Mention soul music to anyone, and the first names that come to mind are perhaps legends like Lauryn Hill, Beyoncé, and Adele. But with a honeyed voice far from what you’d expect from a teen, 18-year-old KEYANA has proved herself a local talent to watch. Kicking off her music career as the COVID-19 pandemic kept most of us at home, her music has caught the attention of MTV and the South China Morning Post, earning her a spot at local alternative music festival Baybeats 2021. That wasn’t her first rodeo either; you’ve probably already seen her on TV singing classics like Stand Up and Moonlight in the City (城里的月光) at Chingay 2021!
On top of improving her craft as a singer-songwriter, KEYANA is also a dancer, choreographer, and model, scoring features on international publications such as Vogue Korea. One might wonder how she has managed to do so much before even turning 20, but we learned from her that passion and smart time management can take you places. That said, her path so far hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns. Having overcome bullying at school, discrimination, and grooming by a trusted figure, her emotional strength shows in her music, which features brutally honest lyrics accompanied by melodies that get you hooked on the first listen.
Despite her relatively slim discography, KEYANA’s singles are bursting with personality, sure to evoke memories of night drives with Kehlani or Summer Walker playing in the background. Her debut single “Save It”, produced by Flightsch (Yung Raja, ShiGGa Shay, THELIONCITYBOY), is the definition of letting one down easy. Opening with the sound of muted piano chords, the backtrack never goes beyond a combination of bass, snare, hi-hat, claps, and keys. Written about a close friend who caught feelings for her, she gently tells him to “save it / baby don’t say it” (don’t you wish your crush was kind enough to do the same?).
In stark contrast, KEYANA’s sophomore release “SCORPIO” features a much darker, almost foreboding sound. Here, she reflects on a toxic relationship with a Scorpio, warning that he “got nowhere to go” and reclaiming her life in the process. Throughout, classic neo-soul synth leads supplement her haunting vocals, transporting the listener to another dimension—and suddenly it doesn’t. A pregnant pause snaps you out of your trance just past the song’s halfway mark, but then the music returns, and once again you feel like you’re falling.
KEYANA’s latest single “Afterglow” is a sample from her upcoming album. In a press release, she explains that this song is about an internal conflict. “In the song, feeling lost becomes the main narrative of my current self: not knowing where to go, who I want to be, what I represent, and the fear of losing myself in the process. But as I speak to myself, a part of me reaches out and reminds me that the ideal Woman has always been within me.”
To unpack the complex sentiments conveyed through her music, we spoke to KEYANA ahead of her appearance at Baybeats 2021 about her life, achievements, and challenges so far. Check out The Ridge’s interview with her below.
TR: How were you introduced to R&B music?
KEYANA: I wouldn’t say I was introduced to R&B per se. R&B found me. As a dancer, I was constantly hearing new music in my classes, from all kinds of genres. Over time, I looked at my playlist and realised that the majority of it was R&B music. And just like that, R&B became my thing!
TR: You’ve said in other interviews that music has always been what you wanted to do. But how did you know? Was it a feeling, or did something happen to make you think that way?
KEYANA: It wasn’t a feeling, it was my dream as a child. I’ve always watched and dreamed of performing and singing. I just never thought it was possible. Instead, I went along with where life took me and somehow every path I took from dancing, modeling, and everything else in between led me closer and closer to making that dream a reality.
TR: Working towards your goals must take its toll on you sometimes. What self-care tips do you recommend?
KEYANA: As I like to say, do whatever makes your heart smile. Take off-days, spend time with friends and family, go shopping, meditate, or sleep. Self-care is more than just skincare and hot bathtubs, just do what energises your body and soul. Work on fostering an environment that allows you to engage in self-care more easily too.
TR: Your music has shifted towards more serious themes recently. Is there anything you miss about your younger years?
KEYANA: I think I really miss the freedom to make mistakes and to really be carefree with your hobbies. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but as time goes by there comes a certain pressure and standard with almost everything. Especially how you spend your time. The freedom and space to make mistakes and explore things without pressure about the future is something I miss every day. As my mind evolves and matures, so does my music naturally.
TR: Do you have any advice for other young people healing from difficult or traumatic experiences?
KEYANA: I think when it comes to ‘how to heal’ or to ‘get over a traumatic experience’ [it] is something that I’m still working on and what all of us are still trying to grasp. But some things I like to remind myself every day [are] that healing looks different for everyone [and] that healing takes time. Be patient with yourself and don’t ever compare your own experiences to others because we are all different, in any and every way. Your feelings are valid!
TR: In ”Afterglow,” you sing about your journey towards self-discovery. We’re curious about your progress. Right now, who is KEYANA?
KEYANA: I’m the same KEYANA I’ve always been, just with a couple more bruises from falling and perspectives from lessons learnt. Still trying to find my place in the world, like everyone else, but with a little more patience than before.
TR: By the time this is published, it’ll be crunch time for students in NUS. Any recommendations for things to do or places to go to de-stress?
KEYANA: What I like to do when I’m stressed is to take time off from work, or whatever it is that may be causing stress. I’m a firm believer in resting your mind and being patient with yourself when in stressful times. Because sometimes that time off is exactly what you need to fuel up and bulldoze through. Study hard but remember that your mind isn’t a machine.
TR: Any parting words for our readers? Or anything you’d like to plug?
KEYANA: Remember to take things by the day! Let’s all be kind and love each other more.