[EXCLUSIVE] Yuna On Identity And Being Proud Of Her Roots

Image credits: Universal Music Malaysia

Say her name and you’ll feel pride burst right through you.

Yuna‘s no stranger in the game. She released her debut self-titled EP in 2008 and earned five Anugerah Industri Muzik nominations– taking home four trophies, including Best New Artist and Best Song, for her breakout hit, “Dan Sebenarnya”. Since then, Yuna has had a steady rise and has worked with international artistes like Jhene Aiko and Usher.

Making a name in the industry isn’t easy, making it big in the US market is an even more commendable feat. When asked what kept her going, Yuna explained that she wanted to make music and see how far she could go. But as the years past, her drive now is really about wanting a future in music and of course, her supportive family.

Yuna admits that the music industry can make you a little bit jaded. “I don’t want my life to be in a limbo so I’m constantly looking for ways to stay inspired,” she adds. And the best way she stays inspired? Meeting new people and doing new things. Living her life as an observant person helps fuel inspiration as she constantly observes people’s behaviour and the things they say.

Image credits: Yuna / @yuna on Instagram

Her performance at Good Vibes Festival 2019 (which was part of her Rouge tour) felt like homecoming — for her and her adoring fans. Even after moving across the globe, Yuna has always stuck to her roots. “I think for me identity is very importantI’m Malaysian y’know. I was born and raised Malaysian so I’m very lucky. The youngsters who are just like me, born and raised in Asia — we’re very blessed to have a solid identity. We know who we are at a very young age; we know our food, our language, our heritage.”

Yuna recalls the time she was touring and met a lot of Asian-American kids that come to her show and told her that they feel they can relate to her. “The funny thing about me being Malaysian and having a name like ‘Yuna’, is the girls who are Korean, Japanese coming up to me saying ‘ OMG, my name is Yuna too. ‘Korea represent’. So I guess they’re just able to relate to me in that sense. It’s amazing y’know, to kind of just embrace my Asian heritage.”

With ‘Forevermore’ I wanted people to know more about my background and where I come from. I wanted people to be inspired and also be proud of who they are, where they’re from. And if they don’t really know who they are, maybe it’s time they dive back into their roots and be proud of it.”

Rouge dropped July 12. Image credits: Universal Music Malaysia

If you’ve been listening to Yuna’s music for a while, you’d know that her sound often has laid-back beats with a moody soul. You can’t quite pin her into one box of genre as she’s a mix of pop, alternative, electronic, soul, R&B and indie.

With her new album Rouge, Yuna doesn’t stray too far from her signature but instead added a few elements of surprise.  The album is heavy on the beats, juxtaposed with Yuna’s dreamy vocals that make an absolute masterpiece. Rouge takes you on a journey and ends on beautiful note with “Tiada Akhir”.

Representation is scarce in the market, but more and more musicians are starting to climb the charts with songs that are in their mother tongue. And for Yuna, it was ‘Tiada Akhir”. “For the longest time I psyched myself out like, ‘Ohh, maybe the label doesn’t want a Malay song on my record’ and it was partly true because it was an investment. For me, ‘Tiada Akhir’ was just so beautiful. And I felt like, this is the song that needs to be on the album.”

Yuna with KYLE, G-Eazy and Jay Park. Image credits: Yuna / @yuna on Instagram

Yuna admits that she feels that Rouge was very much like her. “I needed to put something in there that represents me and my Malaysian roots, so it’s a nice ending to it (the album).” Her label agreed and that’s how Rouge got its nice, nostalgic surprise. 

Another amazing thing about Rouge are all the collabs Yuna managed to fit in there — from G-Eazy to Jay Park and Little Simz. But if she had to pick one collab she couldn’t wait to release, it had to be “Castaway” with Tyler the Creator. “We didn’t really plan to have Tyler on it and I had already kind of given up. I dreamed of having a song with Tyler and when it happened, the first thing I thought was ‘OMG, the kids back home. They’re gonna flip out and be so happy to hear this.’ I was so excited about that!”

Yuna believes in staying true to who you are. Image credits: Yuna / @yuna on Instagram

With the Internet being such an open space, many artistes often face unnecessary comments; for Yuna it comes from both sides (East and West). She admits that she doesn’t really know how she deals with it. “I feel like you are who you are and you are where you are. I’ve been out here for almost 10 years and I grew. People don’t know who I was before, so they don’t really know who I am now too. I don’t really pay attention to people who are complete strangers to what my life is.”

“I feel like as artistes, people are going to have a lot of opinions (about you), but the most important thing is to just really know who you are inside and stick to it,” she explained, “I think I’ve done a very good job not listening to (bad things) what people back home have to say about me, and also what people over here have to say about me.”