“When sweaty walls are bangin’, I don’t fuck with family planning, make it rain girl, make it rain.” -Yaeji
By Lexi Vollero
In the little white Yuma Tent set against a scenic backdrop of rugged desert mountains and music’s most famous ferris wheel, a group of sweaty, eclectic bohemian characters abusing all sorts of exotic substances stand in a winding line that trails across the bustling polo field baking in the golden sun of late afternoon. From fifteen feet away you can feel the rhythm of the tent in your toes, and for once, it’s not just coming from the towering Sahara Tent.
Stepping into the relief of the air-conditioned club lined with black brick and wooden floors bathed in blue light, the music’s steady pulse fills your chest and provokes your feet to dance. Underneath a disco ball shaped like a snapping great white shark stands Yaeji, calmly controlling the Coachella crowd with her hypnotic brand of house music. Decked in a white fishnet blouse with her token circular frames and thick black bangs, she stands alone behind turntables, bouncing along as she manipulates the beats. She pushes a few buttons and cues her hit song “raingurl”, sending a surge of enthusiastic whoops through the room. She is in her element.
Witnessing the 24-year-old Korean-American artist make her debut appearance live at Coachella was an intriguing experience– Yaeji embraces a simple, understated approach to her performance that contrasts with the bold, vivacious sets of other acts such as BROCKHAMPTON and Beyoncé. But her serene demeanor and does not diminish her dynamic music.
Yaeji’s music delights me because throughout all of her work, she is completely herself. Her soft-spoken persona (self-described as awkward) coupled with her quirky album covers, forward lyrical content and androgynous fashion brings something new and successful to the table. This explains why she has captured a wide audience and even found favor with the high-and-mighty critics at Pitchfork with just two EPs and a few singles. I really respect her for including her cover of Drake’s “passionfruit” in EP2, her second EP, because she imitated one of music’s greats while making the song her own– a huge risk for a newcomer. “At the end of the day, I feel comfortable being myself,” Yaeji tells Genius.
Aside from BTS, Yaeji is the only other prominent Korean-speaking voice popularized in the American music industry. Not only does her bilingualism add depth to house music as a genre, which tends to be lyrically sparse, but she uses it decisively in her tracks. Throughout her discography, she tends to use Korean when vocalizing introspective thoughts and English to make her main message accessible to more listeners. This is exemplified in her song “drink i’m sippin on”, where she intertwines an English pre-chorus into the rest of the song’s Korean lyrics that describe her personal experiences and emotions.
As a New York native, she navigates her American nationality and her Korean heritage by blending and embracing both unapologetically. Typically bilingual songs are made by foreign musicians in an attempt to access an American audience (think “Despacito ft. Justin Bieber")– it is rare that we see American artists set aside the world’s lingua franca for another native language. Yaeji proves that gaining popularity does not entail sacrificing unique cultural ties and integral aspects of a “non-American” identity, consequently redefining what it means to make music as an American.