Ysa Yaneza is not your average, run-of-the-mill pop singer. At the tender age of 10 years old, her friends described her as someone who would become famous when she grew up. But Yaneza has avoided the typical passage of young triple-threat singers being manufactured into derivative pop acts by record labels. Instead, she’s forging her own path in the local music scene and staying true to her creative vision by being unapologetically herself.
We spoke with Ysa about her influences growing up, the inspiration behind her latest single, and making music in the digital age.
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RCGNTN: What was your first foray into music?
Ysa: Singing and dancing have always been something I enjoyed as a child. I only got into producing electronic music when I was 18. I was playing around FL Studio and then ventured into Logic Pro. My first “proper” track was “Tea”. I wrote and produced that in 2016 when I was 20 during my school break.
You tackled some lgbtq themes in [Tea] too. The casting happened by chance, is that right?
Yeah! The director, Bart and I, wanted to base it simply on the feeling for the desire for someone at first and we tried looking for a male love interest but it didn’t work out. Also at that time of planning, I was at college in Chicago and it’s a very liberal environment. I didn’t think people would notice the LGBT aspect right away; I just thought that this is what love is in this day and age. I’m glad I did that though! I really like creating art not just for entertainment but also [as] a documentation of our time. I think about the future a lot.
Did your college experience play a role in defining your current sound?
I’m not sure because a lot of my close friends in school thought the kind of music I listened to was weird… I remember telling them to check out PC Music [but] they didn’t get it. I still love anything that comes out from that label up to this day. It took me a while to actually find people who favored the kind of music I liked, but I like that music can be a shared experience and also a solo experience. As a singer who produces my own music, it’s definitely been a solo experience throughout. But I like that I get to collaborate with others for the music videos. I hope to collaborate with other artists in the future though!
Do you have any local artists you would love to collaborate with?
I love Disco Hue’s music. I’m a fan. I also really like the vocals of Sobs’ lead singer, Celine.
Was your current release, “IRL (if u rly c mi)” inspired by a personal experience?
It’s more of a generalization of a bunch of personal experiences. At the time I was writing IRL, I was thinking about how I felt close to certain people even though I don’t actually see them day by day. For example, my friends who are in a different country whom I would chat with online for hours. And then I also started to think about how people would feel distant from each other even if they live together. I wished I could have titled it that way, “if u rly c mi”, but I wanted the song to be searchable by mom, aunts and uncles so I just made it more straightforward, “if you really see me”.
Growing up to 90’s music, I can hear the Britney references and catchy tunes that really made that era. What is it about that era that draws you in?
I generally enjoy 90s/00s music and thought that for my first ever music project, I should tackle something that introduces who I am. I was also listening to a lot of music from PC Music, Grimes and Lorde in recent years and I think they’re mostly bedroom-produced pop music, like they were literally made from someone’s room. I think that made me realize that it is possible to do music right from your own space because the internet has been such a great avenue to just get your music out there. And this is a recent thought, [but] I think the early 2000s was such an innocent time for the digital age.
Speaking of the early 2000s, your Disney throwback was adorable!
I was about to send you this little clip since we were talking about dancing and singing. I found this in my computer the other day — this was a Kids Central show back then. I thought it was amusing that my hobbies never changed.
Video Credit: Mediacorp, The Moving Visuals Co., 2005
Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Ashlee Simpson. Such classic 2000s pop icons. Also, Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me” was my f*ckin jam last time so I can totally relate to Ysa circa Kids Central days.
Ikr. Fun fact, “Pieces of Me” was the first YouTube cover I ever posted but I took it down because there were a bunch of mean comments 🙁 I was only a child and I couldn’t take it.
People can be the worst online. Do you still have that video?
I really wished I did! It was 2005 and I first heard about YouTube through online forums. I was 10 and I was a member of a bunch of message boards. I used to make blogskins and do HTML stuff when I was in primary school. That was the beginnings of my internet obsession.
Oh shit, me too!
I used to go to action city to buy Habbo credits. Damn lame. I also saved my recess money to buy Sabrina Secrets, Winx Club, W.I.T.C.H magazines. I don’t think magazines are a thing with the younger kids now.
The trajectory for pop stars then is so different from what’s expected for pop stars today. What’s changed for young Ysa since that Kids Central video?
I feel like back in the past, pop stars were picked on for the littlest things. “Oh look at her, she gained so much weight.” But now, the world seems to be more “self-aware”. Sure there are still trolls on the internet, but the media is trying to encourage body positivity among other things that weren’t popular in the early 2000s. My goals growing up would shift here and there, but it was always in the creative field. In my teens, I was very interested in filmmaking and ended up studying film at Ngee Ann Poly, but I realized music was something I wanted to do right after I finished college. I’ll eventually get back into film, someday! I think co-directing my music videos is a start. I’m currently working on another music video right now, it’s for a single called “Max.” and it’ll be out in July. It features a diverse Singaporean cast… and think 90’s chick flick.
All your music videos are visual treats so far. What kind of people do you imagine your audience are? At least, those who really see you.
I think my audience are the kind of people I would love to hang out with. From what I’ve noticed, it’s the younger crowd that’s drawn to my work. It could be the aesthetics of it, the content in it, or it could just simply be the music. We all grew up during a time when trends changed rapidly and I think that’s why people are nostalgic about something that was only 10 plus years ago.
During my last semester in college where I had to decide if I was gonna stay in the US or go back to Singapore, I realized that I wanted to do music in Singapore more than in the US because I felt I had more purpose here. I wanted to diversify the music scene here in Singapore and I hope my music gets me (or anyone else) connected to all sorts of people. I just hope to inspire, bring something to the table and put more pop music into the Singapore music scene.
Lastly, what do you do when you’re not making music?
I’m usually busy with meetings if I’m not composing. Right now, I’m planning the production of my second music video (“Max.”). I usually talk to each department of the production to make sure everything is aligned. In my real downtime, I could either be working out or watching random Internet videos.