Yuna’s new chapter in life take the music industry and cultural stereotypes by storm.
Dress, Valentino. Shoes, Lanvin.
Yuna is sitting quietly in the corner of a bustling studio. The R&B star’s black booties dangle over the footrest of her chair, her hijab wrapped tightly around her head, and as the makeup artist finishes, she looks at herself nonchalantly in the mirror. She is breathtaking. Her big brown eyes are soft and kind as she modestly brushes off the compliments people are tossing her way…
In the landscape of rising stars, singer-songwriter Yuna is unique. She was born and raised in Malaysia and is a practicing Muslim, a piece of her identity she wears proudly. Now at 29, with a new album, Chapters, released with much critical acclaim, she is ready to break out of the mold and release music that speaks to who she really is. The first single, “Crush,” featuring Usher, has throwback R&B vibes that will make you feel like an emotional teenager in a life-altering romance. “Crush” is sweet and fills the room with the artist’s unmistakable honeyed voice. The rest of the record follows suit, with catchy lyrics and smooth melodies.
With Chapters out Yuna is ready to take on the music industry, cultural stereotypes and a new chapter of her life by storm. See what we did there?
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I started out writing music in Malaysia. I used to go to all these contests and competitions, auditioning for TV shows and stuff like that. Back home in Malaysia, those things were huge… Honestly, I was really young, and I always knew that I was not an amazing singer. The way I sing my songs is very relaxed. I don’t force my vocals, so at the time I felt like I just needed to stop doing music and focus on law school.
In my second year, I started making friends with a lot of independent musicians… I was just like, “wow, that’s so cool!” I had no idea that existed. I thought that if you want to make music, you have to be signed to a record label. So, I started writing my own songs and learning how to play the guitar. I started recording my own stuff and putting up on MySpace music, and a lot of people got excited about it. I started performing at jazz cafes. I was in school studying to become a lawyer, but after I graduated, I just focused on the music thing and moved out to Los Angeles.
You moved from Malaysia to Los Angeles at 24. It’s been five years now—how has the transition been?
Yeah, it takes time, and you learn a lot about yourself, too. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a little more chill here than back home in Malaysia, because there [Malaysia] people stop me for photos. I just can’t walk down the street anymore. People Snapchat me, and I can’t really be by myself. I can’t go out by myself and just like to have coffee or hang out and not have anybody come up to me. Living in America, I can still do that. On a personal level, I really like how I can be myself here, because I love doing that.
Now that the album is out and you’ve done some shows what has it been like?
I’m proud of it; I can still listen to it without skipping any tracks. It’s a good feeling, not that I don’t love my previous projects, but there were some songs where I was like, “ehh I wish I could change up a little bit.” But for this record, I wouldn’t change a thing… “Crush,” is doing really well… It’s on the radio! I’ve never had my song on the radio. It’s like number ten!
What was it like when you heard your song on the radio for the first time?
I flipped out. When we released “Crush,” the day after that, I went to have sushi for dinner just like across the street from where I live… They were playing the radio…and “Crush” came on. I heard the intro, so I was freaked out… That was my first time listening to my own song on the radio. I never had that in years working over here on my music.
You 30 soon now. Are you excited?
I was thinking about this. Where I come from, when you’re 30, you’re just like…old. If you’re single, you just kind of feel a little bit behind, because all your friends are married with children. And I was kind of struggling with that. But even though I don’t now, I’m so happy… I’m 29; I have my album out; I have music recorded with Usher. I’m really just counting my blessings.
Jacket, Maggie Norris Couture. Pants, Lanvin.
Turtleneck, M.Patmos. Pants, Christian Siriano.
Outside of your music, you are a proud Muslim. What is it like for you as a Muslim in the U.S., given the political climate and with what happened in Orlando?
It’s crazy, because when I first moved out here, it was a phobia; it has always been in the back of my mind. How to tackle this? What if people are just going to put me in a box? One person does not represent 2 billion people. It was definitely a rough time to be going through right now. [Editorial note: This was one week after the Orlando massacre.] What happened in Orlando is so devastating…and two or three days after Muhammed Ali died. He’s a huge hero. Up until the day he died, he really fought for what we all stand for, what the majority of Muslims are standing for. It’s a peaceful religion. We do not believe in violence. Obviously [those that do] they’re psychotic. I’m just trying to inspire people to believe in peace and love again and telling them that I am proof of that. I believe in my religion, I practice it, and I am trying to make the world a better place. There’s millions of people who are just like me. As far as the politic thing is going, I’m not from here. I don’t really know what to say about political issues like Trump. American Muslims were born and raised out here, and they support what I do, and I support them as well. I support their well-being, and I just really want peace. And I hope you all try to stand together against violence, against terrorism and not just like point fingers. I’m Muslim. That’s who I am. I’m not running away from it. I’m not hiding it. I just want people to know that, you know, there’s a yin and yang in everything, and if one of us decides to do something like violent, we are not for that we do not stand for it. We weren’t raised to do this. It’s psychotic, that’s all. That’s all it is.
Of course that’s obvious to most of us, but it’s interesting to hear your perspective.
You can’t condone such action. It’s disgusting. And it’s like, for me I have a lot of friends from the LGBT community, and they have their own struggles. I just don’t know how someone can be so evil.
What’s next? What are you hoping for within the next couple of months?
I think I’m really starting to go back on the road. I want to work on more music obviously. I also want to work with other producers and keep all this momentum going. I’d love to [in the future] be on someone else’s record and write for other artists, not just stop at Chapters. I want to get into fashion as well. I’m releasing a clothing line that’s a collaboration between me and my friend Hatta; he’s a Malaysian designer. I’m excited for that.
Turtleneck, M.Patmos. Pants, Christian Siriano. Ring, Urban Zen. Coat, Lanvin.
story / Alyssa Hardy
photos / Victoria Stevens
styling / Ashley Pruitt
makeup / Ayaka Nihei