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Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai is ready to take the next step in her career. The 29-year-old chanteuse went from singing acoustic pop-leaning songs to tracks that are rooted in R&B-leaning melodies. You can hear influences of Aaliyah and Usher in terms of slow jams throughout her new songs. With her forthcoming DJ Premier-produced record Chapters (due May 20), Yuna is about to release her most ambitious work to date.
We spoke to the burgeoning musician about working with Usher, losing love and getting real on her latest record.
On her new R&B sound: This album is a little bit different because I’ve always wanted to do an R&B album. For a very long time I was meddling with stuff—hip-hop beats and stuff. I only have two songs like that— “Camera” and “Live You Life—and I was working with Pharrell. To be able to focus on that sound for a whole album is pretty refreshing. It’s more mature, I think I’m more outspoken in terms of writing and the lyrics and I don’t really hold back. It’s something I’ve never done before.
The coolest collaboration on Chapters: I have “Crush,” which came out a few weeks ago with Usher. I think that’s really cool because it reminds me of when I was in high school. I didn’t know how to record, but I would take the song from the radio and take a, say, Alicia Keys part out and sing over it. I was just thinking when I made this record that 15 years ago I would do this so I could sing with Usher. I have a song with Jhené Aiko. She has an amazing voice and is always telling these amazing stories I can relate to. To have her on this album is really symbolic beacuse I was going through a really hard time after the end of my relationship. To have her on my album is like a perfect circle.
The balance of fashion and music: I love both things. I’ve been doing music for a really long time. I have a lot of people who help me out with tours, music and appearances so that I don’t have too many things going on in my life. When I have free time, having a clothing store is what I love to do. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around and have nothing to do. It’s important for me to be creative in every way. It gives me a bigger purpose. I want to be able to try and do everything—enrich my life in all of these ways. Now that I’m in LA, there are just so many things I want to do. Planning a clothing line is a learning process is a learning curve. I’ll be coming out with a new clothing line soon in August.
The inspiration behind Chapters: I started working on it two years ago. I was going through a lot of different things in my life. I ended my long-term relationship with someone. I was going through a lot of emotions and feelings. Then I lost my grandfather, and I was dealing with that. I was away from my friends and family. I was just in this really difficult spot in my life where I had all this time at home to think about stuff. With Chapters, I wanted to tell different stories that I was going through. I can’t really run away from writing about love and heartbreak. I can’t run away from writing about being sad or depressed. The pressure was kind of on because the last album was based around being happy. It was challenging to be open about the current state of my life at the time, so I just decided to let go of all of my insecurities and be open to writing about real life. This is real.