Time and time again, Yuna proves herself to be one of Malaysia’s greatest export to global the music industry. From her debut album to the latest drop, the Kedah-born crooner continues on her trajectory of passionate musical and lyrical production, delivering loyal fans (both local and international!) hit after hit. It came as no surprise to any of us when it was announced that she is to be featured on Apple Music’s initiative spotlighting Southeast Asian talents. The “Here’s to the Dreamers” effort saw a carefully-selected list of dedicated creators that work tirelessly to pursue their goals.
GRAZIA Malaysia speaks to Yuna on how she has grown from her very first drop, why the visual component play a pivotal role in her productions, and how cross-cultural creative partnerships can look like.
Could you take us through the progression of your sound and themes from your debut album to your most recent works?
Yuna: I just keep it real and natural in my sound progression! I ask myself “Where am I, at this moment, what do I like listening to and what do I want to sing about,” and I just go with that. I started as a folky, singer-songwriter because starting out, I didn’t have access to producers or music software, it was just me and my guitar. And how I got into R&B was because I started going to dance classes in LA and the music I was dancing to inspired me a lot. So, whatever I create, everything is a part of me, my life and what I was doing and feeling at the time.
What has been the most memorable collaboration you have engaged in so far, and what do you value most in creative partnerships with musicians from different cultures?
Yuna: The best experience for me would have to be in the studio with Pharell creating my first US album. Creative partnerships are the best because I’m able to learn a lot about other people and myself. The collaboration would enable me to see the music in a different way, like how I can incorporate parts of my culture and my collaborator’s culture into it.
For this collaboration with Apple, how did it come to be and what can your fans look forward to?
Yuna: I’m so excited to be a part of Apple Music’s Here’s to the Dreamers spotlight celebrating artists in Southeast Asia who have made an impact in the music industry. For this special collaboration, I performed ‘Masih Sunyi’ and it’s one of my personal favourites, it’s not the single of the EP but I just love the song a lot. I wanted to showcase a little bit of my background so I actually drove up with my husband to meet a really good friend who works with the Malaysian Tourism Board in LA because I had to get more ‘kain batik’ from her to use as props for the video. It looks so pretty I’m very happy with it! I hope they enjoy it!
How has your Malaysian heritage influenced your music and creative expression? Is it a conscious choice that you make with every project?
Yuna: I think it’s just embedded in how I do things. In the studio when I work with producers, I bring my identity with me. I don’t hide the fact that I’m from Malaysia. I share my stories, my culture and my food and my ghost stories with the people I work with. That has enabled me to forge long-lasting friendships with all my producers. Occasionally when it feels right, I include some Malaysian elements in my music. I don’t force it though, I just let it happen naturally.
Your music videos often have a strong visual component. Could you share your thoughts on the relationship between music and visuals in conveying a message?
Yuna: It’s very important! Sometimes a song can be great but when an artist pairs it with visuals that don’t complement the music, or that are not true to the artist’s vision, it can lessen the impact and message of the song. That’s why visuals are so important, and I normally don’t do a music video if the idea is not strong because I don’t want to put out anything that is not 100% to go with the music.
It has been 6-7 years since your Malay release. Why is that so?
Yuna: I was focusing on my music career here in the US. I put out 5 US albums and went on numerous worldwide tours and that just took a lot of my time. I told myself “Okay once I have some free time, I’ll make some Malay songs for my Malaysian fans.” So, the intention has always been there, because I love my Malaysian fans and they’ve always supported my growth. It just took a while because I also didn’t want to put out a Malay song just because. I wanted these songs to be something I’m proud of. So earlier this year I had some free time because my team carved out time for me to just rest. and I was supposed to take a break, but I started working on my Malay songs instead. I just couldn’t sit still. I know at some point I’d have to take a break but I’m so happy I managed to put out “Masih Yuna” this year.
What can you tell us about Yunaverse? Any surprises or something we have yet to see from you in store?
Yuna: This will be the first Yuna show in KL after so long! I’m really excited because it has the potential to be the kind of show that I would always play in the US. It’s different from the shows I was booked for in KL. Normally back home its Yuna in Istana Budaya, or with the orchestra, and these shows are of course very special where I just wear a big pretty gown and stand and sing, and I think fans are used to attending the seated shows in KL, but I wasn’t able to share what I can actually do. I can put on a very energetic show with dancers and energetic bandmates. My true fans know this because they have seen videos on YouTube so I feel like they deserve to see me in my element. I hope my Malaysian fans are ready! I’m currently working on putting a setlist together. I’m so excited!
You have asked your fans to help you with the setlist. What are some of the most requested tracks, and what can you conclude from those?
Yuna: Malaysians always ask for “Dan Sebenarnya” and “Terukir di Bintang.” There is no way to go around that, haha! But I also get requests for the older songs I used to put out on Myspace, which is amazing because I haven’t played those songs in years.
Do you have any rituals before performing on stage?
Yuna: I usually warm up, drink honey tea, and do jumping jacks. I don’t know! I don’t really have a routine, but I try to not have anyone in my greenroom an hour before the show so I can add final touches to my make-up or wardrobe, and I go through the setlist one by one while visualising the show.
Are there any exciting projects or collaborations on the horizon?
Yuna: I’m currently working on my new EP which is going to be a part of the new album! No collaborations at the moment. Since putting out “Y5,” I’m just enjoying making and singing my music on my own. It’s very therapeutic, I get to create this world for myself and my fans.