Making waves in the international indie scene, Yuna is a Malaysian singer-song writer who was signed on by an American record label in 2011. She began her music career in Malaysia with a substantial indie-pop follower base on MySpace but was later discovered by Faber Label. Her quick rise to fame in the U.S. as a Malaysian Muslim woman producing indie-pop music prompts an observation of how efficiently and unapologetically Yuna uses the liminal space available for Asian bodies in the entertainment industry. Has her success in this exclusive indie arena been despite the otherness of her identity or because of it? The combination of her songs and music videos seems to suggest Yuna’s ‘universal’ approach to music may have some influence on her place in the indie music scene. The common themes of love and struggle in her songs in combination with featuring artists and actors of marginalized communities in her music videos seems to be a message of universality that ultimately adds to Yuna’s appeal and marketability.
In her song Crush, Yuna sings about a typical narrative of an innocent crush, lyricizing the feeling of falling in love. Generally, these lyrics are vague enough to be relatable: “I feel a little rush/ I think I’ve got a crush on you.” The music video for Crush features a diverse cast portraying interracial love interests. There is a mixed Asian boy who makes prolonged eye contact with a black girl; later, there is an older Asian woman who makes intimate eye contact with an elderly white man. Surely, there is a message behind the interracial nature of these portrayals of love. The general and ‘typical’ narrative of the song lyrics played in combination with the music video portraying these actors of color normalizes love not only between Asian Americans but also cross races. Though it seems like a simple feature of the music video, it would be amiss to view this as a coincidence rather than a conscience effort to feature Asian bodies falling in love; it normalizes Asian bodies as attractive figures and adds dimension to the artistic portrayal of the Asian American experience, as discussed in Fred Ho’s “Where is the Asian American Love.” Though the ‘Asian American love’ Ho discusses – “simply Asian Americans who fall in love with other Asian Americans” (240) isn’t the love portrayed in Crush, the music video manages to simultaneously highlight and normalize the interracial love between two people of color. Due to the typical narrative of the lyrics, the diversity in the music video seems less tokenizing and more like a genuine, artistic portrayal of love – an authenticity that seems to shine through to Yuna’s growing audience.
Yuna, herself, appears in the music video for Crush, as well as her other music videos. Her presence, a Malaysian woman wearing a hijab, stands against the mainstream vision of what a woman singing about love and other struggles looks like – usually white with European features. In her music video for Falling, shots of Yuna singing the song about forgetting a burden of the past are interspersed with shots of Asian dancers. The lyrics, “I wanna forget all this burden in my past/ I want to fall asleep so I don’t have to remember,” again are not racially driven but are paired with videography that clearly features bodies of color. As in the music video for Crush, the featured dancers in Falling are expressing an art not usually stereotypically assigned to the passionless image of Asian Americans. The passion displayed in the music video translates as ‘universal’ with the normalizing themes of the lyrics. This quality of transcendence of race in Yuna’s musical creations, giving exposure to diverse dancers, actors, and entertainers as a woman of color herself, gives her ‘universal’ approach an authenticity rather than feeling like an attempt at erasure or dilution. Her music is well-received by her audience in the U.S., suggesting that this authenticity and passion behind her music has a large influence on her place in the indie music scene.