perseverance and some luck.”

After winning the Oscar, Lopez once again acknowledged his Filipino heritage during a backstage press conference.

“Filipino pride. I’m so excited. I’m just sending love to the Philippines. I know they’ve had a tough year and I just send out my feelings to them,” he said, referring to Typhoon Haiyan which ravaged the Philippines last November.

In fact, Lopez revealed that he and his wife are planning a benefit concert for the Philippines on March 12 in New York.

 
(Source 1, 2)

 

Favorite Asian YouTube Covers of Frozen’s “Let It Go”

2013 ended on a high note –– pun intended –– as the release of Disney’s latest animated musical, Frozen, was all anyone could talk or sing about. The film already created a buzz with its storyline that focused on the relationship between two sisters, rather than the usual male-dominated, guy-saves-girl plot. But what really had an impact on viewers was the original soundtrack, which beat out Beyoncé (!!!) for the number one album spot on the Billboard charts. It’s been two months and YouTube musicians are still publishing their own covers of Frozen songs, particularly “Let It Go.” Here are some of our favorite covers.

1. Sam Tsui

Sam Tsui, who is Chinese-American, is a YouTube celebrity known for his mash-ups, like this one, which combines both “Let It Go” and Passenger’s “Let Her Go.” He released his first album, “Make it Up,” last year.

2. Sonnet Son

Sonnet Son, full name Son Seung Yeon, is a Korean student studying at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She has displayed her powerhouse vocals in other covers of fan favorites like Bruno Mars’s “Grenade” and Alicia Keys’s “No One.”


3. Grace Lee

Korean-American Grace Lee’s cover has gained over three million views on YouTube, and the previously-unknown singer, who auditioned for The Voice, is starting to get recognized.

4. Jun Sung Ahn

Jun Sung Ahn, who claims his specialties are violin, dance, film, video, photography, producing, editing and performing, definitely stands out among the numerous Frozen covers. The talented artist released a beautiful violin cover of “Let it go” which has gathered over a million views so far.

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Traditional Chinese Instrument Creates Best Super Mario Bros. Cover EVER

Who doesn’t like a good cover of Super Mario Bros. music? We’ve seen this with just about every sort of instrument imaginable– using a piano, using the guitar, using a harmonica and even using wine glasses.

So what sort of instrument can produce the best cover? As it turns out, the most fitting instrument may be something we didn’t expect at all. A traditional Chinese instrument called the sheng may be our top contender.

You may be unfamiliar with the strange device, but it has actually been around since 1100BC. The sheng is a mouth organ made of wood, metal, or a gourd with a blowpipe and at least 17 extending pipes made from bamboo or metal.

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Although  the sheng is used primarily to play Chinese classical music with other traditional Chinese instruments, there seems to be room for its beautiful sounds here in modern times.

In the video below, a Japanese student is seen doing a sheng cover of the Super Mario Bros. theme song as well as many of the songs and sound effects from the original game. We even get to hear as Mario accumulates coins.

Needless to say, this impressive cover is on its way to viral fame. Check it out for yourself.

 

 

Beautiful A Cappella Version of “Valentine” by Kina Grannis

Although Kina Grannis is often known as a YouTube personality, she had recorded and self-released two albums prior to the debut of her YouTube channel. Of course, we have to give credit to YouTube– it not only catapulted her into fame, it helped her land a contract with Interscope Records.

The Japanese American  guitarist and singer-songwriter released the official music video to her song “Valentine”  in 2010. It won the hearts of many and has gathered over 16 million views on YouTube so far. Clearly, it has turned into a holiday favorite.

Now, Grannis is giving fans another treat just in time for the romantic holiday. Just a few days ago, she released a beautiful a cappella version of “Valentine.” The song is only a few days old and it already has over 100,000 views.

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Why create a new version of the beloved song?

“It’s Valentine’s week,” Grannis explains. “I always feel like I just need to go back and show a little love to Valentines because why not.”

Check out the a cappella version below. If you haven’t seen the original music video, be sure to check that out as well.

Happy Valentine’s Day Audrey readers!

 

‘Frozen’ Explodes in Korea, Spawns Countless Covers

Story by Ruth Kim.

Two beautiful princesses, an adorable talking snowman, and a slew of catchy musical numbers that you find yourself humming unconsciously — the animated film Frozen has all the right ingredients for the perfect Disney movie. But in Korea, this particular film has a specific, older audience applauding on their feet.

Among the thousands of theater patrons who visited their local movie theaters to experience this Disney winter tale since its Korean release on Jan. 16, women in their 30s largely constituted the viewing audience in Korea. This particular age group made up 29 percent of the entire admitted audience, larger than any other demographic.

The film, now the highest-grossing animated feature ever in South Korea, has struck a chord with the older, female crowd. The two princesses, Elsa and Anna, don’t perpetuate the damsel-in-distress narrative — instead, they take the initiative to solve their problems and restore the kingdom on their own terms. Additionally, Kristoff’s character as the common man undercuts the “charming prince” archetype saturated in many Disney films; young girls viewing the film gain a more realistic and grounded idea of love.

But Frozen has left the audience with more than just a positive message; after the credits rolled, the soundtrack behind the film has left a lasting legacy. Covers of the chart-topper, “Let it Go”, originally sung by Idina Menzel, have taken over YouTube, but two in particular stand out.

Korea’s Sonnet Son, currently studying at Berklee School of Music in Boston, gives Idina Menzel a run for her money. Sonnet makes belting and sustaining high notes and musical phrases look like a piece of cake; and her passion for singing, so tangible through this video, will leave goose bumps all over. It is definitely apparent that Sonnet has a promising musical career in sight.

From a completely different music genre platform, 32-year-old Korean singer Park Hyun-bin makes his mark by transforming ‘Let it Go’ into a Korean trot-style pop song. Trot, also known as ppongjjak, is a genre of music that is associated with an older generation of Koreans, but it’s still leaving an impression today. Park’s enthusiastic and almost goofy demeanor accompanied with a very skilled and talented voice distinguishes him from the many covers that pervade the Internet.

Along with other Korean female singers, including Ailee, Lee-Hae-ri, and Lee Yu-bi, who have famously covered the song, Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ has given many Korean musicians a chance to showcase their voice, talent, and musical ability.

“Let it Go” Cover by Sonnet Son

Korean Trot Cover of “Let it Go” by Park Hyun-bin

 

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This story was originally published on iamkoream.com 

More Reasons to Love Bruno Mars: Hidden-Camera Prank and Inspirational Speech

There are many reasons to love singer-songwriter and record producer Bruno Mars. Within these past few months alone, Mars has shown us a number of impressive achievements. He recently won best pop vocal album for “Unorthodox Jukebox” at the 56th annual Grammy Awards. While accepting this award, Mars won our hearts over with a heart-felt dedication to this late mother.

Additionally, Mars was nominated for three more Grammys including record of the year, song of the year and best pop solo performance.

He then kicked off 2014 with an amazing Super Bowl Halftime Show alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers. The performance attracted 115.3 million viewers — the largest audience in Super Bowl history.

If his talent isn’t enough to win you over, maybe his humor will. Mars recently joined Ellen Degeneres to take part in one of her famous hidden-camera pranks. Mars had to say and do everything Ellen directed him to do through an earpiece.

The victim of this prank? A nurse who had to deal with the fussy singer’s sore throat. Aside from dealing with Mars’ ramblings about potato chips, the nurse also had to deal with a patient who refused to be touched. Mars, of course, was adorable as he hid his face to hide his laughter.  Watch the full prank below.

 

 

After the prank, Mars joined Ellen for an interview and addressed criticism he had received from the New York Times. Apparently they did not think of him as a top star because of his lack of presence in tabloids and the fact that he doesn’t have a fragrance. Rather than let these comments get to him, Mars gave an inspirational response which made us all love him more.

That was by far the most disgusting thing I think I’ve heard. Not because it was taking a shot at me … but I was just thinking about aspiring young musicians who wanna do this … Any young aspiring musician out there if music is what you want to do, music is what you love, your passion, it doesn’t take a fragrance, it’s not about the tabloids, its about you putting in the work, practicing everyday… and hopefully one day you write a song the whole world wants to get down to.

 

And I promise you, one day you will have your moment to shine and you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to tell you can’t do it,” Bruno continued. “I promise you, if you sing and put your heart and soul into it, one day you will be sitting next to Ellen DeGeneres and talk about how you broke records and rocked the Super Bowl!

 

 

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(source)

Video of The Week: Let It Go/Let Her Go Mash-Up by SAM TSUI

Frozen has captured the hearts of millions. In fact, this beloved Disney animated film is even spreading its popularity worldwide. For instance, over the weekend Frozen has become the highest-grossing animated feature ever in South Korea with over 6 million admissions. The film has grossed $44.17 million in South Korea so far.

Aside from the entertaining storyline and the quirky, lovable characters, Frozen has captured many hearts because of it’s music.

The voice actors of the film (Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and Santino Fontana) all lend their singing talents to the catchy music throughout the animated feature.

As expected, YouTube has been swarmed with covers of Frozen songs. People have done everything they can to make their cover stand out. One man proposed to his girlfriend after a cheerful cover of “Love is an Open Door.” Another blew us away with a talented violin version of “Let it Go.”

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And now there’s Sam Tsui’s Let It Go/Let Her Go (Frozen/Passenger MASHUP).

This 24-year-old Chinese American musician rose to fame thanks to youtube. Talented? You bet. While attending Yale, Tsui was part of The Duke’s Men of Yale, an all-male acappella group.

Check out the mashup below.