There’s a different glow to Yunathese days. In the past year, the Malaysian songbird has gotten married, released her fourth studio album Rouge and clocked in studio time with talent across genres from Pharrell and Tyler, The Creator to Jhené Aiko and G-Eazy. Even her performance game includes some frisky choreography and an all-woman band.
During Tyler’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival in Los Angeles, Yuna did a quick check-in with Billboard to discuss boosting her self-confidence, creating her own outfits and expanding her collaborator list.
Every time I see you perform, it doesn't matter if it's a festival or intimate setting, you exude this confidence on stage. What are some tips that you've picked up along your career in terms of building your self-confidence and really owning who you are in your music?
I think you just have to not give a s--t. I mean, it comes with age. As you grow older, you don't care what people think. You don't really care about the trends. You don't really care about what or who's hip. If you like the music, you go for it. I think with me, confidence comes with the fact that you just 100% love doing what you do.
When was the turning point in your career?
I was owning who I was] on this album, Rouge. Before I felt like I'm just one of the girls making music. But now, I'm different and I can’t keep on pretending that I'm this like R&B girl anymore, you know? Like I really need to own my identity and my roots. People like to kind of use that, not against you, but to put you in a box and it shouldn't be that way. So hopefully I get to like crush the boxes with this.
What does it mean to be an Asian woman right now in the entertainment business?
I feel like it's a great time. Like I'm so happy that people are more open to listening to music coming from different regions of the world because there's so much talent… I really admire what 88 Rising is doing, bringing forward talents from Southeast Asia and putting them on.
Being at Camp Flog Gnaw, you have a relationship with Tyler that goes way back. How has that connection evolved from when you first met him?
We briefly met in 2016. So finally, years later, that was when I was like, “Oh my gosh, I really want to work with him.” I'm like, "With this song 'Castaway' -- this would be perfect..." There was something sunny but also bittersweet about it.
I told Tyler], “Hey, I came up with this song, it's about my me going to a record label and they didn't want to play my song. They kind of just shoo me away. So you want to be on it?” He's like, “OK, cool.” It's really special to have those little moments with him. He's so talented, and I bet he has a lot on his plate right now. He really cares about his work. I think it's like a very amazing thing that you don't really see a lot in artists. Like, he’s riding the wave and you just see other] artists like getting pulled into the current.
Looking at your timeline, I feel like a lot of fans are waiting on a Zedd, Khalid and Yuna collaboration to happen. Please tell me this is a real thing.
Hopefully soon! I love Zedd]. He's also like an amazing person and really kind. I would love to do a song with him one day. We know our schedules are pretty crazy right now, but we've met a couple of times and just like ask can we do songs together.
With new collaborations, how important is timing and having the right material at the same time?
It's like a one in a million kind of thing. It really is just by chance. So when collaborating with people, it really is about timing. It really is just a divine intervention.
Based on your stage setup, how important was it for you to have an all-female band, all-female dancers, and also incorporate choreography?
I just wanted to have fun. For the longest time, I just felt like there was something more I wanted to share. I also wanted to have female musicians on stage with me. That representation is kind of weird in the music industry. I guess it's changing, but there was a time when female musicians wouldn't get hired. It's insane. It's important for younger girls to get into music as well and not be afraid of it.
2020 is upon us. What are some of your goals coming into the new year?
Honestly, I really want to put out more music. I think it's important for me to keep on writing.