Having recently enjoyed a sold-out show in Toronto, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna wants it emphasized that she’s even more pleased that she gets to play Vancouver this month. Which is understandable, given that her last concert here didn’t quite come off as planned.
“It got cancelled, because of some other things,” she begins to explain, on the line from a Brooklyn tour stop. It takes only a second, though, before she decides the Georgia Straight can handle the truth. “Well, actually it was about my visa. That was really unfortunate, but this time we’ve got everything figured out, and now I can’t wait to come back. I’ve been in Vancouver twice before, and the response I’ve had from fans has been amazing, so I can’t wait to see what the crowd is like.”
Given that the woman born Yunalis Mat Zara’ai has been booked into the decidedly intimate Media Club, said crowd should be jammed in like sardines. Yuna’s press photos often find her posing with an electric guitar, like some kind of indie rocker, but on her new release, Nocturnal, she’s gone instead for a high-gloss pop sound that seems more geared to upscale dance clubs than beer-stained bars. Guitars are in relatively short supply; instead, Nocturnal is well stocked with A-list producers, including the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo and Incubus mastermind Michael Einziger.
“These are all producers I’d love to work with, and I got to work with them for this album,” Yuna enthuses. “What’s great about it is that they kind of knew my aesthetic, and they knew my style of music, and they had me in mind whenever they made something. And I find there’s a variety in it, but at the same time there’s a cohesiveness. It sounds whole, you know what I mean? So I’m really happy how it turned out.”
Yuna has certainly mastered the essential pop trick of writing song-stories that are so vague almost anyone can find themselves in the plot—anyone, that is, who’s ever pined for the affection of another. The titles tell the story: Nocturnal starts with “Falling” and ends with “Escape”, with way stations that include “Lights and Camera”, “I Want You Back”, and “I Wanna Go”. One thing we shouldn’t do, however, is read too much into this arc. According to the singer, her fourth international release is not a concept album about her 2012 breakup with Malaysian TV host Qi (Qushairi Razali).
“Not really,” she says. “Sometimes I write about personal experiences, but at the same time I draw my inspiration from a lot of other things. For example, like, stories from friends, or a movie I’ve just watched. Sometimes they’re just like stories that I tell—but I know a lot of people could actually relate to those stories.”
Something about her answer suggests that the Malaysian courts lost a serious talent when Yuna stepped away from a career in law to focus on music—but the world may have gained a pop star.