Audrey Nuna is the Dynamic Artist of the Moment
The singer-songwriter talks her visual aesthetic, creative endeavors and inspiration for self-expression in this exclusive V interview.
The singer-songwriter talks her visual aesthetic, creative endeavors and inspiration for self-expression in this exclusive V interview.
Between her sonic excellence, lyrical whimsy and uninhibited expression, Audrey Nuna is making music for the moment.
The 22-year-old Korean-American artist creates a contemporary cross-section of R&B layered with rap, fusing unencumbered fluidity and grounded rawness with catchy hooks and mic-drop verses. While her music oozes with confidence, Nuna didn’t always embody that herself.
“I grew up shy,” she says. “I’m still introverted, but I grew up just not really expressing what I wanted.”
Music changed that for her, forcing her to be demanding—or risk her creative vision, which has manifested itself in her eclectic visuals, from dream-like visuals to her “NUNAHAUS” capsule with clothing brand BOBBLEHAUS.
Her self-described aesthetic is “visual vomit”—a phrase that complements her unapologetic, unfiltered sound. With each new endeavor, from two self-directed music videos to her latest project release, an album entitled a liquid breakfast with features from Saba and Jack Harlow, Nuna is continuing to amplify her true self. Read on for our full interview with Audrey Nuna.
V MAGAZINE: What have you been up to lately?
AUDREY NUNA: Oh God, okay. So I’ve been in LA for the past four weeks now, and I was supposed to come out here for one week, so I packed for one week and it’s been a month, honestly. I’ve just been on shoots. I’ve just been shooting videos. I’ve been creating images with my friends. It’s been really fun. The V Magazine shoot was such a blast and I’ve just been focusing on really building out the visuals for this upcoming project. I’ve been eating Uber Eats once a day. I don’t know why my eating schedule’s been so weird, but it’s just been a weird, fun time the past few months.
V: That’s great! I mean, it’s good that the impromptu extra stay turned out to be a good thing.
AN: Yeah. I feel like it was definitely a really formative trip for me in a weird way. I usually don’t even like coming to LA, but for some reason this trip was super fulfilling and I feel like I met a lot of cool people and experienced what it would be like to actually live here rather than just take a trip here and take a bunch of meetings, you know?
V: So you’re, you’re in LA right now, right? So this is really early morning for you. Wow.
AN: Not super early, actually. Usually, I get up around nine. I sleep super late. I sleep at like, usually three when I’m back home in New York, but for some reason out here, my jet lag just never went away. So I get up a little bit earlier.
V: How did your background and your upbringing influence the kind of music you’re making today?
AN: To be honest, I feel like I didn’t listen to that much music growing up. My parents moved here a little bit later in their lives, and a lot of it was a lot of the music they play in the car, like Korean music or just random stuff. But one thing that my mom did love was Destiny’s Child and Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and just diva singers. So I think that that was something that sparked my love of singing and everything else kind of came naturally, like writing songs. Also, I think another answer to that question would be, I grew up in the suburbs—a really boring town, no diversity, like seriously, one of three Asian kids in my elementary school. I grew up thinking that that was the world and how it was going to be for the rest of my life, so I think that when I went to New York for school—I went to NYU for a year—that contrast, that’s shocking. Like, Oh my God, the world is so diverse. I think that that really set something off in me. And that was the year that I made the most music that I loved and that year kicked things off for me, I think. So it’s really just that just having a boring childhood pushed me to just make things in my free time as a kid too.
V: Wow, that’s incredible. I’m completely in the same boat as you, I also grew up in a suburb and then moved to New York. I mean, I’m not a musician by any standards, but I totally get what you mean with the whole ‘Wow, this is what the world is like’ experience.
AN: Yeah! So you know what it’s like—it’s just like, to go anywhere until you’re 16 and you can drive, you literally can’t go anywhere unless you’re at the mercy of your parents, and everyone wears the same outfit to school. Like it’s just not a good time.
V: Completely. What do you want people to take away from your artistry? What do you want to convey in your music?
AN: To be honest, I feel like I’m not really in control of that. I feel like, for me, this has just always been an outlet where I don’t know what else to do with myself. If I don’t like express in some way, I honestly feel suffocated. So for me, it’s more like, Oh, I do this—it sounds selfish, but I do it for myself, really. ‘Cause I’m not really good at other things, you know, so I have to do it. And from there, I kind of just observe what other people like, how other people take things. I have no control over that, but I definitely do think I don’t know how to make any other music than what feels like a hundred percent myself. I have weird lyrics, I make fluid references, and that’s just always who I’ve been and what felt natural to me. And I think that something that people can take away is just do you really, at the end of the day. Just do what feels good to, as cliche as it sounds, that really has been something even subconsciously that’s pushed me.
V: Are there any artists on your radar that you would want to collaborate with right now or in the near future?
AN: Right now? Let’s see. It would be cool to do something with Brockhampton because they literally announced yesterday that this is the last two albums, which sucks. My friend AJRadico is super, super sick. He’s from New York, he’s killing it right now. I would love to do something with him. I think that’d be so sick. But yeah, to be honest, I’m probably not even gonna do a lot of features this year. I kind of just want to focus on myself in a weird way.
V: I think that’s great. Nothing weird about that.
AN: Right! There’s nothing weird about that. That should be more normal.
V: This is your moment. If there’s a time to focus on yourself, this is it, you know?
AN: A hundred percent. Yeah.
V: So tell me a little bit about your NUNAHAUS capsule. How did it come about and what was the process of designing that collection like?
AN: So BOBBLEHAUS is a brand that’s based in New York City. They do really cool streetwear and are also super eco-friendly. And we just had a mutual friend introduce us in the thick of quarantine and they wanted to do a collaboration. I grew up around clothes because my dad was in clothing manufacturing in Manhattan for years and years, so I grew up going to his factory and being obsessed with clothes and fabric and all that jazz. So of course I always wanted to design something. This was my first opportunity to really do that, and I jumped on it and we literally designed everything over Zoom, it was nuts. I would just get some things out and then text it to them, then the designer at BOBBLEHAUS—her name is Abi—would plug it into Illustrator and we finished the entire capsule that way. We didn’t even meet until it was like almost time to launch. It was a completely virtual thing, which honestly I think kind of played into how absurd and weird the collection ended up being. But yeah, I love designing clothes. I really want to do collaborations with bigger brands when I’m an adult. That’s a huge part of creating for me, is just visually on the fashion side. So it was great. It was a great introduction to that world.
V: Speaking of visual creation, your music also has a very visual component to it. There’s such vivid imagery in the music videos to go along with your songs, including the two that you directed yourself. What kind of vision do you have for your music?
AN: For me, on the visual side, I just want everything. I think my music is a little bit weird and I think that the visuals have to reflect a little bit of that, the surrealism and a little bit of that sarcasm. Visuals for me is really still writing music. I either watch it and get really excited the same way that if I hear a song I’ll get really excited or I don’t want. I think it’s like sculpting almost, where if something doesn’t excite you, you just keep chugging along and just keep sculpting it down and getting rid of stuff. So for me, I just want to make videos that feel like a dream, but an exciting dream. I’m just really into the exaggeration and colors and pops of colors and honestly, anything that feels like my childhood, too. I feel like I’ve used a lot of childhood references and my vision is every single thing that I consume in my life channeled through me and it comes out in some gross—but really cool—vomit, just like a visual vomit of everything I’ve ever seen in my life.
V: I love that. So what has it been like navigating the music industry as a young female and Asian artist?
AN: It’s been so fun. For real, it’s been amazing. I totally understand that there’s not a lot of females in the industry, but I think that for me, that feels like such an advantage because when I find like-minded individuals, we connect immediately. Also, I’m just really blessed because I have an amazing team. I do think that it would be great to have more women on my team, because so far it’s people who I came up with since I was 17 and they’re all middle-aged men, you know, I spend 75% of my time with middle-aged men. But I’m definitely learning a lot about what it means to stand your ground as a person, regardless of if you’re a girl or a guy. I grew up shy. I’m still introverted, but I grew up super shy and just not really expressing what I wanted as a kid.
I don’t know if that was cultural or just the emphasis on being respectful, being polite. But I think when it comes to my work, when it comes to the video looking right, when it comes to when it comes to the song being right, all those things, I don’t know how to compromise. This career has taught me how to not compromise on certain things, how to not always be the person who is like, Oh yeah, you can be happy and I’ll just like sit here and deal with it. You know? And I wouldn’t have learned that through any other outlet.
V: This past year has seen social strife after social strife occur in the country, specifically concerning BIPOC. Have the recent events in the Asian Asian-American community been impacting you and your music?
AN: To be honest, I haven’t been making a lot of music right now. I’m super focused on visuals, but I do think that as a human being, yes. Completely. This is, in a weird way, so foreign to me because I grew up being from a non-diverse town. I felt being different, but it was on a very subconscious level. I don’t really see myself and how different I am, but for what’s going on now, it’s the first time where I feel like I’m having conversations about that with other people, you know? And it’s been really overwhelming for me too, because—and I’m sure for a lot of people—you realize how suppressed you’ve been in certain ways.
The fact that we haven’t talked about this until now, until my 21st year, I think that’s what’s rocking me to my core is like, Wow, as a society and even as a community internally, we don’t have these conversations enough. So for me that was shocking, how much suppression that just on a subconscious level I was even putting myself through. But yeah, definitely a lot of growth. Even for me learning about my own history and where I come from and the desire to do so is a huge takeaway from what’s been going on.
V: Completely. Well, switching gears a little bit—what essentials do you need to have with you in the studio, if any, and are there any quirks or superstitions that you have to have when you perform and record?
AN: For the studio, I just need to eat well. For real, that’s so important to me. Some of the best songs I ever made have come after an amazing meal. The first one I wrote down, I had literally 10 minutes before finished eating mole tacos for the first time. That is a ritual for me, ‘cause I’m not really like a session type, like “Let’s make a smash! I don’t know who you are, I don’t know your middle name or anything like that, but let’s try to make a banger!” For me, it’s so energy-focused and it’s an experience to make music with someone, it’s almost sacred. So I feel like breaking bread is really important with whoever you’re working with. And I feel like getting to know someone and being acquainted is really important.
So that’s that. But then in terms of onstage, my mom—this isn’t even me—my mom would always force me to drink honey tea before performing because she read or she watched on some Korean show that it was good for your voice. So I remember growing up, doing any auditions or any performances, my mom would just make a ton of honey tea. And I was like, mom, I really don’t want it, and she’d be like, no, it’s good for you, have to drink it. I’ve stopped doing that, ‘cause I’m pretty sure that’s a myth and I’ve just been drinking a ton of honey tea growing up for no reason. Probably cut years off my lifespan. Shoutout to my mom!
V: That’s so sweet though!
AN: Oh my God. Yeah, my mom’s the greatest. She’s really the best thing that ever happened to me.
V: Aw, I love that. If you could go back to the Audrey pre-music releases, still studying full-time at NYU, what’s one thing you would tell her?
AN: Honestly, I would just say just really enjoy it, because I’m starting to realize it’s kind of the only thing that matters. And to be honest, I don’t know if I’d even say that, because the process of learning it was great. What I would say is stop drinking Diet Coke, because you will get addicted for a year and it’ll be terrible. Your teeth will feel rubbery all the time. I’m finally off my Diet Coke-fiending season. I was drinking it every day at one point, so that’s what I would say. Stop drinking that trash. It’s really bad for you.
V: That’s some good life advice right there. What is your favorite mic-drop-worthy line you’ve ever written?
AN: I’m actually really proud of the wordplay and “damn Right” hooks. I just love the concept of that song. I literally diss myself the entire song, but people literally tell me, Oh, that song makes me feel bad. Like really great. It makes me feel empowered. So I’m like, that’s funny because I’m literally dissing myself the entire time. So yeah, “Sayin’ plastic on my wrist,” that entire hook I’m proud of.
V: And finally, what upcoming projects are you working on?
AN: I’ve been collecting a lot of images of cool furniture and putting them onto spreadsheets, ‘cause I really want to design furniture one day. So that’s the long-term project, but also, I think just working on more music really. That’s the biggest thing for me right now, because I’m about to drop a project and I’ve been working on another project, but I’ve been in visual mode. So I just want to get back to locking in and making sonic excellence. That’s my newest project.
V: Sonic excellence—we love that. And we’ll be waiting for your first furniture drop! We’re so ready.
AN: We ready. We’re going to do leg rests matching with futons. It’s going to be great.
V: You already have a vision. Wow.
AN: I’m also kind of obsessed with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the furniture in there is so lit. Oh my God. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie, but the furniture in there is literally what inspired me to be like, Oh my God, I’m going to design furniture one day. ‘Cause this shit is so lit.
V: You really are such a Renaissance woman—music, music videos, furniture. We’re ready for the drop.
AN: I’ll give you the pre-sale code, I got you!