Story by Ada Tseng.
Singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai (known as Yuna) has a quick and easy remedy for writer’s block: “I just call up my best friends and ask, ‘Hey, do you have any drama that I can write about?’ Usually, they’re like, ‘Sure!’ And then I’ll show them [the resulting song] as a gift.” She laughs. “My friends are so easy.”
Many of her self-penned songs are about relationships — from happy-in-love songs (“Lullabies,” “Favourite Thing”) to heartbreak (“Mountains,” “I Want You Back”) to a perfectly satisfactory fling you know won’t last (“Lovely Intermission”). “Decorate,” a song from her first international EP in 2010, about missing a recently departed lover so much that you keep your home decorated with objects that the person likes just in case he or she comes back, is another example of a track inspired by one of her male friends. “It’s such a sad song, and a lot of people think I went through that,” she says. “[But] I’m really close to my best friends, so if they feel sad, I feel sad, too. It’s emotionally draining, but I get affected immediately.”
The 27-year-old grew up in Malaysia, making a name for herself in her home country before relocating to Los Angeles a few years ago. Her self-titled international album Yuna, released in 2012, had a famous supporter in Pharrell Williams, who produced her hit single “Live Your Life” and often mentioned her name when interviewers would ask him about new artists to follow. In addition to her music, Yuna is a fashion trendsetter as well. She runs her own online store November Culture, and earlier this year, she launched her own clothing line 14NOV, which features more conservative clothing such as headscarves, turtleneck maxi-dresses and oversized cardigans. “There are a lot of girls, especially in Los Angeles, that want to dress up sexy and fabulous,” she says, “but there are also a bunch of girls like me that would rather cover up!”
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National Film Society’s Comedy Web Series, Awesome Asian Bad Guys
Story by Ada Tseng. Photos by Craig Stubing, unwrittenfilms.com
In 2011, Patrick Mendoza Epino and Stephen Dypiangco started a YouTube channel and new media studio called National Film Society. Part of the joke was that their name sounded very official and old-school Hollywood, but in reality, the playful, self-mocking and slightly absurd videos, from “Film School or No Film School?” to “Manny Pacquiao vs. Batman,” were made by two Filipino American filmmakers who riffed on everything. Eight months after they started, they caught the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which added National Film Society to their lineup. Since then, they’ve given out National Film Society “awards” (aka slightly inappropriate Barrel Man statuettes) to their confused actor friends, filmed commentary about the popular PBS series Downton Abbey, and interviewed subjects from documentarian Morgan Spurlock to Cookie Monster.
One of their most memorable videos was titled “Awesome Asian Bad Guys,” where they paid tribute to the badass Asian fighters in the action films they loved watching in the ’80s and ’90s. Unfortunately, in typical white male-dominated Hollywood form, these impressively skilled Asian guys always ended up dying very quickly at the hands of a Bruce Willis, an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Mel Gibson. Dypiangco’s favorite bad guy was George Cheung (Rush Hour, Rambo 2); Epino’s favorite was Al Leong, who was killed off so many times that he’s inspired an “Al Leong Death Reel” compilation on YouTube where he violently perishes in almost 20 different movies. At the end of this National Film Society video, they mention that it’d be awesome to gather all these Asian bad guys together one day and create a super team, kind of like “the Asian Expendables.”
They had no idea they’d actually do it one day. “We just thought, conceptually, it’d be funny,” says Epino. “We weren’t like, ‘Let’s make it!’”
“It just seemed like it’d be ridiculous and fun,” says Dypiangco. “And it seemed like it’d be something that’d work really well on the web.”
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Judith Hill in 20 Feet From Stardom
Singer/songwriter Judith Hill talks about meeting 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville, penning the film’s song “Desperation,” and being inspired by the other legendary backup singers in the film.
by Ada Tseng
[published on 1/28; the documentary has since won both an Oscar and Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature]
Earlier this January, 20 Feet From Stardom was announced as one of the five nominations for Best Documentary Feature at the upcoming 2014 Academy Awards, scheduled to take place March 2, 2014. The film, which was released in June 2013, takes a closer look at backup singers in the last few decades: names and faces we might not recognize, but voices we are all extremely familiar with — that is, unless somehow you have escaped exposure to classic songs from Stevie Wonder, Sting, Carole King, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Bette Midler, Luther Vandross and Tom Jones. Or if you’ve never heard the theme song to Growing Pains, the holiday song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” or Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Director Morgan Neville’s main interviewees are legendary singers, some of whom have had success as solo artists but others who were never quite able to cross into the spotlight. There’s Darlene Love, who started out as a ghost-voice for the 1960s girl group The Crystals and was finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011; Merry Clayton, whose voice might be most known for her duet with Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones’ song “Gimme Shelter;” Lisa Fischer, who earned a Grammy for her solo album in 1991 after years of background singing; and Tata Vega, who has recorded numerous gospel solo albums.
The ingénue of the bunch is Judith Hill, the half-black, half-Japanese soul singer who recently gained some mainstream attention through her exposure on NBC’s The Voice.
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New Girl in Town
Arden Cho has earned a loyal fanbase as a YouTube singer and performer. Now she’s winning over a new audience with her exciting (and a**-kicking) role on MTV’s Teen Wolf.
by ADA TSENG
Fs, dutifully learned everything from piano to cello, gymnastics to taekwondo, while also mentoring younger girls at her church and doing volunteer work. She never broke rules at school or home.
When it was time to go to college, Cho, born and raised in Texas before moving to Minnesota, studied psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the college her parents had wanted her to attend, and envisioned herself practicing law one day. While there, she even entered and won the title of Miss Korea Chicago. This gave her a chance to compete in the Miss Korea Pageant in Seoul and explore opportunities abroad. But that’s when her seemingly perfect life started to reveal its cracks. Even though she had just won a beauty pageant and was in talks for a television show in Korea, the work was contingent upon her agreeing to lose weight and “fix” aspects of her face. It was plastic surgery or nothing. She went home with nothing.
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