Yaeji’s gigs are famous for being carnivals of acceptance, diversity and friendship, reflecting the mindset and life experiences of the electronic producer, born Kathy Yaeji Lee, who grew up between South Korea and the US. After she broke out with a cover of Drake’s Passionfruit in 2017, hits like Raingurl and Drink I’m Sippin’ On have ignited her stratospheric rise over the last two years.
Lee, 25, might be slightly timid in person, but is proud to be a role model to the legion of fans globally who look up to her. She spoke to Young Post over the phone from her home in Brooklyn, New York, where she has been working on new music while getting ready to embark on an Asia tour, including Hong Kong this week.
Last year was a big one for you: playing Coachella and getting named on the BBC’s Sound of 2018 list. How does 2019 match up?
I’d say 2019 is more incognito. I have separated my studio from my home for the first time. Last year was touring, touring, touring. This year there’s still touring but I’ve focused on being here, learning more about myself, connecting with people I haven’t spoken to in a while, and just feeling really rooted.
What are you most looking forward to in Asia?
It’ll be my first time touring in Asia. I’ve been to most of the cities we’ll be playing in, but it feels like a homecoming. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. I’m excited to connect with everyone.
How is the perception of you in Korea different to in the US?
Every year it’s surprising how many more people find out about me even though I’ve not really done shows there [in Korea] or released on a Korean label. There’s pride and excitement for another Korean – even though I have dual citizenship – and they’re really happy for me. That’s always emotional for me.
You’re seen as a trailblazer for Asian-American artists, particularly women. Is that a responsibility you enjoy having?
It’s never been a question – even before I was doing music or touring, I always tried to find diverse and inclusive people who understand where I come from. Since becoming a musician, I’ve realised more people are watching and learning and thinking about things through me, so that’s a newfound responsibility … it’s not a burden or responsibility – I’m happy to represent a group of people.
What are some aspects of being a third-culture kid that someone who’s not one might not realise?
In Korea, I went to an American international school. It felt weird growing up in that country and looking like everyone, but then also being in a contained, secluded environment for school and couldn’t really relate on a day to day level. [It was] a great experience moving around lots; going to new places made me a very open-minded and accepting person.
Your music is often described as quite emo – how much of that is you, and how much is it you playing other characters?
I’m definitely being honest. I think it would be hard for me to play another character, which I kind of want to try. But I have a lot left to say that’s true "me", so I’ve been focusing on that. I guess the common denominator across my sound is the theme of melancholy. It’s funny, because when I talk, I don’t think I come across emo. It’s more that my music is just like my diary: [getting it out] is almost a necessity at times.
What have you been up to musically since you released your last single, One More, last autumn?
I’ve been writing a lot of music. There’s not too much I can say, but I have a lot of drafts. I’ve been working on new sounds and learning more about producing. I’m in a different place, too, now, so I’m sure that’ll comes through in how it sounds.
How will you round out the rest of the year after touring Asia?
I have a few more shows in the US and the rest of it will be spent writing new music and working on music videos for some of them. That’ll be my priority.