Arts, Culture & Media

This Malaysian musician left law behind to tap into her true talent and passion for music

This story is a part of

Global Nation

This story is a part of

Global Nation

yuna-by-Larry.jpg

The Malaysian pop star, Yuna.

Credit:

Indie Pop/Larry

I first discoverd the artist Yuna by clicking on a story with a headline that just screams NSFW. It was a post on Jezebel titled, "The Problem With All These Half-Naked Pop Stars."

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It was the last place you'd expect to come across a Malaysian pop singer and law graduate. But the writer Dodai Stewart managed to weave Yuna into her essay with ease. 

She has a beautiful voice, and sings sweet, very poppy songs about the usual stuff — meeting a cute guy, falling in love. As I watched the video for "I Wanna Go," a minute or so passed before I realized what was different about Yuna: She's completely covered up. Head covered. Body covered from neck to ankle. She's a Malaysian Muslim law school graduate. Now that's interesting. Don't get me wrong: I don't believe that women should be covered up. It's just that in today's pop music landscape, seeing this woman sing without showing cleavage or midriff or butt cheeks feels fresh and new.

In the embeded video I listened to, her voice came through both delicate and potent. Los Angeles Music Writer Marcus Slater described it best, "It's like honey and pepper at the same time."

For the next month I tried to get in touch with Yuna, playing phone tag with her publicist. And during that time, I played Yuna non-stop at work. Her albums have a Feist-like quality: plucky and fresh. You can imagine how excited I was to finally reach her in Los Angeles, her current home.

Yuna didn't always plan to be a musician. Rather, she went to law school and graduated in 2009. But law, it wasn't for her. So she pursued a career in music. And you could say that's worked out just fine.

Three things immediately jump out at you when talking with Yuna:

She's incredibly humble.

She has an infectious personality.

She's whip smart.

Of course, she answered the standard interview questions with ease; how she got her start (she started writing poetry when she was young), what she listened to as a kid, how she learned to cope with celebrity (a few tears, a lot of understanding, and the help of her family). But she was just as comfortable talking about the impact Malaysia's growing digital infrastructure had on her career.

I also imagine she'd be just as comfortable discussing the finer points of tort law.

Yuna's latest album "Nocturnal" is up and streaming on Ryan Seacrest's website right now. Give it a listen. Her performance of "I Want You Back" is special for PRI's The World.