Beauty Insider is proud and so honoured to present our very first digital cover star, none other than the pride and joy of Malaysia, Yuna.
Yuna – who hasn’t heard of her? The songstress is probably best known for her soulful melodies, lyrics that hit a little too close to home, and her iconic style.
The tall chanteuse’s presence fills the air as we sat down with her at the penthouse suite of the W hotel. Dressed in all black, her calm and easy-going nature reassures us all – who wouldn’t be nervous to meet Yuna? It is Yuna, after all. She’s been shaking Malaysia’s music scene since 2008 with her hit single, Deeper Conversation, and she’s been racking up nominations and awards in both Malaysia and the US ever since. Yuna has even collaborated with Usher, has a track produced by Pharell Williams, has graced billboards in Times Square – her list of achievements goes on and on.
We were lucky to have caught her on her short trip down to KL to sit down, have lunch, and basically chat with her about her latest single, her upcoming concert in KL, and of course, she spilled all the tea about her beauty secrets and more. Who would’ve thought that Yuna would be the one to teach us how to prevent getting a stye?
While Yuna still resides in LA with her husband and her two adorable cats – she showed me photos of her cats, and they are adorable – she still calls KL home. In anticipation of the upcoming Yunaverse in October, we managed to have a conversation with her in the short amount of time that she’s in rainy KL before she flies back to her family.
Interview with Yuna
First question – almost a decade and you are setting the stage ablaze in Malaysia again. So, what’s the secret that makes this long-awaited concert feel like a musical homecoming?
I think I kind of took my time. You can’t really count on having a perfect homecoming concert, but I wanted to wait for the right time and the right opportunity –
Yuna’s assistant (and cousin!) hands her a cup of coffee. She even makes the simple act of stirring her coffee look graceful.
– to come back and do a concert the way I want to do it. It’s easy to just do a concert, but I’m really happy that after 10 years, I’ve released a lot of – for me, like they’re like my babies, my music, right, so really good music that I’m happy with. And finally, I get to bring it back to Malaysia and perform, and really show Malaysia what I’ve been doing in the last 10 years, because I don’t think a lot of my fans in Malaysia know. I think they’re still stuck in the ‘Dan Sebenarnya’ world, and I’ve done so many cool things, but I don’t think you guys know what I’ve been doing. So I’m really excited to be able to present my music to my Malaysian fans, and coming back to Malaysia after the pandemic, and in this concert, with the right people as well, it’s just like pieces of a puzzle coming together, finally making sense for me and the people I work with and for the fans, so inshaAllah it’ll be a really cool concert, lah.
Music is a journey. If your upcoming concert had a boarding pass, what destinations or emotions would be stamped on it for your fans to experience?
“Wow. Los Angeles, definitely.” she says, as she leans back into the sofa. New York. Maybe some places in Europe like Barcelona? And KL, yeah. I think that’s a really great question. Like that’s definitely where I want my fans to feel because I travel a lot for my music and I always think of the fans when I travel and make music, so I really want them to come on this journey and come into my universe, and see what I have to offer, what I’ve been working on and created throughout the years, and I’m just really excited to share that with them.
By this point, the entire Beauty Insider team can’t help but sit around and listen in on the conversation. Her presence is so magnetic, but her aura is so calm and gentle at the same time. Goals.
What is the wildest beauty experiment that you’ve tried that surprisingly turned out to be a game changer in your routine?
She pauses to think for a moment. I’ve always felt like adding face oil to my routine, it’s kind of too much because of course, it’d be oily right, if you add oil into your skincare routine. But now I’m all about it, like I need it every night before I go to sleep. It’s always just serum, moisturiser, and I add a face oil. Sometimes in the daytime, when I go out, I apply just a little bit of face oil, just to have that kind of natural glow to your makeup. I don’t know if it works for anyone else but for me it works for my taste. So that’s something that I really enjoy, and I have this face oil that smells really nice. It’s actually from Youth to the People, it’s a brand from LA, and it’s called … ‘berry something’ face oil, just Google it and you’ll find it.
We did, and it’s Youth to the People’s Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Oil. Also, her skin is actually so flawless, and we’re definitely trying to figure out a way to get this facial oil for ourselves.
Your skin is always on point! If your beauty bag could talk, what hilarious anecdotes or backstage stories would it tell?
For me, I do my own makeup when I do my shows. And I’m always cleaning my brushes. I clean my brushes all the time. There was one time when I didn’t, like I skipped a cleaning day, and I was like “Okay, never mind, it should be okay” and then I got a stye on my eye, it’s like bengkak. And I had a shoot, so it was just really bad, like I had to wear sunglasses all because of that one time out of all the times. From there, I found out that I have sensitive skin, so now I make sure that all my stuff is clean.
Performing live can be very physically demanding. Could you share any pre-show rituals or beauty treatments before you go on stage?
I like to put on a sleeping mask the day before the show. I wear makeup all the time, so I make sure to just have a clean face before I put any makeup on. But yeah, definitely a sleeping mask the night before.
It’s not just like a beauty thing but also like a health thing – I drink a lot of water, like I drink water all the time.
Can confirm, she has a water bottle she brings around.
It has a lot to do with keeping your vocal cords lubricated. So, water and honey. I take a lot of manuka honey as well, it’s really good. And just have really good and positive people around you, I think that’s also like a part of [a] beauty tip. If you have great people around you, like nice people around you, to keep the vibes around you positive, I think that’s what keeps me healthy or beautiful inside out. It makes me feel confident on stage. Because I’ve had experiences where when I was on tour, my bandmates were fine, but I had to work with a tour manager that was very toxic, and it was so tiring and I didn’t want to perform. I mean, those days are gone now so now I’m just like, always focusing on hiring the right people. Having the right people around you really does a lot to make you do really well in your work, [and] when you’re creating, as well.
Many fans are eagerly awaiting your concert. Can you give us a sneak peek into the beauty looks or style or stage designs you’re planning for this special event in Malaysia?
Picture this, Yuna looks effortlessly cool dressed in all black, with just a simple long-sleeved top, loose pants, heavy boots, a black hijab, silver accessories, and a silver-buckled belt to pull the look together.
I don’t know, I think I want to keep it 100% comfortable and fun. I’m not trying to wear anything crazy on stage where I can’t move when I’m performing, because when I do my shows, it’s always like, yeah, the beautiful dresses, they’re nice, but I’ve done so many shows like that, so I’m not gonna do that. I don’t know what the fans are expecting, I don’t know if they’re expecting, like, Yuna in a gown, but that’s definitely not what I’m trying to do. I think I’m trying to go for more like urban vibes, with some dancers on stage.
It’s gonna be fun, like it’s not gonna be anything crazy, but it’s definitely a night for Yuna to play her songs for her fans. Because I understand when they listen to the music, they kind of have this idea, like okay, Yuna sings the song. I really believe that when an artist goes over the top in their wardrobe or whatever, it actually [does a] disservice to the song, the music. Your fans are already, in their heads, they have this image of whatever they think about when they listen to the song; they tie it into something. I try to ‘come as you are’, just be natural when you’re performing. So I think that’s the theme for this show.
You’ve always had a distinctive and evolving style. How has your personal journey influenced your choices in beauty and fashion, and how might we see this reflected in your upcoming solo concert?
Wow, I don’t know. Since I started being an artist, I never saw myself as oh, artists have to wear this or that. It has always been, okay, who am I right now, what do I want to wear today, like right now. Then I just go with that instead of, like, having people style you and tell you what to wear, oh this would look good on you. Like yeah, some people do need that, but I’ve always felt like from the beginning, I didn’t need to do that because I really like what I like. In the beginning, I was kind of like a young, indie rock girl, so I did the whole like, sneakers and skinny jeans and leather jacket. So that was who I was. Kind of like The Strokes kind of vibes. But as I grew older, like okay, I’ll try something else. I’ll try prints, I’ll try fun dresses.
One thing that’s always been the constant Yuna image thing is always the hijab, and how I always like to style it. So I see my hijab as the main piece of my daily fashion. So whatever I wear has to go with my hijab. So that’s why you always see me in black because for me, it’s kind of like my identity. Almost like my hair. So I always wear black, but once in a while I like to change it up, wear other colours. I just like to, I guess, experiment with a lot of different styles. I relate fashion to my identity as an artist.
For the show, it’s pretty much the same thing. Like, okay, what do I like right now. For example, the outfits that Beyoncé had for her recent show, I can’t really relate to that, but I love what she was wearing when she went on her Formation tour. Even though that was like five years ago, I felt like maybe we can draw some inspiration from that.
And also the fact that now Y2K fashion is back, I love it. I grew up loving it and I’m all for it. I’m a millennial, so women [my age] are like “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe cargo pants are back, they’re so ugly”, I’m like “I love cargo pants, bring it on”! Like, I love it, let’s do it. So I own cargo pants, I own boots. I incorporate that into my style too, and it makes me feel good so why not. I think I always try to send that message out to my fans because I think they know from the beginning I just wear whatever I like. I get a lot of flak for that too, you know, like a lot of people sometimes [are] like “What is she wearing?”, [but] I’m so used to that. I think now people are like “Ah, it’s just Yuna, she’ll just wear whatever”, so it’s kind of nice to know that I’m already at this place where I can wear whatever I like and be comfortable with it, you know, [and] have that level of confidence that I never had before when I was like younger.
Just a few weeks shy of her long-awaited concert at Mega Star Arena, we talk about her show.
LOL Asia must be pulling out all the stops for your grand return. Share a behind-the-scenes tidbit that perfectly captures the electrifying synergy between you and the concert organisers.
The concert organisers, they’re so great. I’ve been trying for years, trying to figure out how to have a show in Malaysia. And usually, it’s not as simple because a lot of people are involved. I’m signed to an agent and my management and all these things, and I’m Malaysian but I work in the US, so I’m an international artist, but sometimes a lot of people see me as a local artist, and they think it’s like, oh we’ll just engage with her as a local artist. I can’t really do that [because] I have an agent. It has all these moving parts when it comes to booking an artist to come to Malaysia.
So yeah, it hasn’t been an easy journey for me, but I’m so happy that I found the organisers from LOL Asia, they’re great. I feel like they took a chance with me, you know, because I’m easy to work with but sometimes I’m not sure. For example, ticket sales. Like how it’ll sell and stuff like that. Because I’ve been away for so long so I don’t know if I can do a big venue or a small, medium venue, but they’ve always been so supportive and they’re always convincing me like, it’s gonna be great, so yeah, I’m really excited to work with them. So far the experience is super, really nice and I can’t wait for the show.
We discuss the weather a bit, because it just started to rain. From our penthouse view of the W Kuala Lumpur, the rain looks surreal.
Beauty standards often vary from culture to culture. How have your experiences as an artist shaped your perception of beauty, and how does this influence your approach to beauty in the music industry?
You know, I work in the most, I guess – it’s kind of a superficial industry. In the Western media, they have a certain standard when it comes to how people should look. But I’m really lucky [that] when I got into music and I moved there, a lot of people just started doing their own thing. Adele was just starting out, and she wasn’t normally like what record labels were looking for, like the kind of typical mould of female artists. So when I started out, it wasn’t really a struggle for me. I think [it’s] because I’m so used to standing by my identity as a Muslim woman making music. Even in Malaysia, it wasn’t a normal thing, it wasn’t an everyday thing where you see a hijabi girl on stage. I grew into the person that I am today because of that.
So I think the most important thing about my journey is just being myself, and then sharing with the world and [with] girls who look like me. Like hey, I’m doing my own thing, I don’t have to change, I don’t have to go through surgery or whatever to change my face, and I’m doing okay. So you should be proud of who you are and how you look because your flaws make you special. So I think that’s the message I’m always telling young girls, especially when they are trying to become an artist. And of course, when you’re an artist, you come into this world with all these beauty standards, you have to realise that you can create your own beauty standards.
That’s how I’ve been functioning all this while as an artist. I know I don’t look like any other artist in America, like the other artists you see on the Billboard charts. I’m okay with just being me, and I’m there with them! I know what my strength is, and I just like my identity. I never hide it from people, I never hide the fact that I’m Muslim, like I just tell people I’m from Malaysia, and I’m Muslim. You may hear some people hide that fact from the media, I’m just okay with [telling people]. Just be real.
At this point, the food has arrived, so we’re talking while having lunch. Yuna ordered a Char Kuey Teow, and she says that it’s one of the first things she looks for when she comes back to Malaysia.
As an artist, you’ve experimented with various genres and styles throughout your career. How would you describe the musical direction and sound of your upcoming songs that will follow your recent single “Glory”, and what inspired this particular sonic journey?
“I think Glory is definitely something”, she says, as she takes a bite of her CKT. I started working with this really talented new producer. He goes by the name Sweater Beats and he’s also AAPI, Asian American Pacific Islander. How the session came about was he wanted to work with [other] AAPI artists, so in America, I’m considered as an AAPI. I was just like, okay, cool, let’s do it. It more like, a very community thing, so it’s been really fun making music with him and when I wrote Glory, we had a session, and then at the end of the session, he started doing this ‘brrring brrring brrring’, it’s the intro of the song, and I was like “I love it”, so I started writing on it. I think I wrote the song in like half an hour or something, it was really fast, and I just love the direction. It’s kind of like pop-R&B, a little bit dark too, there’s a darker tone, darker mood to it.
That’s kind of what I’m going for for these next few songs that I’m releasing. A little bit more, I guess, romantic. Not broody, not depressing or anything like that, but [the songs have] a little bit more darker tones and a darker mood. Yeah, I’m really excited about sharing the new songs with my fans! I can’t wait, I already know what’s coming next, it’s gonna blow their minds.
The creative process for an album can be deeply personal. Could you share a specific moment or experience that had a profound impact on the making of “Masih Yuna” and “Glory” and how it influenced your songwriting or musical choices?
My creative process – it’s important to not force it, because sometimes when I force it, like “Ugh, I have to write a song right now”, it normally doesn’t end well. It would just just become a song that’s not that great. So I try to not rush my creative process. Sometimes as an artist, you just have to do nothing and see what happens when you start like ‘oh, I want to try and do something’ and then it comes naturally.
With Masih Yuna, why the EP took so long, it took like seven years to make like four Malay songs, it’s because I tried creating something before that, and they weren’t good songs, and I don’t want to just release [songs] for the sake of releasing. It wasn’t like a cash grab kind of thing. So I really wanted to put out something that is meaningful, and when I started doing Masih Yuna, like Masih Sunyi, that was when I started writing Menanti and it just became like this really nice flow. Within a week, I wrote the whole EP. So yeah, sometimes you just cannot rush the creative process no matter how hard. For me, no matter how hard I try to be like “Yeah, I can do an album within a year”, it’s always two years. It’s a two year gap, album, two year gap, album. I think you just have to be real, be honest with yourself when you’re writing, and write from experience, write from something you know. Like I never write about something that I am not living. For example, Yuna will never write about a party life; I never had a party life, so I’m never gonna write about anything like that. But yeah, I feel like when I write something from what I know, everything will work out, it’s my creative process.
Collaborations in music can bring fresh perspectives and creativity. Are there any exciting collaborations in upcoming releases that you can tell us about and how they contribute to the overall narrative?
Not anytime soon. I don’t have any collaboration plans as of now. I’m really just enjoying making music by myself. Unless if you count working with other producers as collaborations, then yes, I love working with – for example, this new producer that I met, and it’s fun collaborating with him. But with other artists, not yet. I’m kind of just enjoying my Yuna moment, like just releasing songs that are mine. I feel like I want to be selfish for a little bit now that I’m an independent artist, like I get to own my songs, and I’m really enjoying it. Whatever I write, I own 100% of it. So if I bring someone in, I have to share. So it’s kind of nice that I’m finally looking out after myself, and I’m just enjoying that. And I think the fans understand as well, like they really are enjoying the new stuff that I put out.
[Working with other people] brings in like a different world. For example, when I first started my music career in the US, of course, I come from Malaysia, and what I know is just like working with my bandmates. And then all of a sudden, I’m working with a producer in the studio and it’s like this guy from Chicago or something. So it’s like, he brings in all the the musical influence from Chicago into my music, and I bring in something that I’m used to, like from Malaysia. And then whatever we create is always going to be special because it comes from two different ideas. So it’s definitely important like for an artist to collaborate, even just for fun. You don’t even have to put it out, like maybe learn from that process. It’s all about being like a sponge and just absorbing whatever you are experiencing in that moment. Let’s say even if the music – like if I work with a producer and we click, but the music is not clicking, at least I’m absorbing something else. I’m learning the stuff that he does with his music, his creative process, and I’m always just learning everything and observing what’s happening around me. So that’s why collaboration is really important, even though you don’t get anything out of it, it should enrich the way you work and your creative process.
And that’s it! Get your tickets to Yunaverse, happening on 22nd October 2023 at Mega Star Arena.
Styling by kate spade new york
Shoot Location at W Kuala Lumpur
Makeup by Agnes Aui
Write Up by Aina Shamshuri
Photography by Farah Khan