Down the rabbit hole with Kiana Valenciano

In case it isn’t obvious, life does not come with an instruction manual. No one tells you that you’re going to have to make some of life’s most crucial decisions before you’re even old enough to legally drink liquor, or that you’re going to invest so much of your time and emotions in people who will eventually just become strangers, or that you could be drowned by an overwhelming wave of emptiness, even at a time when everything in your life appears to be in the right place.

There are all these situations that nothing and no one ever prepares us for, but we’re thrust into them anyway, and all we’re armed with is the knowledge that the only way to survive is to keep on fighting.

In Kiana Valenciano’s case, nobody warned her about living a life that’s subject to unwarranted criticism and the weight of other people’s expectations. When you’re the child of a multi-hyphenated, multi-awarded icon like Mr. Pure Energy himself, it can be difficult to make your own moves because people will only end up comparing them to his.

“I was always more careful about how I acted in public, even if it was just laughing too loud or talking too loudly with friends, because I think [people’s] favorite line at that time was, ‘Anak ka pa naman ni Gary V,” Kiana recalls. “He’s not just like an icon, I mean, he’s so influential and inspirational, that as his kid, people expect you to be perfect. People always forget that we’re all human, and I guess it’s been a struggle for me to find my own voice when everyone kind of has this perception of who I’m meant to be.”

OXYGEN top, ANTONINA AMONCIO pants

Determined to carve out her own path, Kiana pursued her other passion and graduated from Raffles Design Institute with a degree in Fashion Design—even chasing that dream all the way to London, where she participated in various fashion workshops for a whole summer. It was there, however, that she realized she couldn’t hide from the music much longer. “Just for fun, I recorded a song with a friend, and I thought, ‘Okay, maybe if I stop running away from this so much, maybe there’s something there for me,’” Kiana recounts.

 “If I’m thriving as a singer, as a songwriter, then I don’t wanna spread myself too thin and [still] work on fashion, [because] then my music will suffer. Right now, I’m really focused on making sure that my music is a reflection of who I am.”

It seemed there was no point in pushing it away—not because it was what people wanted her to do, but because she knew deep down it was what she wanted, too. “When I started writing songs, I couldn’t deny it anymore. I couldn’t pretend like I wasn’t meant to be doing this, so I kind of embraced it and just went with the flow and started writing songs. And I really enjoyed it. I haven’t stopped [since].”

While her love for fashion remains a pivotal part of who she is, Kiana has made the conscious decision to set it aside in order to make way for her music. “I think eventually I do want my own [clothing] label, but it’s kind of hard because right now my whole heart is in the music and I don’t want to share that attention. If I’m thriving as a singer, as a songwriter, then I don’t wanna spread myself too thin and [still] work on fashion, [because] then my music will suffer. Right now, I’m really focused on making sure that my music is a reflection of who I am.”

Citing the likes of Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, Christina Aguilera, and Usher as some of her biggest influences in music, the 25-year-old singer is, in many ways, fast becoming one of the voices of her generation. With her 2017 hit Does she know—now a staple track in today’s party playlists, let’s be real—and the more soulful four-track EP “Grey” under her belt, she’s resolved to make music that is all at once authentic and unapologetic.

“I know how impactful [my dad’s] music was in his time. I don’t have to be an icon [like him]—to be the biggest star out there—but I just want to leave my mark. I think I always knew that if I was gonna do music, I had to be myself because I didn’t want music to end up being something that I wanted to escape from. My music is my escape. My words are things that I can’t speak to people, and so I write it down and I sing it.”

“I know how impactful [my dad’s] music was in his time. I don’t have to be an icon [like him]—to be the biggest star out there—but I just want to leave my mark.”

Like any other artist, Kiana allows herself to become vulnerable in order to be able to create better, more meaningful work. Off her first album, dropping early next year, there’s one song that goes “the voices tell me I’m not ready for it”—a line she claims best describes her true self. Kiana will be the first to admit she hasn’t quite figured out where she’s headed, and that no matter how smooth things may seem on the surface, she’s still a confused wanderer who encounters major obstructions along the way.

OXYGEN button down, jacket, and shorts, MACO CUSTODIO slides

Earlier this year, she took to social media to open up about struggling with anxiety and depression a couple of years ago—an admission that was prompted by somebody asking about a small tattoo etched on the back of her neck. “I was with my friends, I think they were in my apartment. I took a shower, and my neck was burning, so I went out and I asked [them], ‘Is there something on my neck?’ And they were like, ‘You have so many scratches on the back of your neck!’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’

So they had to take a picture, and it turns out, I was really stressed out and any time I was stressed, I was scratching, and I didn’t even realize,” she explains. I still do have like a few scars, but that’s why I have my tattoo [which says] ‘saved.’” Today, Kiana’s scars are stories—no longer bad ones, but ones she can share so people know they’re not fighting the good fight alone. So they know they don’t have to.

“You know, you never really think that there’s something wrong with you, especially in this day and age when on social media, you can [relate] to a meme, and so that makes you feel like ‘Okay, everyone understands.’ But at the same time, no one understands,” Kiana explains. She speaks with a quiet sort of resilience, but her voice betrays her a little as she recalls her experiences, the little cracks letting me know that some days still feel as heavy as they did back in 2016.

“I don’t know how to talk about it because I’m still going through it, and every day it’s like a constant struggle to just find a reason to fight. But then you have to remind yourself that you can’t be selfish, and even if it gets hard, so many people love you. And it helps when you [talk to] people. I’ve been at that point where I didn’t message anyone for days, and I just felt like I was stuck, glued to my bed. But the moment I opened up and started talking about it, I wouldn’t say it got easier, but to have a support system that knows what you’re going through? It helps,” she adds.

“I don’t have to be an icon [like him]—to be the biggest star out there—but I just want to leave my mark.”

Unfortunately, being a public figure—especially here in the Philippines—means that observers either feel like you owe it to them to disclose details of your personal life, or know it’s none of their business but will feel entitled to their own (often harsh) opinions anyway. “In my earlier days, it would really get to me, because I kind of enjoyed being semi-invisible and not having to worry about [these things]. I mean, yeah, I was Gary V’s daughter, but nobody questioned my character [and there wasn’t as much attention on me],” Kiana explains. “I got really insecure about it at one point because they would point out all the little things about me that I knew I didn’t like. I was like, ‘Oh my God, are they, like, in my head? How do they know to say these things?’ And it took a lot of me dealing with it alone in my room, just looking at myself in the mirror and [thinking] ‘You’re not ugly, though. You’re not!’ But you know, you read it enough and you start to believe it.”

Kiana’s had some of the most atrocious comments thrown at her, from being called “pa-cool” in one instance, to being told “your dad should die” in another, but after all that she’s been through, she knows better than to let keyboard warriors get under her skin. “If I saw [those people] pass me down the street, they would not have anything to say to me. If given the chance, they’d probably wanna hang out. Like, not even with me but with the people I’m hanging out with. Like, what’s the point? They’re just so negative, and [what they say] says more about them than me.”

Veering away from negativity, Kiana instead focuses her energy on bettering herself. Forget the fact that she’s collaborated with most of the musicians she’s ever hoped to work with, that she’s graced the pages of countless magazines, or that she has received praises for her music at the young age of six; Kiana believes her best work so far has nothing to do with her career and everything to do with her self-image. “I think my greatest achievement is that I’m learning to accept myself. It’s just happened over the past few months where I’m really learning to just accept who I am, which is why my lyrics are more vulnerable,” she shares.

OXYGEN cap, BRYAN PERALTA dress, CONVERSE shoes

Whereas Kiana from five years ago was in such a rush to grow up, this Kiana—this stronger, more centered version—refuses to remain hung up on the past or to get caught up in the uncertainty of the future. She would much rather slow down, embrace the present, and appreciate moments for what they are, no matter how fleeting they may be.

“The best thing is to just turn off your phone, read a book, put on your favorite series, you know what I mean? Just shut everything out and just be grateful.”

“I think as millennials, and going on social media, it’s so easy to take for granted the things [we] have because [we] see all the things that [we] want or the things that other people are getting. The best thing is to just turn off your phone, read a book, put on your favorite series, you know what I mean? Just shut everything out and just be grateful,” she says. “I want to reach that point where I’m just so grateful. Because I am, but sometimes we forget. I just wanna be so grateful that no matter what comes my way, I’m able to just take the bad things as a lesson and take the good things as a little present.”

Either art is imitating life or life is imitating art: in any case, Kiana Valenciano’s life now mirrors the cryptic Alice in Wonderland movie snippet she once posted on her Instagram feed. “Hmm. I wonder which way I ought to go,” the photo says, and while others might consider this scenario a dilemma, Kiana sees an opportunity to grow and make great things happen. “I don’t even know where I’m gonna be tomorrow,” she lets out with a laugh, and then I realize that that might not be such a bad thing. “I feel like I’m just getting started, and I’m really getting to know who I am as an artist and I’m having the most fun doing that. So the next five years? I can’t even begin to imagine where I’m gonna be. Hopefully I’ve made my mark by then.”

There’s no way to tell where Kiana could end up half a decade from now, but I think that’s exactly what makes the future worth looking forward to. Given Kiana’s firm resolve and renewed sense of self, something tells me she’s going to be just fine.

OXYGEN tee and pants, MACO CUSTODIO slides

Kiana, if you see this—and I know that you will—let me put this in writing for you to revisit anytime you need a reminder: The voices are wrong. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be.

After all, if you read something enough, you start to believe it, right?

#KianaForScout
Words by Nielli Martinez
Photography by Joseph Pascual
Styling by Quayn Pedroso
Makeup by Zidjian Floro
Hair by Charlie Manapat
Special thanks to Akong Gugma

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