For musicians in the digital era, the threads between activism and artistry have become more intertwined than ever. Not just because artists are speaking up more than ever about their personal and political experiences, but because the power of a message to travel far and wide extremely quickly has been exponentially elevated. MILCK discovered that firsthand when her career was jumpstarted by a viral video of her anthemic song “Quiet” being performed at the 2017 Women’s March.
For MILCK, the artist born Connie K. Lim, the song was both an acknowledgment and a chance to speak out against a long-buried experience of sexual assault. Inspired by growing up listening to the works of artists like Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley and Jack Johnson, who “talk about things that are not easy to talk about,” she finally realized the need to do that for herself in her own music. Since so many other women shared Kim’s experience, of keeping quiet about their assault until those conversations have recently gone mainstream, the reaction and connection with other survivors was almost instantaneous.
“This was the first time where I started to really speak out about things that I thought no one wanted to hear about, but were the things that were haunting me,” she said of her thinking behind writing “Quiet,” before a recent LA show in support of her new EP. “I had to talk about what happened to me when I was younger and rewrite the narrative, because I was slut-shamed when it happened. So I thought it was my fault for around fourteen years, until finally I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not my fault.’ So it took me a long time until I wanted to talk about that stuff for myself.”
And though it certainly works applied to that specific experience, and did so with wonderfully dramatic effect as a cinematic moment in the popular feminist TV show The Bold Type, it’s also emblematic of MILCK’s continued ability to turn painful experiences into powerful musical statements. After the success of “Quiet” and her other resonant songwriting resulted in a deal with Atlantic Records, she released her first EP This Is Not The End in 2018, and followed that up in early 2020 with another one, Into Gold. She said she sees this new work, Into Gold, as a continuation of her earlier work, but also the chance to move past just reliving trauma, as survivors are so often required to do.
“Into Gold is the project where I feel like I’m freeing myself a little bit of all the expectations that come with the #MeToo movement,” she explained. “With social change movements, there’s so much polarized conversation. I don’t agree with a lot of how people talk about politics or about political candidates or about the way that change is. I’m all about going back to the more personal thing, and I’ve had to let go of the pressure I put on myself about, like, writing the unofficial anthem for the Women’s March. That was a really heightened moment of social change, traumatic conversations and healing, and of my music career and my life changing.”
As a classically-trained singer since the age of three, MILCK has been performing since middle school, and has brought that presence along with her through both the challenge of coming up as an activist discussing a turbulent topic, and as an artist determined not to let her past struggles define her. As much as she wants to be there for her fans who are now opening up about their own trauma, MILCK also understands that keeping her own boundaries intact is another form of healing, and that sometimes just a simple encouraging word or affirmation can go a long way.
“At first I was trying to be everyone’s therapist and then I realized that was not sustainable,” she admitted. “But my best friend will say to me, ‘Oh we got this,’ or ‘you got this,’ and just even those three words, that encouragement, is the most empowering thing. Because also it’s about not being codependent, right? I don’t want to develop codependent relationships with my fans, and just because I want them to like my music doesn’t mean I have to hold them through everything. It’s just more like, ‘wow, you’re going through that, I believe you can get through it, more power to you.’ Keep it simple, and then just continue to write songs for them.”
Which is exactly what her new EP does, with a continuation of her speaking out on the single “If I Ruled The World,” a reimagining of the skewed priorities our culture currently upholds. One of the biggest messages of the song, though, is about being able to love and accept yourself, and find that within yourself, first, before extending the love outward.
“Up till this point, none of my songs have been love songs, they’ve all been about the persistence, the struggle, healing, overcoming,” she said. “I think this EP is the first one that really has love songs. But it’s also because I’m trying to love myself. That’s why I’m trying to write about it. Soften. After “Quiet” went viral, I kind of realized, ‘oh, I’m not alone.’ So then I could loosen up a little bit and start understanding how connected we are, and the things that connect us are love and struggle. So, this EP is about love and struggle and it’s just a little softer.”
Based on the packed turnout at two different sets at her Hotel Cafe showcase last week, the message is resonating just as powerfully as her first release did. By taking herself seriously as both an activist who is fearlessly tackling issues within the #MeToo movement, and as an artist who can progress beyond a political moment, and continue writing songs about her whole self, MILCK is a role model not just for survivors but for the world at large. Watch out, before long she just may rule it after all.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.