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Interview: Malaysian Singer Yuna Talks Third Album ‘Chapters’ and Working with Usher

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From Malaysia to the United States, singer-songwriter Yuna is taking the world by storm. Tapping into the highly competitive music industry in the U.S. wasn’t easy for her, though. “It was pretty challenging,” Yuna tells Rated R&B over a phone conversation. “I was really trying to find a pocket where my music could fit.”

She continues, “I knew that my music would mean something to people out here. Even though I come from a really small country, I really was passionate about this. I really wanted this. I really wanted my music to be heard. About five years ago, I moved out here and literally had no money. I was just living off like maybe instant noodles and stuff like that, but I was driven.”

Yuna’s determination is paying off, to say the least. She recently dropped her third studio album, Chapters, which has received rave reviews from fans and critics. The album includes her breakout single “Crush” featuring Usher. The song peaked at No. 2 on the urban adult contemporary radio chart and has nearly 30 million streams on Spotify.

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Check out our full interview with Yuna below.

You recently performed at Soul Train Awards Weekend. What was that like for you?

It was amazing. I grew up listening to a lot of these artists. I did the “Acoustically Speaking” show with Monica and Tank. I grew up listening to Monica. Meeting her was a crazy thing. Of course, the award show was a lot of fun as well. I got to see Brandy do her thing. It was something I will never forget. It was my first American award show that I attended and was a part of.

Before you became an artist, you were a law student. When was the moment you realized you wanted to switch gears and focus on music full time?

When I was in law school, I was already dabbling with music for fun with my friends. We would do acoustic shows together for fun. Even though we were law students, we always tried to find something fun to do because law is so dry and draining [laughs]. We constantly needed something fun and creative to do. I think when I graduated that was when I started getting really busy with music. I found myself performing at gigs and getting a stable income. It was so weird. I never worked anywhere in my life, except for being an intern at a courthouse. Being able to do what I love and getting paid for it is something that I don’t want to let go. I think that was when I wanted to do this properly. I started my own company. I recorded an EP. I did all the things I needed to do to be a singer in Malaysia. A couple of years after, I decided to make the move to America because I wanted my English music to be heard.

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What inspired your new album Chapters? Sonically, it’s different from your previous works. 

Chapters is an album that I was working on for about two years. Within that two years of my life, I was going through a lot of difficulties. I was really struggling with everything. Everything in my life was a life lesson at the time. I was just getting out a serious relationship, dealing with losing someone, dealing with a death of a family member and dealing with the uncertainty of my music career. I compiled everything I had in my mind and I decided to be honest. I didn’t want to hold back. I wrote about every single thing I went through and what I felt at the time. I wanted to create something different sonically. Previously, I had done a lot folky music. This time around I wanted to find a balance between that singer-songwriter and R&B/hip-hop beats.

You collaborated with Usher and Jhene Aiko on this album. How was that?

It was amazing! I feel like if you work with someone you look up to, you tend to over think it. How do you go about working with someone like Usher? I wasn’t prepared for that. I decided to reach out to Usher because we met once a long time ago and we talked about music. So when I wrote “Crush,” I was like “let’s just ask him and see if he would be down to be a part of this.” He said yes and he did an incredible job on the track. With Jhene, it was the same thing. I feel like after Usher my confidence level became a bit higher. He gave me the confidence like if you believe in it, just go and ask and create something beautiful. I did that with Jhene and she said yes to one of my songs. We wrote “Used to Love You” together and she did an incredible job on that as well. I’m very blessed to be able to work with these very talented people. They’re not just talented, they’re super nice and super sweet people. The level of love and respect for music they have is just inspiring.

Not only are you an artist but you’re also a businesswoman. Tell us about your fashion company November Culture.

November Culture is a clothing store that I have in Malaysia. Actually the clothing line that I just came out with is called HattaYuna. It’s a collaboration between me and my best friend. It’s a combination of both of our names and we created a really lovely clothing line with floral prints. It’s a clothing line for confident women who love to dress up or want something different in their wardrobe — not just the normal jeans or the staple jacket or shirt or whatever. This is a piece that you can wear one day to surprise people. I love fashion. I feel like I’ve gone through a lot in kind of looking for my personal style. It’s just something fun to do. It’s fun to inspire other women to be confident in their own skin.

Get Yuna’s latest album Chapters on iTunes. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @YunaMusic. 

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