the video for yaeji’s raingurl is a study on introspection in the club. watch it here!
Your new favourite video for your new favourite song from your new favourite artist.
When we call Kathy Yaeji Lee she’s drinking her morning coffee. There might be a cold and rainy Brooklyn outside her window, but the Korean-American musician is feeling cosy. If you’re anything like us, you’re already totally enamoured with the way Yaeji sings and sometimes raps -- half whispered, very close, bringing an intimacy to the genre -- but what you might not be aware of is that she also has one of the best talking voices. Soft, calm and radiating kindness, if the 24-year-old wasn’t so busy being a musician, we’d ask her nicely to record some audio books for us.
It was during university that the graphic designer got into music making. Sliding into the NYC underground house and techno scene as naturally as her lyrics dance between English and Korean, she’s now two EPs down, with a series of DIY music videos and support from 88rising. Her latest release, EP2, out now on Godmode Music, is an i-D office stereo staple and good for all times, days and occasions, resulting in a steady typing flow and enough seat dancing to count as your daily exercise.
Raingurl, the ethereal yet bass-heavy cherry on the EP cake has just levelled up and got itself a music video. A music video that we’re pretty damn excited to be sharing exclusively with you today. Less DIY than her past visuals (beauty tutorial style Last Breath amusingly urged viewers to apply embarrassing memories to their face, while Drink I’m Sippin’ On saw her bike through the neon NY night with pals) it remains self-directed, with the assistance of a very talented bunch of friends.
And in case you need something tangible to complete your Raingurl experience (same), Yaeji has made a zine accompany proceedings, which is packed with stunning BTS imagery and available to pre-order now. Knowing full well that Yaeji rules, we called her for a chat.
Hi Kathy! What’s this video all about then?
I had this idea of portraying the introspection that happens when you’re in these giant venues with loud thumping music. I found a warehouse through my old job, and had the abstract concept in mind. My friend Enayet co-directed, and he brought the crew together, and I edited it. I think something really special came from us all overlapping roles that way. It almost felt like a school project with a team that I chose.
Are you happy with the result? Because we are.
I think there’s something endearing about its realism, like how our dance moves aren’t synced up. I love its honesty. For me this video was an interesting balance of awkward moments between me and my friends, and high production values. We had a lot of special effects, which is an area I’d never explored before. There’s a fake fog cloud, and a lot of advanced tech that I’m lucky my friends know how to do. Like, my raincoat had a light in it and my umbrella was lit from this programme that my friend wrote so he could control the colours from his computer. It was really important for me to make something that was visually interesting but not too much of a jump from my previous videos. Hopefully the attitude is still there.
Totally. There seems to be a consistent warm neon aesthetic to your visuals now.
Yes! Which is quite foreign for me as I was always very attracted to natural colours and muted tones. I love thinking about the visual element because that’s my background. So in this video, for example, everyone is wearing all white so that we could soak up every colour that we used. It also went with the transparent raincoat and the idea of introspection, like a blank sheet of paper that anything can be written on.
Tell us a bit more about the idea of introspection in the club?
It’s two alternating attitudes: inner dialogue vs outer attitude. Personally, I feel like I’m still on the shy tip and definitely don’t have the attitude of the rap part. You have all these thoughts and insecurities and then you go to the club and feel the same thing; you’re dancing around other people but you’re also thinking by yourself.
Your thoughts are dancing too.
Exactly. And sometimes you can feel very emotional. It’s just a mixture of those contrasting things that I wanted to talk about on Raingurl. Ultimately though, it’s a party anthem! Hopefully one that is fun to listen to at home but also works on a night out.
Now it’s your proper job, do you still go out to clubs when you’re not playing?
I still love going out, I do. I just really love those tender moments with friends, as well as the music itself. The other night I went to see a friend play at this new venue that just opened up in Brooklyn called Elsewhere, and then to Jupiter Disco.
Do you see yourself and the music you’re making as part of a scene?
I feel like I stand in a weird in between world, where it still has underground tendencies, but maybe it’s more approachable to people that don’t normally listen to weird underground music? It’s a really cool position where I can leverage cool ideas and deliver it to people who aren’t used to it. But it can be a very lonely position where I don’t know if I can relate to anyone completely.
When somebody asks what kind of music you make, what do you tell them?
It really depends on who’s asking, but generally I tell them that I’m making electronic music and that I sing. If I had to get specific, I would say that sometimes I’m rapping, sometimes I’m talking, sometimes I’m singing. That sometimes it’s over a dancey beat, four on the floor, 120-130bpm. But then, to me, none of that even matters. To me it’s about the mood that the synth and melody delivers, the playfulness that I can convey with weird drums, and the tenderness of singing like I’m whispering.
Perfect. And how did you find your sound?
I remember recording vocals on my iPhone and I had to get really up close to it to get this sound that I liked from my voice, and that just carried on when I upgraded to an actual mic. My sound became more polished as I learned more.
How important is it for you to use both languages the way you do?
It gives me more tools because I have double the amount of ways to express myself. So there are some words in English that just can’t be said in Korean, and vice versa. I love how Korean sounds phonetically too, it’s really beautiful and there’s something that feels more personal about it.
Lastly but most importantly, which movie do you think your music would be the best soundtrack for?
Oh man, that’s hard! Well the most recent movie I saw was… do you remember Dexter’s Laboratory? It was that. Yes, there was a movie. Yes, it was really good. I think something goofy like that would be really fun to soundtrack.