No One Can Tell Yuna What To Do On Her Defiant Fourth Album, ‘Rouge’

Nolwen Cifuentes

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“Oh my god. There’s a dent on my car.”

It’s about halfway into my interview with Yuna — last name Zarai, 32 years old, international pop star — before I suddenly lose her attention. The burger in her hand also gets deprioritized. Her eyes (the kind a bad novelist would describe as saucer-like) widen and then narrow to a viewpoint beyond my shoulders, at her red Mercedes Benz parked in the lot of our chosen restaurant. It’s not so much a dent in her car as it is a deep, long gash, a jarring blemish on an otherwise flawless surface.

When I turn the recorder back on — after she’s made phone calls to her car insurance company, a mechanic, and her husband — she dramatically, and with some levity, talks directly into it, to the future audience that would someday read this piece. “So, update,” she says, “Someone just hacked [at] my car.”

“It must be one of your many enemies,” I laugh. “You got beef with anybody?”

The joke is, of course, that you would be hard-pressed to find anybody with anything bad to say about Yuna. The Malaysian musician is relentlessly affable, her smile easy and frequent, and generous with her time. The first time we saw each other was at a dark Chinatown restaurant months earlier, where she was filming the video for her new single with rapper G-Eazy, “Blank Marquee.” It’s a funky, ‘80s-inspired pop song whose noir-like visuals depict both musicians as co-conspirators in a shady deal gone wrong, and their harrowing escape from a menacing villain.

Now, months later, she’s promoting the full album, Rouge, her fourth studio-length project. The synth-heavy R&B/pop record represents Yuna at her most grown-up, self-assured, and confident. Gone is much — not all — of the vulnerability that used to pervade her music as a budding independent artist. Rouge presents a version of Yuna that has come into herself, and happy to be there. On the front of the album, she stands audaciously tall, swathed in buoyant clouds of bright red tulle and crowned with a halo-like gold wreath, her boldest cover yet. “A little more lipstick baby, yeah / A little more knowledge baby, yeah,” she sings in the opening lines of “Pink Youth,” a single featuring British MC Little Simz, illustrating this growth as a visual metaphor.

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