Written by Nur Farieza Diana binti Rooslan
There are not many Malaysian singers who are able to penetrate the international music scene, what more to be successful in the competitive market. Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Malaysians can surely mention several big names such as Aishah (Aishah and The Fan Club), Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza, Raihan, Dato’ Sudirman, and Dato’ Shake. But, what about today? Well, Malaysians should not be disappointed as they still and can be proud of Yuna, Shila Amzah and Zee Avi’s achievements in representing Malaysia in this current era. They reflect the modern era by utilizing new media rather than the traditional form of media to showcase their music to the world. Thanks to social media specialising in music such as MySpace Music, SoundCloud, and YouTube, independent musicians and singers started to gain popularity in recent years. However, as the title speaks, the article will be focusing on one of Malaysia’s biggest sweetheart, Yuna, specifically.
Throughout the years, Yuna is seen to make her own way to the top with her dedicated music scene and genre, locally and has grown internationally ever since. Yuna began her career as an independent singer-songwriter since 14 years old and after getting her rhythm by teaching herself to play the guitar, she started to perform in acoustic shows, live gigs and other events locally, in Malaysia. Yuna’s history with MySpace is also well-known as that is where she attached herself with the underground indie music. However, as written by Ho (2016), Yuna struggled badly in starting her career back then. In a Google Hangout fan session hosted by Yuna, she recalled her memory on the One in a Million audition, a Malaysian reality singing competition show, that was held in 2006 to answer a young fan’s question. She went on a couple of rounds but did not make it to the top 20.
“I remember crying after getting eliminated. I wanted to say, ‘You didn’t pick me, but you are wrong about me not having talent,” she said.
She also mentioned about working hard to put her pieces on MySpace. While live gigs were sometimes earnable, but she even did some of it for free. Even if she gets a pay, she needs to split them with her band and it should not be a surprise that sometimes she only had to made do with only RM100 ($25) as the token. The stairs that she took climbing up was very difficult and she used to get affected badly by criticism but she believes that if someone wants to live a dream, a person needs to be very brave to put aside all negativity.
Living that behind, Yuna today is riding the success she never expected. She was first discovered by a US based Indie-Pop record label and they willingly flew to Malaysia to convince Yuna to sign with them. It turns out that they got her a deal with Fader Label which also was joined by guitarist Pa’an, bassist Efry Arwis, and drummer Adib Azfar (later on to become Adil Ali). She has been on a flowery path since then. They were nominated as one of MTV Iggy’s Best New Bands in the World in 2011, and she managed to perform at the historical MTV Studios. In 2012, she debuted through a single on iTunes with “Live Your Life” produced by Grammy Award-winning producer, Pharrell Williams. The official video for “Live Your Life” and her US self-titled album was also released in the same year. The album managed to get #23 on the Pop chart and #86 on the Top 100 Albums on iTunes (Lipsitz, 2016). To the record, she then collaborated with Owl City through “Shine Your Way” for The Croods movie and also contributed an OST to Savages. Until now, her talent and music are getting wide recognition internationally.
As for television appearance, she made a debut when she performed her “Live Your Life” on the Conan talk show hosted by Conan O’Brien, followed by Last Call with Carson Daly and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Not so long after that, she took the same stage again at Conan to introduce her new song, “Rescue”. In 2016, she once again became a hit through her collaborative duet with Usher in “Crush”. It is surely a remarkable achievement for Yuna and she keeps making waves with high profile names in the music industry. She is now with Verve Music Group under David Foster. Foster is a 16-time Grammy Award winner, and a well-respected record producer, composer, songwriter, and arranger. He was named as the Chairman of Verve in 2011.
Observing Yuna’s personality, she is a very determined and positive person. Considering that she is a die-hard fan of Star Wars, she even imagined herself as a Jedi that battles over bad evils. These character traits of hers make Yuna as Yuna, everyone’s favourite and a girl’s dream. One thing for sure, Yuna worked hard to achieve whatever that she owns today. To win over local hearts is already tough enough, and to go global is surely an amazing and impressive journey. All this hard work is not solely for herself, but also for everyone in Malaysia. As Foster said, “Yuna thinks differently than a lot of people. She has something to say and she won’t compromise,” (Horowitz, 2016).
In 2012, Yuna received the National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. While in 2014, US-based Huffington Post listed Yuna as one of the “Top 20 Artists To Listen To In 2014”. She is the only Malaysian artist on the list. A thing that everyone must take into point is that Yuna proudly embraces her struggles and identity to succeed. That left us with one thought; to go global, be firm and act globally.