Linying on Her Ethereal Music, Understanding Privilege, the Gift of an All Girls High School and More

The opal Club X SXSW

Having a creative outlet is a good idea, for rising star, Linying; it’s essential. Born and raised in Singapore, the brilliant Taurus singer-songwriter uses her platform to connect on an emotional level with her listeners. Growing up in a society where she is part of the majority, Linying cannot fully relate to the Asian-American experience, but through a different lens she writes about her feelings in respect to personal events that are painful. “I think at the same time the things I write about and define my career as a musician, they are very first world problems. I’m just writing about my feelings, which is a luxury,” she says. “It's a luxury to be able to process my feelings.” Acknowledging her privilege in the creative process gives her back story a lot of integrity. Linying doesn’t claim her experiences are more or less important than other musicians, but understanding writing from a point of privilege proves her level of self awareness.

Initially getting into music through piano lessons at an early age, Linying never believed she would sing or become a songwriter until her teenage years. “I always thought I would be a pianist or a visual artist. As time went by I procrastinate a lot and posted videos on YouTube of myself singing. That was my true beginning and when I honed my skills.”

Branching out into new creative territory marked the first step to her success. Catching the eyes of European DJs’ Felix Jaehn and KRONO, they reached out to Linying asking her to write and sing over their tracks. After those projects received well, this was her break into professional songwriting. “It’s a different world from where my art lives,” she explains. “I enjoy songwriting but I can view it as a science and a formula. It’s a completely different process from when I write from personal experience, and for things I can only understand through music. That's what I really love and that's what I rely on in life. I'm very fond of these two things but I also write to understand and to make sense of the world.”

The soft and delicate piano ballad Sticky Leaves or the upbeat yet melancholic track Tall Order barely begin to exhibit Linying’s talent to express her emotional side through song. Her artistry is anything but fickle. “Every time I try to write a new song, I look back and want to be the version of myself I am when I'm writing.” She wants her music to touch listeners in a way that makes them feel something based on her experience. Lining wants us to see her music as moving, rather than soothing. “I didn't break my heart over this song for you to go to sleep you know. It's a bit of a pet peeve for me. I want people to have a stronger emotional reaction.”

On understanding privilege and growing up:

I didn't realize my privilege until I was a little older. Because I was growing up in Singapore, you see the world through an American lens. I don't really relate to the Asian American experience portrayed in American media. Where I’m from, I'm the majority. There's always been a disconnect for me because of that. I think at the same time the things I write about and define my career as a musician, they are very first world problems. I’m just writing about my feelings, which is a luxury. But as a listener I do benefit from these experiences. Suffering exists on a hierarchy and a scale, but when you're in it it's good to have art that you can relate to.

On the beginnings of her music:

I started with piano lessons as a kid and I took really well to it. I was always composing melodies as a kid, but I was shit at sight reading. I never really thought I would sing or be a songwriter or an artist until my teens. As time went by, I procrastinated a lot and just posted YouTube videos of me singing. That was my true beginning and when I honed my skills. After that, my first professional foray was when these European DJs got in touch with me to write over a track and sing. I was in school and thought ‘why not’. The song did really well and from there I got into songwriting. It's a different world from where my art lives. I enjoy songwriting, but I can also view it as a science and a formula. That's a completely different process from when i write from personal experience, and for things I can only understand through music. That's what I really love and that's what I rely on in life. I'm very fond of these two things but I also write to understand and to make sense of the world.

On her dream venue:

Probably a cathedral. With an orchestra.

On her favorite songs:

Oh this is hard. It's probably one of my early songs, Grime. I always choke up when I talk about my songs. It's about how your feelings and perspective can be really skewed. The reason that’s my favorite song is because this is the first song that taught me I won't really understand things until I write to make sense of things. This was from my first adult relationship and it was very heightened in the sense that all the emotions were high. At that time there was an impending sense of doom which I didn't recognize, but I think this song is a good representation of that. How perceptive you can be if you really listen to yourself, which I never do. Writing that song was a feeling of inexplicable sadness and dread, I had no reason to feel that way and didn't know why I felt it. In hindsight I realize I probably knew that all along, it's hard to put into words. I needed the space to write that song to understand where the emotion was coming from.

On her biggest accomplishment and mistake:

My biggest accomplishment is being able to be honest with my music. That's something I'm very proud of. Every time I try to write a new song now I look back and want to be the version of myself I am when I'm writing. The biggest mistake is letting my knowledge of the industry inform the way the music is written. That's something I'm trying to get over. There are a lot of things industry people tell you you should do, but at the end of the day music works because of human connection. If you don't honor that your music isn't going to resonate with anyone and it isn't going to work. I knew I wasn't getting festival slots for example because my stuff has to be digested. Everyone would ask me to try to do more upbeat things and I'm happy to take advice but not when it comes at the expense of the reason why I'm doing this.

On advice to other girls in the music industry:

Know yourself! If you're not sure of your identity and why you're doing this you are going to feel unfulfilled and be an empty vessel channeling what everyone is telling you to do. You need to know why you're doing this.

On the audience in mind:

I really don't think about it. I feel like that would corrupt the process for me, but at the same time I'm not the kind of writer who is all about self expression. I recognize the value of your songs being understood. Art is valuable in the way the viewer understands it. That's why I try to make sure that everything I say is not so completely esoteric. I want people who aren't me to be able to understand things and I want to make my songs accessible. Maybe not for everyone, but for someone like me who exists in the same kind of space with the same kind of thoughts and insecurities. You can't please everyone so I don't like to focus on that.

On a stage name:

It's my real name! I chose it because I have friends who have chosen stage names and grown out of it. I'm so aware that I'm going to keep changing that I’m afraid to be so sure of something. It took me a long time to release music because I'm really irrational about hating my earlier work. I know I'm never going to change my name or look back and think "that was really stupid." It's a very conservative and responsible choice, I feel like such a mom.

On describing her music:

How would I want people to describe my music? Moving, I hope. People always describe it as soothing which I don't like. I didn't break my heart over this song for you to go to sleep you know. It's a bit of a pet peeve for me. I want people to have a stronger emotional reaction.

On her latest release:

All Of Our Friends Know I think is the first remotely happy song I've ever written. Even then, that happiness is tempered with fear and doubt. It's about finding love when you don't want it. As a person I’m informed by the books I've read and the movies I've watched and as such I've romanticized love so much. Once you go through it and realize it's just life, stop romanticizing, stop chasing after it with so much idealism. When you find love a second time you are less quick. Your defense mechanisms are up, and mine are very strong. I just never want to be like ignorant or too guarded. I'm afraid of having the rug pulled out from underneath me. So this song details the experience of being so annoying about falling in love, everyone around me knew and knew before I did because I was so unwilling to accept it. Even though I do admit it's kind of beautiful to experience that, I feel very lucky. But if you are the type of person who's scared of everything like I am, it's scary. Fear and doubt are valuable emotions, but they can be crippling.

On not dumbing yourself down as an artist:

The audience doesn't only want to listen to top 40, the audience has nuance. We can't dumb ourselves down as artists. If I can be this way, listeners can also be observational and emotional. It's hard to balance fitting these aesthetics into a more commercially-viable mold, but I count on the fact that I can't be the only person like this out there. I retain a good amount of “basicness” to be relatable, but not so basic that I don't think at all. I believe that other people exist in this middle ground too. Basic but thoughtful.

On high school:

We call it secondary school where I’m from. I was pretty weird. Before secondary school my primary school was very academic focused. The kids there were all pretty conformed to societal expectations. Physical appearances aren't a commodity in all girls school, but charisma is. You will find the more popular people aren't the most physically attractive, it wasn't a concept that entered our minds. When you are in a co-ed school, your popularity is based on attention from boys and that stops you from being able to develop your full personality. In an all girls school I felt like you always had to be funny, outgoing or rely on your personality. So I think in private school I came from this environment and I was adamant about wanting to be very free. I'm so firm about this, if I ever have daughters I'm sending them to all girls schools so they can develop personalities freely, without basing them on how boys see them. It's traumatic having to recover from the high school experience with boys. So much of your identity is shaped around the male gaze. It's nicer to live in a world where how nice you are matters. I look back at me and my friends and think "damn we were so ugly and no one cared." Male attention is the currency in a lot of schools and growing up without that was very freeing. You put a very high premium on having male friends. I had a phase in junior college, my first time in a mixed environment. I remember counting how many close male friends I had and thinking where that put me among my peers. It's so strange to think how things that are "male approved" are inexplicably more valuable. Assuming both of you are straight, it's hard to have a friendship outside of male expectation. You always think in the back of your mind "is he finding me attractive?"

On traditional femininity and the perfect woman:

Assuming what is feminine comes from an evolutionary point of view. Females are associated with passivity because of early humans and has shaped what femininity means. We talk about femininity based on that. Softness and introspection. I would say is very characteristic of traditional women. The perfect women to me is someone who is resilient. Resilience to me is very female, from what I've observed in my life. Being able to withstand childbirth makes you resilient. My mom for example has trigeminal neuralgia and that's a really rare nervous system condition that essentially is not technically harmful but it makes the victim go through painful sensations that feel like gunshots or childbirth. She could go up to three weeks without sleep because her body would be hurting. I think it was toxic that she always felt she had to shoulder the burden of being a mother while working and taking care of her health, but she had the resilient attitude that "life goes on." She was in charge of shopping, contributing to the family income, the emotional wellbeing of her kids, so many things that for some reason my dad was never in charge of. Softness and resilience existing at the same time is the perfect womanhood to me. I think that traditional feminine qualities like being soft and nurturing don't have to be degrading, we can reclaim these things as strengths. Music for example having softer emotions doesn't have to be seen as a weakness.

On traditional femininity:

I do appreciate it. Men and women are equal but not the same, they are different and I think there is a beauty in recognizing that difference. I do have friends that don't fall into either category but there is a scale and a spectrum and it's important to recognize and celebrate our differences. I consider a world inside myself to be a very feminine quality, and I appreciate that about myself a lot. I think that can be painted as being "crazy" or "over emotional" but it's something I really appreciate about myself. I like celebrating that kind of femininity. I’m able to be so emotional in my music because I have the world that exists outside of me and the one that exists inside of me and all my work is about conveying that.

On discrimination based on gender:

Yes, I’ve been discriminated against in terms of business things. If I ever want to offer my insights in terms of streaming, etc, people are less willing to listen to my input and I can definitely feel it. Women are often pigeonholed as just a product or as an entertainer. I think one thing that has helped me in this regard is that I don’t leave things in my career up to men or male producers. Learning about producing and not just being the voice and the face has given me a type of control. By knowing things about producing and taking control of how exactly I want the music to sound has stopped people from seeing me as shallow. People will take you seriously if you take yourself seriously. The mentality in the industry toward women is often you are just a face, until proven otherwise. There’s the assumption that you receive immediately based off of the work you do.

Thumbnail photo by Jovian Lim

Intro by: Jenna Mohammed

Interview by: Alessandra Licul