It hasn’t been easy street for US-based Malaysian singer Yuna. She made an impact on the American music scene with her determination and enormous talent. We know how tough it is for an Asian to be successful in the extremely competitive international music scene.
There are only a handful of Asian singers making it big on the global scene. Among them are Norah Jones and Lea Salonga. Many of them faced an uphill task in getting noticed in the first place.
Yuna was approached by US-based Indie-Pop record label, whose representatives came to Malaysia to convince her to sign with it. Her breakthrough in North America came in 2012 when she won widespread acclaim and achieved several significant career milestones.
In an interview with New York Magazine, Yuna was asked if she thought Muslim women are oppressed, specifically when it comes to things like dressing modestly and covering their hair.
“I really like the idea of modesty. By the time I got into music, I was already wearing the scarf all the time, and it’s really personal to me, my Muslim beliefs, so I decided to keep it and find a way to work around it,” she said. “I don’t see it as a restriction or limitation — I can still be me and get into music and be an entertainer.”
She has balanced her devotion to her religion and being a musician well. “I have beliefs and I have religion just like everybody else,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m just a normal girl. I write music, I play music. And I sing.”
Yet, she has gotten much flak and was even told off by a young fan on Instagram. The Malaysian fan criticised the modern and modest hijabista after she uploaded a photo of her on April 12, wearing overalls, paired with sneakers. The comment was: “Improve the way you dress, sister”.
There was also issue with one cover of her song Rescue by an American church choir and it drew negative comments about the song and Yuna being “dekat” and “masuk gereja”. The song has nothing about religion.
She is still being judged on the way she dresses and how she interacts with the opposite sex. A hug from singer Usher set tongues wagging with holier-than-thou comments. She was reminded of the “boundaries and limit” of a Muslim woman.
“They call me ‘perempuan sampah’ and tell me to ‘might as well go naked’. The worst, hurtful and sexist things I’ve ever had thrown to me, were from the lips of the Malays. All I can do is to be patient. Allah is great. And Alhamdulillah for everything,” Yuna says in response.
Taking on self-righteous fans is one thing, but having to deal with an unexpected blow from the entertainment scene at home is another.
Yuna has slammed a parody video of the hug that featured a comedian in blackface make-up on Astro. She was upset at the disrespect shown to Usher and her African American fans, “…who by the way, make 50% of my audience who come to my show”.
“Astro took down whatever they could from the Internet, only after some backlash from people calling out that this could be a serious issue in the States…but the damage has been done,” she says.
Yuna adds that parody video could damage her career in the US and she urges people not to it on social media. “It’s not funny. And it will only hurt me,” she says.
Astro’s entertainment show MeleTOP removed the parody video and issued a public apology after it was widely criticised on social media.
It is really tough being a Malay international singer when you have fans and your own entertainment industry at home scoring own goals against you.