It’s been almost a decade since Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna began her career, but it’s taken until 2016 for the 29-year-old to finally break through North American soundwaves. This year also saw Yuna – who draws inspiration from love, relationships and loss – appear on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts with her Usher-assisted single, “Crush”, and marked the release of her third, and most personal, album to date, Chapters.
“I think I’ve been making music for about eight years now, and I’ve learned a lot throughout the years,” she says casually as she reflects on her career thus far. “When I started out as this small-time singer-songwriter in Malaysia, I realized my forte was just singing from experience and expressing my feelings and singing about real stuff – like something very human. I’ve always been that kind of songwriter, and for Chapters, I just wanted to write about the same stuff I wrote about when I was 19 or 20, but more mature. I have a more mature outlook on life now, and I’m not 19 anymore, I’m 29, so the way I see love or relationships is different,” she continues.
Yuna isn’t shy about revealing her insecurities, her struggles or her womanhood on her most recent album. “This is me. This is the kind of music I wanna do, this is what I wanna say, this is what I’ve been through and I just want to be real, more transparent and vulnerable,” she says of the 13-track project. “I feel like, growing up in Malaysia, I’ve always had a bit of reservation when it comes to what I say because it’s like, ‘Watch what you say, don’t reveal too much of yourself.’ I’m still that person, but for this album, I decided to be more vulnerable.”
This sense of vulnerability played a valuable role in the making of Chapters, and it not only shows Yuna’s glowing growth as a songwriter, but also her sonic development. “Musically, I wanted to just dive into R&B. I’ve always wanted to do an R&B album. In the past, it was always a mixture. I come from an acoustic background and then I have folky songs because I was working with a lot of folk-inspired producers, but once in a while, I’d get into the city with R&B and hip-hop producers. I was more attracted to making music with beats, and [felt] that it was more me, so for this album, I decided to go all out and do an R&B album,” she says. “I think towards the end of recording my album, I just finally found what I liked. I spent close to a year driving to their studio and just hanging out and making music… For me, I really wanted it to be an album that was cohesive – it’s clean, it has a storyline.”
Strong, passionate and comfortable in her own skin, Yuna is a person (and an artist) many people aspire to be like. However, as a devout Muslim immigrant and woman of colour living in America in 2016, where the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” it’s impossible not to wonder whether the heightened Islamaphobia has affected Yuna’s life in some capacity. “I try not to focus on that too much,” she says simply.
“For me, before I came out to L.A. and wanted to make music, there was this whole Islamaphobia thing and I talked to my parents about it, and we thought, ‘Is it safe to go to America right now?’ We didn’t really know because I never lived out here, but I decided that … it’s gonna be okay and I’m gonna try it out,” she affirms. “I finally got out here and started making music and, surprisingly, it was pretty easy for me to live a normal musician life. I go on tours and I see a lot of supportive people. I think it’s important to keep a positive attitude towards everything but always be aware of your surroundings and look out for each other.”
Despite her newfound fame, Yuna stays humble, and perhaps, at times, hasn’t even realized the starlit future in front of her. “There’s not a lot of Malaysian artists from my country who made the move. I know one girl who started it, Zee Avi, who signed to Jack Johnson’s label, and I was so proud of her. I thought if she can do it, then I could do it too. Before that, it seemed very impossible,” she says of her home country. “When I got out here, it was scary but it wasn’t a successful thing for me yet – but I think I finally, just finally-finally realized I’m here and I’m no longer a foreigner or an outsider in the American music industry when “Crush” came out. It’s probably the biggest record that I’ve ever had.”
Breaking boundaries and hopping over obstacles that have been in her way, Yuna’s new mission, aside from making incredible music, is continuing to be an inspiration for young girls, just as Zee Avi was for her. “I want girls to know that no matter where they’re from, their dreams are legit and they can be successful,” she states. “I try to inspire a lot of girls to get out of their comfort zone and do whatever they can to make their dreams come true. The girls from Malaysia, we’re living in a community where there’s a lot of limits and people are saying, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ and I want that to change. I feel really blessed to represent women of colour here in America. I never thought I’d be associated with that, but I am, and I’m really grateful.”
With endless confidence and a lot of new chapters – literally – unfolding in her life, Yuna concludes our interview saying, “I’m here and people acknowledge me for my work – I’m finally on the R&B Billboard Chart. [That’s] not to say that I’ve made it, but kind of. I’ve come this far and I gotta keep on working really hard and see where it goes.”
For full feature and additional photos visit our digital issue (issue 7) here.
Starley’s path to platinum status has been filled with starts and stops. After years spent trying to launch her career in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, and later in London and the United States, the popstar hopeful grew depressed. Her anxieties heightened. She was ready to quit. But before she decided to shift her focus onto her next passion – fitness – she made one final attempt at music. Telling herself that God works in mysterious ways but to remain faithful in his process, Starley penned the personal salve, “Call on Me”. The song caught the attention of Australia’s Central Station Records. Since then, everything changed for Starley. Central Station’s subsidiary, Tinted Records, released “Call on Me” as her debut single last July. Epic Records re-released the track later in October. To date, the song has peaked at number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its remixed version by Aussie producer Ryan Riback has garnered over 338 million Spotify streams. Starley is currently touring North America for the first time supporting British electronic group Clean Bandit. Georgie got some time with the budding singer to talk about her mainstream ascent, dealing with mental health, and the importance of fitness
Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch first met in the 11th grade, when they started performing together in a jazz quartet known as the Flown Tones. Although the band later disbanded, Rehbein and Dausch stuck together, and the pair went on to experiment with folk, reggae and electronica sound combinations. Eventually, this led to the formation of Milky Chance and the 2014 release of their debut album, Sadnessecary, which later went on to become a multi-platinum success. Now, three and a half years later, Milky Chance is ready to embark on a new adventure with the release of Blossom. The album’s first single, “Cocoon”, continues to climb the charts as the Blossom Tour makes its way across North America. Lead vocalist Rehbein spoke to Georgie about touring, writing and how being close friends with Dausch has benefited the band. G—It’s been about 3 ½ years since the release of Sadnecessary. How has your approach changed between your first and second albums? Clemens Rehbein—I wouldn’t say it’s changed in the way I write songs, but rather how we’ve developed as musicians. The songs are made of the same foundation, but they’re influenced by our experiences on the road and playing on stage. G—Was it
Jacob Sartorius’s path to fame has become an increasingly familiar story: teenaged internet sensation breaks out into mainstream pop stardom. But what sets the 14-year-old Virginian singer apart is his self-awareness and early career savvy. In 2014, Sartorius began uploading clips of himself singing and dancing to Vine. After amassing around 500,000 followers, he switched to musical.ly, where he began uploading videos of himself lip-synching to his own songs. Whereas Vine allowed him to show off his musical theatre background, musical.ly allowed him to show off even more of his lighthearted side. Musical.ly became a new way for him to promote his music and connect with his fans. Sartorius’s fan base has grown so large that he is currently touring internationally for the first time, across seven countries, in support of his debut EP, The Last Text. Georgie caught up with him by phone in London, England a day before he performed in front of 2,500 fans at the O2 Arena. In preparing for The Last Text World Tour, Sartorius has already started developing the work ethic necessary to endure major pop stardom. For 15 to 20 days leading up to the tour, he worked with his voice and movement coaches for up to ten