Throughout her career, AZRA has never forgotten who she is, where she’s going, and where she’s come from. As the pioneer of “Substance pop” — who isn’t afraid to embrace her rock/punk side — AZRA has stayed focused on her musical ambitions while also giving flowers to those who support her along the way. One such moment of gratitude will be found on her upcoming EP, which contains a song that features her singing in both English and “It emphasizes my journey of finding my community after moving from Korea to America,” she tells HollywoodLife, “so incorporating Korean as well as English into the lyrics and with some K-pop elements into the production made sense to me.”
“Being Korean-American, everything I am, do, and share are mixtures of my influences as a Korean and American,” the Korea-born, Bay-area raised multi-faceted artist tells HL. “So. this song isn’t necessarily the only song that celebrates my overall heritage; however, this song is very special to me not only because it’s my first bilingual song, but also because this song speaks truth to my realizations and journey of coming to peace with who I am, where I belong and who my community is.”
Thankfully, American audiences have proven open to where Korean artists can sing in Korean without worrying if that would impact their sales or standings with the English-speaking audience. AZRA says she never felt pressure to avoid singing in Korean and is “glad no one ever tried” to stop her from celebrating herself. “It’s been proven,” she says, “that the mainstream audience appreciates good music regardless of where it’s from, what language it’s in, and it’s our duty as creators and people working in music to bring good music to the audience.”
“I would imagine ten years ago, that fear wasn’t from the mainstream audiences in America and them not getting it… it was probably a situation where some stakeholders in music may have been hesitant to open up the market to new types of music whether being from fear, conservatism, or lack of motivation to be innovative when they’re already comfortable, etc.,” she says. “However, thanks to K-Pop and its undeniable fans breaking country borders, all of the seemingly unconventional ways of creating music and presenting music (i.e., with Asian faces) became more acceptable by everyone and has shown that there is a large void to fill in the American mainstream music market.”
“The next step for American major labels is to evolve and expand their support of K-pop artists to supporting their own homegrown Asian-American artists, which I believe will disrupt the mainstream market even more,” adds AZRA. “Ultimately, we are going towards the right path… music is universal and unifying, and it’s a work of collective energy that is completed when the song reaches the audience, and they feel something.”
When asked if there was a special message she wanted to share at the conclusion of Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, she said – with a wink – “AAPI Heritage Month is not the only month to recognize and celebrate AAPI Heritage.”
“This goes for all my fellow Americans from various ethnic roots,” she explains. “Our responsibility as Americans, I believe, is to celebrate and appreciate each other’s heritage and roots while coming together as one (we all come from somewhere…). In regards to AAPI Heritage Month, I would like to say thank you to Hollywood Life for helping shed light on the AAPI creators and community. The rise of hate crimes against Asians did not begin in 2021, but it was brought to the forefront at that time. Thankfully, 2021 helped expose decades of this issue to the public, the AAPI community feel heard, and ignited the AAPI community and supportive allies to speak up and advocate for AAPIs.”
“I’ve been working with organizations and schools, including youth groups, to educate people around AAPI identity and history,” she continues, “and support the need and the efforts to teach AAPI history in schools as part of the required course curriculum. America is as great and strong as the people in it. Let’s honor and celebrate the people in it, including Asian-Americans and all other races and once we do this more and more… one day, all of us will call ourselves just Americans and have the assurance and know that the term American includes all the different races and their history/roots/heritage that make up the United States of America.”
AZRA has been on the ground in her efforts to help make America more inclusive so that the American dream is one everyone can share. Speaking of which, AZRA had her own rock “dream come true” when her song, “ALL OUT,” debuted on the iconic L.A. radio station KROQ.
“It’s been quite a ride since KROQ first debuted “ALL OUT” at the beginning of March on Locals Only,” she tells HollywoodLife. “They’ve been spinning the record frequently since, and I’ve been freaking out every – single – time. Hearing your own song on the radio hits you differently, and also knowing that other people are receiving my song through the FM frequencies at the same time as me is powerful.”
“I am most grateful,” she adds. “As an artist who’s been hustling non-stop, making and performing music since 2017, riding all of the ups and downs of this roller coaster called the artist’s musical journey, and owning every part of the path, I think I was subconsciously yearning for some sort of validation. Getting the reaction from people with ‘ALL OUT,’ and having the radio station I’ve always enjoyed listening to debut my song the week it came out… really gave me that feeling of ‘wow, everything I’m doing, everything I’ve been pushing through. I am on the right track.”
“I know, you shouldn’t seek validation,” she says, “but f-ck, we all need it from time to time, and maybe that is not the right word.. the correct word is ‘encouragement.’ I truly believe that every artist needs this… and Miles Anzaldo, Nicole Alvarez, and the KROQ team did that for me in such an authentic way, and I will never forget it wherever my musical journey takes me.”
“ALL OUT” sees AZRA embrace her harder side with both arms. It mirrors the power she showcased in her rock version of Alicia Keys‘ “Girl On Fire,” a song like “ALL OUT” that reached new audiences by going viral on TikTok.
The sound is not a complete 180 from her previous evolutions, as she’s always had a punk edge in her work. And, as she tells HL, punk has been with her for longer than most might think.
“So… this may sound cliche, but punk rock found me during the time I needed it the most,” she says. “It was back in high school when I was coming out of my heavy metal phase, going through a lot as a social teenage girl with a whole lotta misfit tendencies, and of course having all the typical drama, including boys. Punk, emo, and metal just spoke to me and healed me. I felt heard, and the music, ’til this day, fills up my entire heart. My friends and I often performed together in bands, rocking studded belts and layered clothing. On days I didn’t have to cheer or stay after school for school activities, my friends and I would blast punk rock and metal in our cars, heading to one of our garages to hang out, be weirdos, be emo, play music and be rascals.”
As a woman with a heavy metal era, a punk era, and emo blood running through her veins, it’s probably why AZRA has been able to reach a wide range of fans with her “substance pop” sound.
“The pop/punk/rock with heavy 808 hip-hop bass sounds, I’d say yes, this what I call Substance Pop,” she explains. “I definitely feel like ‘i wish you would cry’ and ‘ALL OUT’ represent the sound I’ve been wanting to create with my own music since forever! It encapsulates the feeling, vibe, and sound I’ve been searching for. I’d also like to believe that I’m always evolving and growing, so it’s never ‘complete’, however, for now, perhaps…”
Though she’s constantly evolving, one thing will never change: she’ll never stop being the bold woman unafraid to walk up to strangers on the streets of Los Angeles and get them to listen to her song. The literal legwork she put into getting people to listen to “ALL OUT” shows that being a rock star isn’t always glamour shots and backstage green rooms.
“People can think whatever they want, and I don’t think I need to try to dispel anything,” she says of the TikTok video in question. “I did it because I’ve always been the type of person that likes hands-on, live stuff with a bit of extra. I’ve always loved doing things like the ‘ALL OUT’ Hollywood Blvd reaction videos, and connecting with people genuinely through music is what drives me to do music.”
“However, I put in a lot of love, passion, and intention towards everything I do and share because that’s what my fans deserve,” she explains. “I will say this, the hustle never stops, and the struggle is real! I’ve realized early in my life that what it takes to be successful, is hard work—period. There are no shortcuts, no matter what people tell us on social media. Everything takes work, and you gotta love every bit of that strenuous feeling of hard work during the process as much as you love the feeling of achieving something great.”
Speaking of achieving greatness, what’s on AZRA’s calendar for the rest of the year? “I’m so grateful for how this year has been unfolding,” she says. “2023 so far has been a year of things coming together, fresh perspectives, letting go and flowing, embracing every moment, and building something great together with new and existing fans, my dear Azradeities, friends, and partners in music and beyond.”
“I look forward to continuing my mission in empowering people, spreading Substance Pop, introducing the 6th Dimension, releasing the EP, celebrating the release, and performing my new songs live for my fans!” she says.
“I’m trying to get out to more cities to perform live,” she adds, “so please look out for show announcements in your cities and if you’re around Los Angeles, come party with me at my EP release show on July 28th at The Hotel Cafe!”