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Band/Artist Profile

AAPI Artist Spotlight – Rina Sawayama

Next up in my AAPI Artist Spotlight series I would like to introduce Rina Sawayama. 

You might have heard of Rina’s song “XS” on TikTok.

Rina Sawayama is a 31-year-old British-Japanese artist that dabbles in various sub-genres of pop music and different genres altogether. She has coined the nickname of being a pop chameleon because of how she can incorporate and seamlessly create music that is indie-pop, electric pop, R&B, dance-pop, rock, and alternative.

She started her music career how most artists do– uploading songs onto the Internet. Rina would upload song covers onto MySpace and eventually formed a small band with local kids and used her high school’s tech equipment to produce songs. From that, she maintained her passion for music and started making music and touring till she was recognized for her talent.

What I find refreshing about Rina’s music is that she finds ways to highlight issues in society and tie that in with her Japanese culture into her music. She is an advocate for a variety of social justice issues such as sexism and uses Pop music, which often is stereotyped and often called department store music, to empower her and breakthrough those stigmas as a female pop artist.

Her debut album titled “SAWAYAMA” as well as her first EP “RINA” both showcases her persona as an artist. A Japanese woman who doesn’t hesitate to call people out and write about her past traumas and experiences while gift-wrapping it into earworm music that is digestible for her audience. She brings in a lot of influence from the 90s and early 2000s Pop scene in all her music and combines it with this R&B style voice. Similar to this ideology she has developed, the artists she was inspired by like Britney or NSYNC made pop music that lots of teens felt embarrassed to enjoy and now are considered to be iconic. 

One of her most popular songs “XS” is about consumerism and capitalism and the phrase ‘XS’ is supposed to represent the excess spending and product manufacturing that highlights how as consumers we always want more and are never satisfied with what we are able to attain.

The mature topic of capitalism and over saturation of the market is balanced with a fun dance-pop track inspired by Britany Spears’ music, as shown through the lyrics:

“Gimme just a little bit (more), little bit of (excess) | Oh, me, oh, my | I don’t wanna hear “No, no” | Only want a ‘Yes, yes” have you dancing around in your room while making you reconsider the role you play in our capitalistic society.”

There is a pattern throughout her music where she writes lyrics that are deep and thought-provoking about our society while keeping this light pop danceability to it that makes her so unique. Time and time again she highlights that oftentimes while her lyrics carry such strong meanings since she is a woman making pop music she isn’t taken as seriously and the upbeat electric pop and R&B style overpower people from looking into her lyrics.

Along with social issues such as climate change or toxic masculinity, Rina also touches on how her experiences being Japanese in Cambridge, her pansexuality, and the feeling of otherness that she has had to navigate through her entire life.

Another song I want to highlight is “Tokyo Love Hotel”. In this song, she discusses the guilt she feels of using Japanese symbolism in her songs as well as calling out people for having this odd obsession with Japanese culture to that point where Japanese people can’t showcase their authentic culture cause it’s not what has been idolized in the West.

 Her lyrics “And oh there’s nothing that I could say | That hasn’t already been said | You got that neon lights, golden guy | Falling for a stereotype| Has it all gone to your head?” bring forth this idea that whoever was into her wasn’t for her true self but of this idea of what a Japanese woman is meant to be like based off of stereotypes. 

There is so much more to her music than what I can capture in this short post and I highly recommend checking out her music even if you are not a fan of the Pop genre. Rina writes lyrics that are genuinely an important part of her experiences and might resonate with a lot of people if given the chance.

In most cases, the mental image of Rina’s music people have when they first see her is quite different from what her music is at the core. Her bold and eclectic makeup looks and appearance almost make you feel that her music is electronic dance music  (EDM) or alternative rock but in reality, she is a Pop artist and it’s a genre she has mastered. 

Check out her discography on Spotify.

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Music News and Interviews

mxmtoon “Mona Lisa” Song Review

This song has been on my mind ever since I first listened to it.

Oftentimes, when I listen to a song for the first time, I focus on the instrumentation of it, like the harmony and melody or how the instruments work together. But when I listen to Mona Lisa by mxmtoon, an up-and-coming indie-pop artist, the lyrics had my full attention. 

In “Mona Lisa”, mxmtoon writes about how she often takes the place of Shakespeare by creating characters in a narrative instead of living as the main character in her life. As a songwriter, she often hides behind her lyrics and in this song, she highlights how she doesn’t want to just be another story but wants to feel like she is the central aspect of her own story instead of being just the author.

What really hit close to home for me while I was listening to this song was the environment I listened to it in. It was a rainy day and I was walking back from class alone observing everyone around me. The lyrics felt so relatable at that moment because it felt like I could apply them to my life at that very moment. I am a writer too and similarly, I often feel like I spent too much living through my characters instead of trying to make an impact in my own community.

The lyrics “I’m so tired of being a book on the shelf | Tired of stories for somebody else | Think that I’m ready to start a new chapter | I’ve been looking for some way |to turn it around | Looking for someone to give me the crown | I wanna feel like I finally matter | I wanna be a Mona Lisa, ah-ah | The kind of girl that you can dream of, ah-ah” resonated with me.

In a world where we are constantly feeling like other people are living better lives than we are due to all the exposure we get to people’s handcrafted posts on social media, this song really encompasses that feeling of wanting to be an inspiration for someone.

The lines “Who could change my point of view? | The way that Van Gogh uses yellow or the self in Frida Kahlo | I could be that for you” drive home this point.

mxmtoon writes that she wants to be a muse and be known for having a specific purpose in life and she compares that to how yellow is such a distinct feature in Van Gogh’s paintings. The entire premise of the song centers around Mona Lisa who was the muse, a woman, behind the painting of the famous Mona Lisa painting done by DaVinci.

I just love the relatability of this song and especially when you realize that everyone has the same thoughts or feelings and you aren’t alone in feeling a particular way.

In contrast to the rather sad lyrics, the song itself is very upbeat and starts off with a strong ukulele intro that launches the listener of the song into a dream world. It makes you feel like you are inside someone’s daydream. The guitar chord combined with mxmtoon’s wispy dreamlike voice in the chorus really hooks you into the majestic environment that the song creates. In addition to this fantastical world that the song puts you in, the music video has a similar enchantment to it that makes you feel like you are in the fantasy mxmtoon has created of being a muse for an artist.

Sometimes we all have this feeling that there might not be anyone we truly inspire or play a huge role in their lives but, maybe we just might be the Mona Lisa to someone out there after all.

Be sure to check out the music video for “Mona Lisa”.

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Blog

AAPI Artist Spotlight – Dhruv

 

Continuing on with my series of highlighting various AAPI artists, I would like to introduce the next artist, Dhruv.

You might have seen his name if you happen to use TikTok. His song “Double Take” was released in 2019 and was used in over 2.8M videos racking up over 280M views. It was the catalyst for the launch of his career as a musician. 

Dhruv Sharma, known as dhruv, is a 22-year-old Indian-Singaporean R&B artist. He grew up listening to Bollywood music, because of his dad who would sing at family events, and Western artists as well like the Beatles and Amy Winehouse. Growing up he and his sister would make up melodies and songs on the piano and guitar they had in their house. He wrote a lot of music that he uploaded to Soundcloud while he was in Singapore and even gained a small following.

While music was still something he dabbled in during his free time, he was actually a student at Yale studying Data Science and Statistics when he released the song Double Take. Once he released this song, much earlier than his song ever blew up on the internet, he realized that music was something he wanted to formally pursue as a career.

“Double Take” if you don’t know is a dreamy track about falling in love with your best friend. About that moment where you have to do a double take cause you see your friend in a different way than you used to before.

He released two other songs titled “Moonlight”, which I wrote about in this post, and “Vulnerable”.

What I personally enjoy about his music is how light and magical he makes his songs sound. Of course, not everyone is into that type of vibe when listening to music, but it is something that Dhruv has perfected. Each song in his EP “Rapunzel” has this airiness to it but still manages to capture a distinct feeling or emotion pertaining to various aspects of being in love or falling in love.

The Singaporean artist is a self-proclaimed introvert and writing music was a way of how he shared his thoughts and feelings as an observer. Expressing himself through his music was an outlet for all the opinions and thoughts he had brewing in his mind that he was never able to share out loud. He felt alienated growing up as one of the only queer kids in his conservative community and all of that is reflected through the songs in “Rapunzel”, whether it’s about his experience of falling in love with his best friend, overcoming heartbreak, or showing his true self to someone and being vulnerable.

His work puts you right in his shoes. The soft acoustic chords or his guitar or his melodious voice feel like a warm hug and easily raise your spirits.

His music is his coming-of-age story. Not only about romantic love but about self-love too.

A story where he is finally the main character and has control of his own narratives. 

Check out Dhruv’s discography on Spotify!

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Music News and Interviews

Dhruv “Moonlight” Song Review

You might have heard the viral song “Double Take” that was all over TikTok last summer. 

“Moonlight” is written by the same artist that wrote that viral song and evokes the same R&B melody, Dhruv. These songs are part of Dhruv’s first EP titled “Rapunzel” and although I could do an entire album review for that album and rave about how relatable and therapeutic all the tracks are, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite tracks of the album- Moonlight.

Many of us out there are hopeless romantics believing that being in love possesses qualities that come straight out of fairy tales. Dhruv is an artist that embraces this quality of his pours into the song.

The most poetic stanza of this song for me is “Moonlight | I’ll be smitten with you on these blue nights | You’ll be holding me until the sunrise| And the songbirds be waking up | Oh, true love |  Kinda hoped it would feel like a rom-com | I’ve been planning this out in my notebook|  Since I was a little boy|”

His lyrics paint a picture in your mind of sitting under the blue moonlight till dawn with someone you love. Straight out of a movie. 

Growing up in Singapore and later in New York, he highlights that he hadn’t seen or experienced much of what navigating queer love was like and that is what inspired this song along with many other songs on his EP. This fantasy of what being in love could be like since he had never seen it play out in real life was something he thought was only something that could happen on the big screen.

This is seen in the lines “Poetry and handpicked flowers | Say you’ll meet me at the altar | Can we fall in love in the moonlight?|”

Even if you haven’t experienced unrequited love or are a hopeless romantic, Dhruv evokes his emotions and really lets the listener feel what he is going through.

Listening to Moonlight really feels like it’s 12am and you’re staring at the stars under the moonlight.

Invite someone this summer to sit with you at midnight to stargaze and play this song for them. Maybe you’ll get lost in the moonlight with them too.

Check out the Moonlight audio video.

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Band/Artist Profile

AAPI Artist Spotlight- Hojean

In honor of AAPI, Asian American Pacific Islander, Heritage month I’ll be starting a little series where I’ll highlight a few different AAPI artists.

To start off this series, I’d like to introduce the Hojean or Justin Hojean Yi. He’s a 23- year old Korean-American R&B artist that got his start by wanting to perform a song for his crush at his school’s talent show. After playing up on that stage and seeing the reaction of the audience, he knew that being a musician was his passion. From that, he found his niche in writing love ballads and R&B tracks. He was initially an indie singer, but once he began experimenting with the R&B genre he felt that he preferred it a lot more.

The Georgian artist is a singer, producer, songwriter, and visual artist, who takes part in all creative aspects of his music production from lyrics writing to song cover art all from the comfort of his home.

What I admire about Hojean is his love of making music not only for his fans but as a way to support his parents as well. His entire life is writing music and his passion for spreading his musical diversity for his fans to experience the feelings he feels while writing his songs. Hojean has mentioned many times that he was always a creative person growing up and would doodle in his notebooks in school and sing at church, in a way he was always meant to make music and share his art.

A few of his most popular tracks are “Over 85”, “Pick Up Your Phone”, “You Feel Like” and of course his newest single “Bluffin,” which I wrote a review of.

His song “Memory” is a personal favorite of mine. It’s an upbeat song about moving on and letting go of the past. It was a track he had written after taking a nine-month hiatus from creating any new music– a product of his anxiety in a sense. A culmination of his feelings that had been developing while he was in a slump. But one day he walked into a thrift store and bought an electric guitar on a whim. That electric guitar lead to this song being written and now has become a significant part of his music production.

As a visual artist, I felt a connection to this song the most because I had been in an artist’s block myself. Painting was something I had a hard time doing during the school year during the pandemic because I constantly felt like my art didn’t compare to other artists, similar to how Hojean had felt about being a musician. Imposter syndrome– a common dilemma. Once listening to Hojean’s music one summer afternoon I started scribbling in my notebook and listening to Memory got me out of my slump as well.

If you want a change of pace or want to listen to music that makes you feel like you’re floating down a river on a sunny afternoon then Hojean’s music will make you feel just that.

Hojean will be releasing his first EP sometime this year so be sure to keep an eye out for it!  

Check out Hojean’s Spotify page to view his entire discography. 

Categories
New Album Review

Hojean “Bluffin” Song Review

“Bluffin”, like all of Hojean’s releases, is an R&B/soul single. 

The song grabs you in from the start with an acoustic guitar intro with Hojean’s voice joining in shortly. I may be biased as a Hojean fan, but something about this song pulls you into the melody immediately and makes you start tapping the rhythm with your feet. The song is simple and is purely written for the vibes. 

With the repetitive chorus and lyrics that quickly get stuck in your head, it’s not difficult to enjoy the song. 

A particular verse of the song that felt memorable was “Girl you’re good at bluffin’ | You know we’re onto something the way | I got you blushing tonight | Feelin like we’re running | So why not get to stoppin’ | I feel like we been doin’ alright.”

The premise is traditional – Hojean is singing to a girl telling her that she’s been on his mind and wants to make her his girl. Essentially, he knows they both have something and wants her to stop pretending it’s not there. He wants her quite literally to stop bluffing.

With Hojean’s distinct style, he adds his own twist on the typical. The song is easy to enjoy regardless of whether you focus on the lyrics or the melody of the guitar.

If you’re looking for a new song to add to your summer playlist this might be one to look out for. It’s the perfect song for listening to while laying out in a hammock under the sun or while you’re sitting by the lake with your friends watching the sunset. 

Make sure to check out the lyrics video of “Bluffin.”

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Music News and Interviews

Harry Styles “As It Was” Song Review

Harry Styles is most definitely not a name that commonly shows up on WKNC blogs.

However with this newest lead single from his third and upcoming album “Harry’s Home” perhaps Harry is entering his Indie Pop Era?

I am a casual consumer of Harry Styles’s music and one thing I find fresh about his music is that it’s always a unique and different experience each time. You might be picturing the highly popular pop song “Watermelon Sugar” or  “Adore You” when you think of the name, however, many people have said that his single “As It Was” evokes a certain familiarity with songs you might see by popular Indie Pop bands such as The Strokes or Dayglow. 

Essentially, if you are a listener of the Indie Pop or Bedroom Indie Pop genre, this song will induce similar feelings of wanting to dance around in your room.

This song is far from the radio pop music that has been produced by this artist recently and this is the result of the prominent instruments heard throughout this song. The electric guitar and the drums. The fast tempo and 80s synth-pop melody combined with heavily deep and melancholy lyrics put the audience in a whole new world of its own. Styles plays an instrument called the tubular bells towards the end of the song in beat with a sound of steel dreams, while his poignant lyrics almost feel like the listener is hearing his inner monologue from a diary entry.

A few lines that hit deep most specifically are from the second verse, “Answer the phone| Harry, you’re no good alone| Why are you sitting on the floor?| What kind of pills are you on?| Ringin’ the bell and nobody is coming to help| Your daddy lives by himself| He just wants to know that you’re well”

Like most traditionally popular songs, Styles commonly writes about relationships and romance, yet something about these introspective lyrics changed my perspective on him. The depth seen in these lyrics is quite personal and is one of the first times we’ve seen Harry Styles in this light since his debut as a soloist.

I know what you must be saying, no way is Harry Styles, a member of a former boy band making Indie music. Especially for you out there that regularly listen to Indie Rock and Alternative Underground music – this must be an unusual thing to read about. 

But take my word for it. 

Once you listen to “As It Was” you’ll feel like skipping down a sidewalk or frolicking around a field in the Spring.

Check out the “As It Was” music video here.

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Music News and Interviews

Spotify Armageddon

Over the past few years, streaming music has become as necessary as breathing to a lot of people. The constant consumption of melodious audio has led streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify to skyrocket in popularity.

Unfortunately, on the dreaded day of Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at 1:08 p.m. the ‘Spotify Armageddon’ struck. The streaming service, Spotify, crashed and users were locked out of their accounts getting errors such as “The firewall is preventing you from gaining access” or “Invalid Username or Password”. 

Accounts that people had from the young age of twelve and the playlists created over the years for various occasions such as post-test anger or a road trip were all out of reach, and people rushed to Twitter to cope. Users joked, “now I have to listen to the sound of my engine on the car ride home” and “me joining my family for dinner for the first time in 8 years because Spotify is down”

Avid users of the platform were left in shock and heartbreak after being locked out of their accounts, but for our beloved radio station, WKNC 88.1, this was a serendipitous occasion. NC State students and Raleigh locals immediately sought out ways to continue their music streaming and WKNC 88.1 was the safe haven in this ‘Spotify Armageddon’. Regular listeners of WKNC 88.1 HD-1 and HD-2 got their moment of glory.

Those who tuned in to HD-1 were able to indulge in some Daytime Rock with DJ AV and listen to a few classics such as “We Go Back” by Animal Collective and “I Wanna Feel Love” by Julia Bardo. Meanwhile, those who tuned in to HD-2 were gifted with the Underground playlist hosted by DJ AV, featuring some hidden gems like “First Breath” by Daylyt.

Though this brief Spotify Armageddon influenced melophiles, music lovers, from all walks of life, those who happened to pop onto WKNC 88.1 didn’t have a reason to fret.

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Music News and Interviews

Wallows “At the End of the Day” Song Review

Wallows are an up-and-coming indie-rock band that have grown in popularity in the past three years. Their band consists of three members: Dylan Minnette, Braeden Lemasters, Cole Preston. The song “At The End of the Day” was released this Friday, March 4 and is a single that is part of their sophomore album titled “Tell Me That It’s Over”, which will be released on March 25. 

From my initial impression, the song was a lot different than the songs we have seen from Wallows recently and had a much more mellow rhythm compared to their more upbeat single “I Don’t Want to Talk”. While “I Don’t Want to Talk” featured a more energetic tempo, “At The End of the Day” had a slower more steady tempo, matching the nostalgic feelings of the lyrics. What was teased as an acoustic song was released as a masterpiece.

Another refreshing aspect of this song was that the audience was able to hear a lot more of Braeden’s voice throughout and he was the main vocalist. Oftentimes, Dylan is the lead singer and his voice is accompanied by Braeden’s, though in this song Braeden was able to take center stage. 

A few lines that stood out to me in the song were “Please just see | That you are not alone, you are not alone| I’ll never let you go| Unless you want me to” There is something just so sentimental about being afraid to end a relationship or let go of someone you love because you are afraid you’ll hurt them. This song encompasses this feeling all too well.

The meaning behind this song is as resonating as most Wallows songs are. This song describes the intensity of being in a relationship and feeling that the end might be nearing, though at the end of the day (no pun intended) you just want your significant other to be happy.

The aesthetics of the music video serve this immense nostalgia of summer nights and this is a song that you’ll be rushing to add to your late night driving playlist.

Check out the music video here.