Award-winning singer Yuna is already a star in her native Malaysia, where she has been on the rise since her debut in 2008. She’s also an observant Muslim and an entrepreneur. Yuna runs a fashion boutique that sells funky but modest clothes that meet the requirements of her faith. And while she’s climbing the American charts with her new album Nocturnal, she’s not compromising her style or her religion. “I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it,” Yuna says. “I’m also a girl who loves music.”
Yuna spoke with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about her music, her heritage, and her faith.
Life as a Muslim “pop star”
When I first started playing music, I was already covered … wearing headscarves. And like normally, people would expect you to change, toss this part of your life away so that you could be like a pop star. But I just like wanted to make music, not really be a “pop star” pop star. And there’s always like people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with what I’m doing right now. But you know…I’m really happy with where I am right now, you know, I’m a Muslim. I don’t try to hide it. I’m also a girl who loves music. And I don’t try to hide that as well.
Risky reach to U.S.
I was doing quite well in Malaysia … everyone was like so excited about my music, and they started accepting me as an artist. And coming out here was like taking a risk. But it’s something that I really wanted to do for a very long time. Like I need to do something with my English music. … Coming out here kind of like enabled me to experiment with a lot of different music, and I really wanted to come up with music that the whole world could relate to.
Writing songs in English instead of Malay
I kind of like always struggled writing in Malay, because Malay is such a beautiful language. And it gets really hard, you know, if you want to make it into a song. It’s kind of tricky. You have to make it sound beautiful, use the right words. And with English, you can be direct, like writing a letter to someone.
Stay true to yourself: the message behind her song “Lights and Camera”
Being in the spotlight, you know, you tend to kind of like forget who you are. And being an artist … it could be like a very superficial job. It could be very pretentious as well. People just kind of like see the surface of it, and not really getting into like who this person really is. And you know, they don’t know what’s going on with this person. As that person, sometimes you kind of like lose track of who you are. And usually everything is moving so fast, and you know, you kind of get lost in everything. So I just wanted to write like a strong song about, you know, knowing who you are, and being yourself no matter what.