ARTIST TO KNOW : YUNA
Yuna finds the new her with Rouge
Singer-songwriter talks working with Tyler, The Creator, the new album and Camp Flog Gnaw
Yuna wants her latest work to showcase the new her. But to pull that off, she had to focus her attention on a record that would, essentially, never end.
She found that in Rouge. During the album’s year-long creative process, the Malaysian singer reached out for guest verses from some of the biggest rappers in the game (Tyler, The Creator, G-Eazy), went in a funkier direction than her previous projects and appropriately titled the last song on the record “Tiada Akhir,” which means “no ending” in her native Malay.
“I’m just happy that, in this album, people get to see that grown-up Yuna,” she says. “The woman that I am today was built from all the records that I’ve put out before. This is the new me.”
Rouge, which dropped July 12, is a continuation of the 32-year-old singer’s musical resume and an introduction to Yuna’s new funk-driven soul sound. It’s a far cry from the folk-pop fans are used to, but represents a new, star-studded beginning for a singer looking to soon take over the R&B world.
I caught up with Yuna to chat about her work with Tyler, her upcoming slot at Camp Flog Gnaw and how fans have reacted to her most honest body of work to date.
The full interview, edited for context and clarity, follows below.
Rouge has been out for a little over a month. How did you feel to finally put this record out into the world?
It feels really great. I’ve been working on the record for quite some time. A pretty long time. It wasn’t the right timing to work for a year and put the record out within the next year after my last record came out. I really took my time on this one. I didn’t want to rush it. But I’m really happy that I did that because I wouldn’t be able to get other artists on some of my songs and really focus on putting out really great music and I think I managed to do that for this record...
How have fan reactions been so far?
I think they’re really excited. I don’t think they had any idea about the collaborations I had on this album because I’ve never been that kind of artist. Before, the only collaborations I had on my album were Usher and Jhene Aiko. And the rest, I’m always invited to be on other people’s tracks and I’m always happy to do it. And for this album, I thought, ‘Let’s have some fun and try to work with all these artists that I’ve always looked up to, who are within reach.’
One track into the record and we already hear Tyler, The Creator’s vocals on “Castaway.” As a fan, I know he doesn’t just collaborate with anyone. What drew you to each other musically?
He has his own style. I’ve always admired how he’s super creative. I think he’s super talented and focused. I just love the whole crew. I’ve worked with The Internet. With him, when he put out “Flower Boy,” that was when I saw myself in that record. Starting from that, I think this was the right time because I always wanted to work with him since 2012 but it was just not the right time. When I had “Castaway,” I was like, “Oh wow, I really think he’s gonna’ love this song.” I had an instinct and was like, “Let’s just try to send this out to him.” I ended up being right. He loved the song and was like, “Let’s do it.”
Just last week, you announced that you’ll be playing this year’s Camp Flog Gnaw. What are you most excited about with that performance coming up?
The last time I performed at CFG, it was kind of a different vibe. This time around, I know what my performance should be. This recent tour that I went on, I had an all-female band, all-female dancers. We had a lot of fun and I’m really excited to bring that to the Camp Flog Gnaw stage.
Track two on the record in “Blank Marquee,” which you call your favorite song to perform live. I was just blasting it in my new car the other day and it was really something else. Is your goal to make music that can be enjoyed out loud or blasted?
The record definitely reminds me of putting on old vinyl and just letting it play. It’s a feel-good album and it has the right amount of the Yuna you know -- the singer-songwriter that’s always writing breakup songs. But there’s also a lot of new Yuna, which is experimenting with funk music, Daft Punk-ish. I’ve always been a big fan of funk music and I’m happy I got to put that into the album.
The track is also a solid representation of the change of your sound since your musical beginnings. You started off, as you’ve said before, with “folky” music, moved on to alt. rock and now you’re somewhere in the middle of R&B and heavy-hitting pop. How does where you are in your life dictate the direction of your sound?
I’ve always been that way. In the last couple of albums, I only entertain the songs that I love. Anything that I don’t vibe with, nobody can convince me to put that song on the album. I’ve been standing my ground or fighting for a song, too. I have a song called “Amy” that I really love and it’s one of the first songs that I’ve written. Before going into a concentrated recording session with my producer, I already had the song. A lot of people from my team were like, “Okay we’re gonna’ pick these songs” and I was like, “Oh no, you have to put in ‘Amy.’” I did whatever I could to put that song on the album.
There’s also a Malay song in there and it’s not random. It’s me. It’s my identity and my roots. Even though it’s an American album and people probably won’t understand the lyrics, they’ll be able to feel it. I believe that and I fought for that one, too.
Was the track’s placement purposeful?
The title of the song means “never-ending” and I believe it has no. It’s such a beautiful song to end the album with. You start with all the hard-hitting beats and dancey, kind of fun stuff, then you end with this raw Yuna that nobody probably knew about.
What do you hope Rouge says about, not only your artistic development but your progression through life over the last few years?
I get to grow into the artist that I am right now with my own timing. I didn’t force myself to be the No. 1 artist or I didn’t force myself to do whatever was trendy at the time. I feel like if I did that, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m really happy that I listened to myself and wanted to work with the people that I wanted to work with regardless of if they’re hot or not. I’m just happy that, in this album, people get to see that grown-up Yuna. The woman that I am today was built from all the records that I’ve put out before. This is the new me.