Yaeji: The Korean-American Artist Serving Original Flavors and Feels
If you’re looking for some fresh vibes for your next playlist, look no further than the genius that is Yaeji.
Kathy Yaeji Lee is a New-York and Seoul based artist fusing her unique style and perspective with original beats and close friends with her incredible project Yaeji. The visual artist and singer recently released her new track ‘Drink I’m Sippin’ On’ and the visual has just reached over 1 million views on YouTube.
With her new EP on the horizon, dropping early this November, we sat down with Kathy and talked nostalgia, culture and being ‘comfortably badass and empowered.’ Peep the interview as well as the bomb visual for her track ‘Drink I’m Sippin’ On’ below.
Tell me a little about yourself and where you grew up?
I was born in Queens from a Korean Couple and my parents moved to New York when they were very young. Right after they got married they came to New York for their honeymoon and then decide to stay. We lived in NY for a while and then moved to Atlanta for a bit but then when I was ten-years-old, my parents moved us to Korea because they feared me losing my heritage and I lived there until I was ready for college. So at this point, I have been in America for six to eight years which actually makes me feel a bit more American now.
Do your parents play any instruments or do you come from a musical family?
Yes. My dad was always a musician by hobby mostly but he took it pretty seriously. I know that when he was in high school he was part of a couple different bands of many different genres. He was in a heavy metal band at one point but also loved composing songs on his acoustic guitar and that’s how he proposed to my mother. So for him, it has always been a pretty important part of his life.
Who are some artists you grew up listening to or albums that shaped your present work?
I would say there were different pockets of time where something really made an impact on me, but in terms of the electronic sound, I was first properly introduced to that in early middle school. I was listening to this Korean electronic band called Clazziquai and some Japanese electronic bands including Freetemple and also like M-Flo which is like this rapper and I was actually just listening back to M-Flo this week, for some reason I had this kick of nostalgia and the production on it is pretty amazing for it’s time, like early 2000s, you know? So I think that really shaped the beginning stages of my preference in electronic music.
When did you start creating electronic music yourself?
That came way later for me, towards the end of college really because I never saw myself as a musician or even really have the potential to pursue music because I was visual my whole life. When I got to college I joined a radio and starting DJ-ing and a lot of my friends were producers so it kind of organically happened to me the end of my junior year.
And what did you enter college wanting to study?
I went to Carnegie Mellon and initially applied for the Fine Arts program and they have a really cool interdisciplinary program where you can merge one type of art with another study. So I created this self-directed major that incorporated fine arts as conceptual art with East Asian culture and graphic design.
I noticed on your Yaeji website the clothing and merch you’ve designed/created yourself and I’ve honestly not encountered anything specifically I can compare them to because they are truly original. Do you activate a visual mindset when you’re creating your music?
It’s not as obvious to me how my music making process is but I see that correlation by the way other people describe my music, which is often a very visual description which I think is amazing. Also maybe I think about writing music and do create music differently than others in terms of me focusing on the phonetic textures of the Korean word I’m speaking and the repetition and pattern I’m layering; it possibly comes from a different perspective because I’m visual first.
Speaking of visuals, your track ‘Drink I’m Sippin’ On’ is a total jammer and the video has officially reached over 1 million views on YouTube. It’s a joy to watch all of the people that you’ve put in the video and the fusions of style and fashion choices to create a certain vibe like the viewer is a ‘fly on the wall’ getting to witness this perfect equation and party. Who are these people and can you talk a little bit on the process of creating this visual?
I actually love that you’re interested in this because it is huge part of the project for me, who I’m working with and what they are wearing. The people in the video are some of my closest friends and initially I had this idea when I was working with the director to create this really natural looking environment where we are all just clearly being ourselves but at the same time really comfortably badass and like comfortably empowering. There were several different ways we found we could manifest that and one of the ways was curating the garments we were wearing. I thrifted the blazers from this Unique right by where I live and cut out my name in Korean on this 3m reflective material in my studio and tried different compositions and kept trying to modify it with a lot of trial and error. The clothing itself and us just walking around and interacting was powerful enough to manifest those things I wanted. So the focus was very much on the outfit and the people.
I’ve noticed more recently, specifically during this renaissance of ‘the art of the music video’, one thing that is often missing or lacking is the actual reality of someone’s life. But seeing you and the people you clearly love and care about in the video ‘Drink I’m Sippin’ On’ is such an effortless insight into who you are as an artist and person and it’s totally humbling.
Thank you. I have so many great friends that could have been a great option for it so in the next video we shot I have like fifteen in it. A huge part of my work is incorporating the people around me that really matter to me so to hear that it comes off as ‘humbling’ is a dream. Also, I knew they would look great and be great on camera so.
What does a regular weekend in New York look like for you?
A regular weekend in New York is generally and often the same for me. I love going out to shows and seeing people perform. I always look what’s happening in Brooklyn which is mostly where the underground shows happen. I also really enjoy cooking with my friends and spending a lot of time together with the people that I love. Also, I have an art studio where I create my visual work and not as much music work, so I find myself there quite a bit when I need a nice break from music things.
Last question: What is next for you Kathy and the Yaeji project?
I have a lot of exciting collaborations coming up and all of them are tied into the creative, talented people I’m close with and are here right in front of me. I’m really excited to see how the Yaeji project can transform with other people, flavors and feels. Also, definitely a lot of new music coming very soon.
Image by Jake Naviasky.
Stay tuned for more Yaeji vibes.