"Bring out the colors in me.” This line comes from Yaeji’s song “Drink I’m Sippin On,” (2017) which initially turned listeners’ heads. Since then, Yaeji has clearly made her colors glow. Instead of typical aggressive rap, she seduces her listeners with a sentimental, whispering voice over a trap beat. She is a new face and a new voice who is more than ready to dominate the music scene. Her musical vision portrayed in her songs and music videos linger in the mind. There is no turning back after listening to her sonically enticing tune.
▲ Yaeji in Her Music Video. Provided by YouTube
Kathy Yaeji Lee was born in Queens, New York to South Korean parents. In her early years, she moved around a lot living in different states like Long Island and Atlanta. Her parents, however, were afraid of their daughter turning “too American” and moved back to Korea. She later returned to the United States (U.S.) and enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University to major in painting and conceptual art. During her college years, she was introduced to electronic music and started deejaying. From joining New York’s underground scene to the release of “Guap” (2016), she has slowly but steadily started to make waves in the music industry.
Yaeji, her talent aside, is breaking the glass ceiling for Asian-American women. With only a handful of women of her race in this genre of music, she is truly groundbreaking. She unapologetically uses her dual nationality as a source of inspiration for her lyrics. In her single “Raingurl” (2017), she sings about the dark side using lyrics in Korean and sings amusing, bright lyrics in English. This reflects her days in Korea when she was confused and felt left alone. When she came back to the U.S., she finally realized who she really is and started to find her true self.
Yaeji went to Korea not by choice, but because of her parents’ decision. In an interview with Fader, she said that she barely spoke Korean and some adults would scold her for using English. She was unsure of her cultural identity, saying “In one place, I look different. In the other place, I act and sound different.” When she returned to the U.S. to attend university, her difficult time in Korea paid off. At Carnegie Mellon, she made friends and realized her talent in producing music. Her life shows that the best decisions are made by those living their own life, not by bystanders.
Before her successful music career, Yaeji started off as a graphic designer and an artist assistant in New York. This explains her artistic approach to music. Just as an artist contemplates the use of texture, her music videos are designed to match her dreamy voice. In addition, she customized her outfits for her music videos “Drink I’m Sippin On” and “Raingurl” in order to make them “bleed into the color,” according to an interview with Vogue. Even when she was a painter, she did not give up on deejaying. At night, she would host DIY parties called “Curry in No Hurry.”
Yaeji is an inspiration for the AsianAmerican community. She does not have to act or look like a typical idol to get people to listen to her music. Her appearance on the music scene shows that looks are not the measuring stick for success. She is not pretentious, and her choice of words and attitude complement her electronic house beats. Yaeji is unique and that may feel strange for those listening to her for the first time. However, give her music a chance and her music will be as inviting as a sip of a drink for the thirsty.