As I start to dip my toes into the production side of music making, I look to Korean American DJ, producer and songwriter Yaeji as a major source of inspiration. Whether I’m writing a paper at The Sink on a Monday morning or Ubering downtown on a Friday night, somehow Yaeji’s music manages to be both energizing and relaxing at the same time, melding to whatever mood I find myself in.
On April 2, she dropped her debut full-length album, “What We Drew,” and on Aug. 28, she performed songs from it for the first time on the Boiler Room’s YouTube channel. In my opinion, the livestream of the album encapsulated what it is about Yaeji that I admire most. In it, not only does she continue to effortlessly weave together lush tapestries in Korean and English, but the creativity of the livestream itself highlights the seriousness and silliness that I find so characteristic to her sound as an artist.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Yaeji moved to South Korea at a young age and lived there until she returned to the United States for college. Her career as a DJ and producer started after she performed at the student-run radio station at Carnegie Mellon University. Drawing from elements of Korean indie rock, electronica, hip-hop and techno, the singles and remixes she’s released so far have been dark and ethereal, like shimmering fistfuls of black glitter. What feels like the perfect soundtrack to a rooftop rave in Brooklyn, her songs feature delicate vocals hovering above fizzy samples, crisp hi-hats and a beat that seems to never stop pushing you forward.
In place of a canceled international tour, I knew this performance would be far from the typical bedroom set. Lounging on a couch in what looks like a room in a neon green dollhouse, Yaeji nonchalantly rap-sings into the microphone as two floating Animoji heads emerge from the windows behind her and proceed to bounce around her head. She goes on to perform “When I Grow Up,” as pencil-like doodles grow and skitter around the border of the screen. Later on, she uses FaceTime to call some of the featured artists and friends on her tracks, letting them perform their own parts in lieu of a real-life collaboration.
As zany as the visuals are, the lyrical content of the album itself speaks more to the “gentle celebration of self-care and small domestic victories,” according to the music blog Loud and Quiet. Yaeji herself expressed the simplicity and intimacy that she hoped to convey in “What We Drew.”
“Each track is almost like a snippet of my life, a look into my diary or something, where it’s reflective of how I was specifically feeling during that time,” Yaeji said.
And to me, it really did feel like I was walking through the pages of her diary as we wandered the neon green, doodle-filled dreamscape. She concluded the livestream with a song called “so.called,” a slow, lo-fi track by nooon. As the lights dimmed on the livestream, she curled up in a blanket on the couch. And in her repose, I felt a stillness too — one that allowed me to revel in a newfound affinity for not only her music, but her creative process in its entirety.