I have people who say, ‘You should dress up like this, or you should dress more modest; you should cover up more.’ And then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have, like, ‘Why are you still wearing your scarf? You’re in America, you know.’
Embrace the color of your skin and your own beauty.
I just realized the best way to live your life is to just be you, as cliche as it sounds. I grew up trying to please everyone.
Appreciate your heart; really know how to take care of your heart.
It’s something that I do every year – every Ramadan to be exact – taking an 18-hour flight back home to Malaysia from Los Angeles. I’m born and raised in Malaysia, and Ramadan and Eid has always been my favorite time of the year.
Eid is here! On the first day, it is a custom for all Malaysian Muslims to ask for forgiveness from our parents. We kiss their hands and wish them ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ or ‘Eid Mubarak.’ ‘Maaf Zahir dan Batin’ means ‘to apologize in spirit and actions.’
I love my headscarf. I wear my head wrap every day with my hoop earrings.
I use the ‘Too Faced Chocolate Bar Eye Shadow’ Palette every day. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff, but this is my favorite. For eyebrows, I use the ‘Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow’ Pomade in Dark Brown, and for mascara, I don’t use anything else but ‘Urban Decay Perversion’ Mascara.
Racism is everywhere – the older generations in Malaysia still say things like, ‘She’s darker-skinned; maybe don’t marry her,’ and it’s very judgmental. A lot of girls do try to get fairness cream to lighten their skin, and I’m against all of that.
One of the reasons I picked up the guitar is because I saw a video of Feist performing in Paris.
I think you can soften people’s hearts, even if they have a lot of hate. Music can do that if it’s beautiful and honest. If I can do that – soften just one person’s heart – I consider myself successful already.
For Eid – or Raya, as the Malaysians call it – we love to shop for new clothes for the festive season. There will be open houses to go to, and Malaysians love to look good for these.
To have a sense of style, it shows you know yourself. People like that.
Religion is a huge part of me; I’m a practicing Muslim. I’m pretty much open about it if people were to answer questions. At the end of the day, I’m just a normal girl. I have my own beliefs just like everyone else. I have a strong belief in something, but I also love music.
I grew up listening to a lot of Malaysian pop music, which is kind of like a mixture of traditional and pop… I was also listening to a lot of English music as well.
I think I draw my inspiration from a lot of conversations that I had with people or my friends and combine them together with my own personal experience.
The fashion world is so interesting because it’s always changing, but if you know yourself really well, despite of all the changes in the fashion trends, you know how to stay true to yourself.
I really believed that my songs were good enough for the whole world to listen to. I had fans from America or the U.K. who would be like, ‘Oh my God, I love your music’.
People say, ‘You should let your hair out; you shouldn’t be oppressed – you’re not in Malaysia anymore. You should show your curves and be proud of it.’ But I am proud – it’s my choice to cover up my body. I’m not oppressed – I’m free.
I’m based here in L.A., but I think in the future I might consider settling down in Malaysia when I start a family.
Once in a while, I write in Malay and work on something fun that’s more for the local Malaysian market, and when that happens, it’s always something really special; it speaks volumes that I’m doing it for my fans who have been there for me since day one.
I grew up listening to a lot of different types of music, and R&B in particular was something that I loved – Aaliyah, Usher, Alicia Keys, TLC.
For ‘Chapters’, I decided to let go of my insecurities, found myself some talented R&B producers, and worked with them.
I’m a huge ‘SK-II’ person. I’m their Malaysian spokesperson. But I truly love their products – it’s not just something that I endorse. I always moisturize with the SK-II Essential Power Rich Cream.
I always put on M.A.C. Prep and Primer before anything.
I think when I first started out making music here in Los Angeles, a lot of people were really curious about my ethnicity, and you know, whatever questions they had, I’d be more than happy to answer them.
Home, to me, is where I am and where I feel most comfortable. Obviously, Malaysia is home. In L.A., my home is my apartment because that’s my Malaysia.
Just look at ‘K-pop’ – who would’ve expected American fans to embrace it? It’s really cool to be one of those artists who can break through the American market. I’m not trying to conquer America; I just want to make music and see if people like it.
I feel very honoured and humbled to have people think, ‘If Yuna can break through, then why can’t we?’ It takes a lot of work, but I tell people to just have that focus. Always be humble and a learner, practice and do research.
My label understands that I am really attached to Malaysia, that I come home a lot.
I feel like fashion and music relate to each other in a lot of ways. I always had to be creative: I’m a very creative person. I always liked making stuff. Apart from music, I always liked making clothes. You’re able to express yourself.
Being a musician, it’s my job to be real and be true to whoever I am. Hopefully that will inspire other people. I hope it inspires people to be themselves and be comfortable in your own skin.
Whenever I Google for clothes, I always look at what Angelina Jolie is wearing. I love Sienna Miller, and I really like Rihanna’s style, too. There’s the edgy girl, classy girl, and the Bohemian chic girl. I guess I’m all of that combined into one.
‘Places to Go’ is something that I would never normally write because I would usually be worried with what people would think about me.
I really like the idea of modesty. By the time I got into music, I was already wearing the scarf all the time, and it’s really personal to me, my Muslim beliefs, so I decided to keep it and find a way to work around it. I don’t see it as a restriction or limitation – I can still be me and get into music and be an entertainer.
I come from a jazzy, acoustic, folky background. Everything has to work with melodies; the words have to have meaning.
I know how to wrap my turban a little better now. In the beginning, it was a little weird.
I have a lot of friends who do EDM music; they had to tell me what a ‘drop’ was.
I love Feist. I love Francoise Hardy. She was a French singer-songwriter in the ’60s who was pretty huge. I think I’m drawn to her sincerity. I love Fiona Apple, too – she’s quirky and really honest in her lyrics.
I think being bi-continental is something I want to continue. Kuala Lumpur is my home, but L.A. is where I’ve been able to make the music that I want.
I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it. I’m also a girl who loves music.
I kind of always struggled writing in Malay, because Malay is such a beautiful language. And it gets really hard, you know, if you want to make it into a song. You have to make it sound beautiful, use the right words.
Being in the spotlight, you know, you tend to kind of forget who you are. And being an artist… it could be a very superficial job. It could be very pretentious as well.
I was doing quite well in Malaysia… Everyone was so excited about my music, and they started accepting me as an artist.
In San Francisco, I eat halal, which is kind of like Muslim kosher, and there’s this one Thai restaurant, and it’s right next to the ‘Great American Hall’. I’m there all the time whenever I’m in town; that’s my spot.
The best thing to do when you’re writing is to write about something you know instead of pretending. I mean, you can do that too, obviously, but when you write from your heart, it works so much better.
I think feminism is that you just have to stick it all out. I remember this one time when someone interviewed me, and I was young, and they said, ‘Do you see yourself as a feminist?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m not really comfortable calling myself a feminist.’
I’ve always been singing all my life, but I started playing guitar when I was 19, and that was my final year in university, in law school. I think that happened when I started making a lot of friends who were in the independent music scene.
I didn’t take music seriously in the beginning. It just kind of a hobby to me. It was something that I love doing for fun.
Whenever I write a new song, it always happens when I come back from Europe or Egypt or something like that. It’s always from travelling.
When I got signed to the ‘Fader’ Label, they got really excited about having me as their new artist. They were promoting my music everywhere. Pharrell was one of the producers who wanted to work with me, so I was really lucky to be one of those people who got to work with him.
‘Material’ is meant to be a fun, lighthearted song about the tiny bit of materialism that’s in all of us. The message is meant to translate the notion that you don’t need luxury items to feel special; you already are special.
People pay attention to artists and celebrities, so they have the opportunity to do something great with this limelight. I, for one, have no problem with Kanye running for president, because if it’s something that he truly believes in and it can lead to greater good, why not? I’m all for that.
Being a musician and artist can feel superficial at times – you talk about yourself every day and pose for photos for the magazines and newspapers, and it can be very tiring for your well-being.
I enjoy fashion and taking the effort to present myself well, and I’m glad that a lot of people refer to me as a ‘Hijabster’. I’m not the greatest fan of the term, but I think girls everywhere should be confident in their own skin and be inspired to look and feel good inside and out.
A lot of people tend to go into the music industry and be really – what do you call it? – oblivious to everything that comes with it.
The working environment in L.A. is really refreshing, really good. Because in Malaysia, it’s a small country – you end up working with the same people that you like and that you know.
I came from a strong jazz/ singer-songwriter/folk influence, but in L.A., I learned how to have a balance between all these genres and R&B music and hip-hop, mixing them all together.
I like that I don’t have to conform to the normal women-in-music-selling-sex-appeal thing.
I was truly honored to work with legendary DJ and producer DJ Premier. I still can’t believe I have a track with Premier; it really is one of the best songs I’ve written in a long time.
A lot of the songs are based on my previous relationship. It didn’t work out. I lost him, and it ruined me. I had to learn to get back on my feet. I used that heartbreak to create something really beautiful.
I want girls to know that equality exists in this world. You can do anything you want.
My style is all I have. When I go on stage, that’s me in my comfort zone. It’s not a costume. It’s just me. And I want every woman to feel that way.
Fame is definitely a monster: it can suck you in and spit you out and change you. The biggest challenge is to remain yourself regardless of what people say about you.
If you just work on that one thing that’s, like, important to you, that has been supportive of you, who has been loving you all this time, if you are able to see that, then that is your ‘best love’.
I wasn’t trained to be in front of a camera, so there were a lot of challenges at first. But I didn’t want to be fake.
I try to look at people like Adele and Norah Jones, who are very successful but don’t have to deal with scandals.
The first time I heard Adam Feeney and Chester Stone Hansen’s ‘Vibez,’ it was used in Drake’s ‘0-100’ as a sample.
A lot of people think that because I’m from Malaysia, I’m driven by Malaysian sound, but actually, it’s mostly just my melodies.
People think it’s very strange because I love whale watching – you don’t see whales a lot where I’m from.
I guess music is very global.
I started singing very early. I was six or seven years old, and I was singing along to TV commercials and figuring out, ‘Oh, hey, I can sing in tune. This is really cool.’ But the songwriting thing came much much later, when I was 19 years old.
In Malaysia, we have a lot of divas, like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey singers. And they were all so so talented, just very talented. For example, there’s this one jazz singer, her name is Sheila Majid, and I was always singing her songs.
I didn’t expect to have music as my main thing. I always thought I was going to be a lawyer. When I graduated, I was doing really well with my music in Malaysia. I had stable income, and I had really good momentum in the music industry, so I had to make a decision whether to stop that and continue being a lawyer.
Sometimes when you’re a songwriter, you kind of have this egotistic thing: you just want to write something that you love, and you don’t care about if people like it or not, but personally, I want to write something that people can jive to.
I’ve found just the right amount of balance in my life. I’m this pop artist in America, but I’m also Malaysian. And I’m also Muslim.
If I get to a place early in the morning, I try to walk around by myself. I still try to find cool places to go to, like a record store in St. Louis or some restaurant in Chicago.
I think, from the very beginning, I always knew that I needed to get out of Malaysia and do my thing somewhere else.
Being in the public eye, you can’t really avoid a lot of questions. A lot of questions are being thrown at you, whether it’s about your personal life or your personal beliefs, and I’m happy to answer them all.
I love traveling. I’ve been doing it since I was 16.
You learn so much about yourself as an artist. I never would have thought that I could sing every night, you know? Travel and perform every single night, and travel to another city the next day and do it all over again? You learn a lot of new things about yourself, and you make a lot of connections with people.
In my final year of law school, everything became real. Malaysian TV shows wanted me to perform big concerts. So, after graduating, I decided to go for it. I didn’t think I’d be a good lawyer anyway.
Music has to change. I don’t want to stay the same forever.
When I was younger I would go to the airport with my friends and drive out 2 A.M., 3 A.M. in the morning and just hang out until sunrise watching planes fly in and fly out. Just sit there and dream about how, one day, that’s going to be us in those flights. We’re gonna be one of those people with places to go.
‘Sixth Street’ is probably a new chapter for me. All of the songs were written in my apartment where I’m most comfortable, and at that point, I understood who I was and knew what I was feeling about life.
Sometimes I have a melody in my head; sometimes it’s just a verse. I read lines from a book or movies that I watch and grab a few quotes and start writing on paper. From there, I record a really rough version and work on the song.
Lupe Fiasco is kinda cool. I like him a lot.
When I first started in Malaysia, having a Muslim Malay girl singing and holding a guitar was new to everyone. Even Muslims there had issues with it; they found it weird.
Muslim girls, we love fashion! Whether we wear the hijab or not – it’s our choice – and it’s time the industry took note. Finally, fashion stores are open to that idea.
There’s a lot of buying power from the Middle East. Girls from Dubai want to be able to wear Asos, and you have people travelling all the way to the States just to go shopping.
I used to read a lot of fashion magazines: my favourite was ‘Nylon.’ I used to cut out all the pictures from magazines, and I had this book where I would keep all of the stuff that inspired me.
I love Gwen Stefani. I’d watch what she’d wear over and over again and think, ‘How do I nail this style?’ And then, I like that classic beauty, too. Audrey Hepburn, she’s so elegant.
I write songs about love because, above all, love is the most human thing we have together. Feelings are a part of us every day. You feel things every day, no matter where you are. So that’s what I write about.
I’ve seen a couple white girls coming to my concerts wearing head wraps, and I think they look so cute. It’s kind of sad to see that people are really into separation, trying to separate everybody and making a clear division of ‘us against you,’ even with fashion. That sucks. It’s not the way the world is supposed to be.
It’s like with feminism. We talk a lot about feminism meaning complete freedom, and for some people, that means, like, ‘Free the nipple!’ But there’s another end of the feminist spectrum, and that’s where people like me are.
Feminism is universal. You can’t just fight for one type of freedom or one type of female power. You know what? Muslim women want to cover up, and we have to fight for our right to do that, too.
I grew up in a town called Subang Jaya, and made a lot of friends from around Kuala Lumpur.
I used to be affected by criticism thrown at me, and I would get really down. But I got to a point where I just decided to go for it, no matter what negativity is around you.
I don’t really like the idea of putting myself in any category now… I think that people are looking for music that’s real and honest and that they can relate to emotionally.