It’s not every day that a Muslim, Malaysian-born pop singer makes her way stateside, but Yuna’s singularity spreads across her background, her music and her fashion. We caught up with her at Lollapalooza to discuss running a clothing boutique, the trickiness of SEO uniqueness, and collaborating with other artists.
I have to ask this: Did you know about the Final Fantasy character named Yuna?
Yes! I remember in high school — my full name is Yunalis, but nobody called me Yuna before. I remember this one time my friend just started calling me Yuna, Yuna, Yuna. I guess he was obsessed with Final Fantasy. So I was like, “Who is this Yuna girl?” and I found out, you know, she was a character from Final Fantasy. What do they call her? “Yuna the songbird” or something? Her character is a singer, which is pretty cool.
I imagine it wreaks havoc on your Google searches.
Too many Yunas.
You could dress like her for a concert and freak everyone out.
[laughs] I don’t think I’m ever going to wear what she is wearing.
I read something that you described your music as Mary Poppins meets Coldplay. Did you see the opening ceremony of the Olympics?
I did not. I didn’t have a chance. I definitely will because they said that they use a lot of Britain’s pop culture. I just want to see it.
There was this sequence were tons of women were dressed up as Mary Poppins to battle a Voldemort type figure.
Really? Oh my God, I would love to watch it.
You run a clothing boutique. What type of clothes are you selling?
I run a clothing store called IAMJETFUEL. I started that store like two years ago. It’s just a small tiny store and I sell clothes like I’m wearing right now, for girls. I sell music as well. It’s just a cool secret hide out that kids can come to and buy clothes. It’s also a way for me to interact with my fans. When I’m back there and I have customers coming in, I’ll just say “Hi” and they’ll be like “Oh my God, Yuna is here!” I’ll just hang out with them, which is really cool. I love my store.
Can you talk about your fashion influences?
I basically just wear whatever I like. I’ve always been a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn. I always try to recreate some of her styles. She loves wearing turtle necks, I love wearing turtle necks as well. Anything appeals to be as classy, elegant style but at the same time not boring.
I know you worked with Pharrell on “Live Your Life.” Have you been asked to collaborate with anyone else?
Well, not yet. Obviously a lot of people have suggested “You should work with this guy or this guy or this guy,” but it’s not as simple as that. I would love to work with Damon Albert from Blur because I like Gorillaz. They’re so funky and so cool.
You were at law school before this. What made you switch from law to music?
I enjoyed law school. I graduated, obviously. At the time music didn’t seem to be going anywhere for me back then. Then I started to write music and it was a whole different game. I used to sing; I was a singer before then. I tried out and auditioned for a lot of stuff, just singing. When I found out I should write songs it was just a different thing. I just wanted to make music. I wrote my first music when I was 19 years old and I haven’t stopped since.
Do you live in Malaysia permanently?
I grew up in Malaysia all my life, but I just moved here two years ago to make music. I live in Los Angeles now. I like the weather in LA, because it’s like this all year. [NOTE: A very balmy low-80's.] I know because I’ve been here during the winter, oh my God. [NOTE: A very horrible sub-zero winter.]
How come you decided to move out there?
I was doing my own thing in Malaysia. I had my own independent label, I did everything on my own. I was already making music in Malaysia and then I got discovered by my management label and they brought me out here to work on music. That’s how it started. I said, “Let’s do this for real. Let’s do this full time. I’m going to put all my time and energy into it.”
Were you able to see Frank Ocean last night?
Yeah, I did. He is really good. It’s perfect timing because I’ve been listening to Channel Orange this past month. When I saw him last night I just knew every word to his songs.
Are you thinking of singing your cover today?
No, I won’t do his cover today. [laughs]