SCOUT Friday Picks is our dedicated column on music, with a focus on familiar faces and new, young voices. For recommendations on who you want us to feature next, send us an email titled “SCOUT FRIDAY PICKS” to [email protected].
Everyone’s travel goals were single-handedly squashed by the pandemic. Back in January, we’re all making plans, booking tickets and crafting itineraries. Those were fun times.
But TBH, I don’t even remember what I did this summer.
It feels like a fever dream because the year’s almost ending. Even now, some people have barely seen sunlight (that’s me, I’m some people). We compensate for the lack of outdoor interactions with non-work-related Zoom meets and endless TikTok scrolling.
But it’s TikTok that probably introduced people to Khai Dreams’ “Sunkissed.” With the half-Vietnamese artist’s claim to fame, they take us back to a time when summer meant two months of memories worthy of a coming-of-age montage. Their song provided the lost summer reckless teens and twentysomethings longed for.
“I’m usually drawing from my memories. There’s a lot of nostalgia in my writing, I feel,” they said. “I get my inspiration from all sorts of places, I guess. I’m usually drawing from my memories. There’s a lot of nostalgia in my writing, I feel.”
The influences of this San Fran-based singer/songwriter ranges from contemporary hip-hop, indie, surf rock, and neo-soul, crafting a brand of “intimate pop” that dissects the self and reflects on artistic expression in times like now.
Not to mention, a lot of their music videos are inspired by anime. “Sunkissed” captured the summer imagery in anime where the weather is humid and cicadas are buzzing outside (you know scenes like that, weebs).
Also, fun fact: Khai’s a Studio Ghibli fan like many of us. They sampled “Inochi No Namae” from the Ghibli classic “Spirited Away” for their song, “Fantasy.”
While their music’s vibe is “chill and sweet,” Khai is also an artist who recognizes the significance of having a platform, using their virtual soapbox to amplify undermined voices as well as the advocacies they’re passionate about.
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For this week’s Friday Picks, we caught up with Khai to chat with them about “Sunkissed,” their collaboration with Phum Viphurit and again&again plus the importance of artists speaking their truth.
What’s in the name? What’s the story behind “Khai Dreams?”
My birth name is Khai. I think I knew from the start that I wanted to go by Khai as an artist. I feel like the “dream” part came from artists like Frank Ocean or Kevin Abstract. I wanted a name like that.
“Sunkissed” gave us such a happy, upbeat vibe, like it’s the summer we could have had. Tell us about “Sunkissed.” What was the vision for it?
It’s funny you say that because “Sunkissed” is inspired by my memories growing up in the West Coast in the summertime! I have so many precious memories with so many wonderful people. I often find myself thinking, “I don’t mind if these moments lasted forever.” “Sunkissed” is my love letter to those memories and people.
What’s it like working with Phum Viphurit and again&again for the “Sunkissed” remix? What’s it like seeing your work with someone else’s touch added?
It’s been awesome! There wasn’t much direct collaboration because of [COVID-19], but they are really talented artists. Listening to what they did with their tracks was really sweet. I feel like my work is getting interpreted in ways I could never realize myself.
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If these remixes were people, how would you describe them?
Phum’s remix is like your weird homie who is always up to something really cool, and again&again’s is like your friend group that throws you a surprise party.
What are you passionate about? Aside from music, of course.
I love anime and video games. I also love cooking and baking. I like to write as well.
People have a lot to say about other people’s race, gender and beliefs, and you’re someone who’s unafraid to live yours. How do you deal with people who listen to your music but say they have qualms about your political stance?
You can’t please everyone, especially on the internet. All I hope is that my messages and stances can inspire others to live their truth and feel like the whole world isn’t against them.
A lot of artists may have beautiful singing voices and can craft iconic bangers, but they may be hesitant to use those same voices to call for social change. What do you do to break out of that hesitation?
It’s a risk to speak your truth. You can alienate and lose your friends, family and fans. But I’d rather have that than be silent about things that are important to me. When I think [about] the future, I can’t imagine regretting standing up for what I feel is right.
As an artist, what do you hope new listeners of yours would take away not only from your music but also from the things you fight for and advocate for online?
I hope they get more curious about the supposed necessity of systems, like prisons and policing. I hope they can see that there is still a long way to go before we can realize ideals like ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ for all, despite what some may say.
Listen to “Sunkissed” on Spotify:
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