Stripping an otherwise overly piled up tune to the barest skeleton, Korean-American YAEJI strolls her way to the mainstream musical radar with heart thumping basslines and whispers of the perfected concoction mix of English and Korean.
With music nowadays transcending restrictive consonant language barriers helped by the breakneck evolving jargon of the World Wide Web, a pack of eclectic music and creative hungry young individuals are sending up signal smoke filled with synths and rhythmic patterns perfectly flamed to be noticed by the curious generation. Hidden among the stereotypical pastel eyed and your cookie-cutter Korean pop dolls lies a simple 24-year-old girl with hushed conversation lyrical musings loudly heard by the people at the back. Kathy Lee, better known as Yaeji, is an eccentric mishmash creation of Western and Asian culture–born and raised with an international visa as a birthmark. “Growing up in New York, I don’t remember much of, but Atlanta was a challenging place for me at the time as a 6 year old Asian girl,” Yaeji recollects. Having been exposed to a series of circumstances that lack diversity and awareness, this female mix of talent learned to be an extremely open-minded being in regards to everything thrown by society. Bearing a mixture of living cultural experience as her identity, her music took a cue from the frequent migration and transitioned to a lot of things, like dance music, before happily settling down in the house music genre. “I wouldn’t say I was ever gravitated to solely house music at any given time. Everything kinda came to me together in waves,” she shares.
“Being in unconventional settings wherever I lived taught me to be extremely open-minded about everything. I think this was essential in developing my preference for music, art, and anything creative really.”
With her tracks, music videos, and ideology of being herself creating a subconscious separation between her and the trend riding hallyu wave that has almost half of the world at a tight grip, the stereotypical chain tightly handcuffed to her South Korean identity disintegrates to become an advantage that propels her to the American music industry top – sought after by Korean artists. “I think the pace in which the Korean music scene changes there can be attributed to Korea’s nature of being really focused on one trend at a time that changes constantly.” Being part of an industry that is rapidly changing the person in front of the spotlight every single waking minute of the day, Yaeji unpretentiously shows that she is more than just a one trick musical pony with the usual label of singer, rapper, and DJ turned producer that almost everyone in the fast-paced music conglomerate has. Colorfully directing her highly pigmented endless energy to the next viable subject of abstract explosion, this New York based realistically whips transcendental emotions and hardships to any blank canvas of her liking. “My playlist to paint is ever-changing. At the moment it’s Moodyman,” she discloses.
“My vision was guided by my feelings–every significant emotion I experience while writing my EP, I took note of and tried to express aurally.”
Organically true to herself and her experiences, her most recent self titled EP contains 5 tracks that charismatically encapsulates all the areas her tenor voice has to offer and a rhythmic languid beat ideal with a bottle of malt beer at hand. “My vision was guided by my feelings — every significant emotion I experienced while writing my EP, I took note of and tried to express aurally,” says Yaeji, she continues, “The most vivid memory is of when I wrote New York 93. My parents were visiting me in New York for the first time and while my mom was napping in my bed, I started composing this track which is about me and my parents’ earlier days in NYC.” Switching lanes fast from her usual four bass drum beat rhythm to a much more vibrating trap beat, her latest single ‘Drink I’m Sippin On’ piques the interest of various independent online medias with her polar opposite composition of pulsating bassline drops and lethargic rapping in English and Korean. “Drink I’m Sippin’ On is about unabashedly being yourself. Kind of like when you’re drunk, except this drink is not alcoholic.” Putting together what the disgruntled generation has in mind with the past, present, and future, Yaeji chimes in with conversational contemplations that resonates in the weary minds of the youth.
By: Pauline Miculob
Photographer: Rachel Wright