Yuna (singer)

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Yuna - Bandung 2016.jpg
Yuna performing in Bandung, 2016
Background information
Birth name Yunalis binti Mat Zara'ai
Born (1986-11-14) 14 November 1986 (age 30)
Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia
Origin Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Years active 2006–present
Associated acts

Yunalis Mat Zara'ai, professionally known as Yuna, is a Malaysian singer-songwriter and businesswoman. Born and raised in Kedah and Selangor, she began writing songs at age 14. She soon taught herself to play guitar, and by 2006, in need of a creative outlet while attending law school, performed for an audience for the first time. Yuna offered her music on her MySpace page, which received over one million plays. This online success tipped off the Indie-Pop label/management company to her music, and in early 2011 she signed with the Fader label.

Joined by guitarist Pa'an, bassist Efry Arwis, and drummer Adib Azfar (and later, Adil Ali), Yuna made her recorded debut album in Malaysia in 2008 with a self-titled EP, which went on to snag five Malaysian Music Awards nominations (the Malaysian equivalent of the Grammy). She took home four trophies, including Best New Artist and Best Song (for the breakout hit "Dan Sebenarnya").

The Decorate (EP) followed two years later (and was released stateside in spring 2011). Decorate included the viral hit "Rocket," which won raves from Billboard magazine, indie rock radio station KEXP, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, as well as ink in SPIN's Eight Bands You Need to Hear Now. On the performance end, Yuna was nominated as one of MTV Iggy's Best New Bands in the World in 2011, and she marked the occasion by playing at the historic MTV Studios.

A new single, "Live Your Life" (2012), produced by Pharrell Williams, was a preamble to her self-titled full-length debut, which arrived that April. That summer, Yuna appeared at Lollapalooza. In 2013, Yuna returned with the album Nocturnal, featuring the single "Falling." In February 2016, Yuna previewed her third album with the release of "Places to Go," a single produced by hip-hop legend DJ Premier. The full album, Chapters, was released three months later.

In December 2016, her album Chapters broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard Best R&B Albums Of 2016 : Critic's Pick. Chapters ranked at No. 7 out of 10 best R&B albums of the year. Yuna received an award for the Most Successful Malaysian Singer from The Malaysia Books Of Record. Chapters was also nominated in the Top 20 Best R&B Albums Of 2016 by the Rolling Stone magazine. Yuna got invited as special guest to perform on stage in 2016 Soul Train Music Awards (US).

Early life and education[edit]

Yunalis Mat Zara'ai was born on 14 November 1986 in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia to parents from Perak. Her father, The Hon. Justice Dato' Mat Zara'ai bin Alias is formerly the Pahang State Legal Advisor and is currently a Judicial Commissioner at the High Court of Johor Bahru[2] and her mother is a retired high school chemistry teacher.

Yuna attended SMK USJ 4 Subang Jaya, Selangor, where she completed her secondary education. After that, Yuna attended Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, where she studied legal studies at its Faculty of Law.[3] In 2009, she graduated with a Bachelor of Legal Studies (Hons.) degree.[4]


2001 - 2006: Early commercial success[edit]

During her tertiary studies, Yuna was involved in the music scene. Yuna was once an independent Malaysian singer-songwriter. She began writing her own songs when she was 14 years old, and her first performance of her own songs was at the age of 19, after she learned how to play guitar. She has performed in numerous acoustic shows and events in many parts of Malaysia since 2006. The same year, she auditioned for the first season of One in a Million, making it to the top 40 round before she got cut from the competition.

2007 - 2010: Self-titled EP and Decorate[edit]

In 2008, she released her self-titled EP which become a massive hit in Malaysia most notably the single 'Deeper Conversation'.[5] Yuna's meteoric rise in the Malaysian indie music scene is largely due to the strong following she gained via Myspace.

Her first studio album, Decorate, was released.

2011 - 2013: Early international breakthrough[edit]

Yuna was eventually discovered in the US by the Indie-Pop record label and management company. They flew out to Malaysia to convince her to sign with them and then proceeded to get her a deal with Fader Label, a record label based in New York, in February 2011.[6] She released her debut US EP, Decorate, in the United States in March the same year.[7]

One of the first few people who expressed interest in her music was Farhan Fadzlishah aka Pa'an of Telephony Delivery, who later became her supporting guitarist. Along the way, Efry Arwis (Lightcraft) helped her with the bass while Adib Azfar handled the drums. Adil Ali (of Seven Collar T-shirt) replaced Adib Azfar after the latter quit to concentrate on his drumming role in Oh Chentaku. Yuna performs with her band when she is not active in acoustic gigs.

On 24 January 2012, her single "Live Your Life" debuted on iTunes. The track was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Pharrell Williams.[8] MTV Iggy described the track as, "polished until it gleams but instead of burying Yuna, it lifts her up. The track has hints that a diva is waiting to shine." On 16 February, the official music video for "Live Your Life" was released. On 24 April 2012, Yuna's US debut self-titled album was released. Debuting at No.23 on the Pop chart and No.86 on the Top 100 Albums on iTunes, Yuna was also No.23 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart. Accolades from fans and critics alike, such as Billboard, NPR, Elle, NY Times, Vibe Claire and National Geographic, who raves that her sound is “as fresh, honest and deeply personal as anything by Bon Iver or tUnEyArDs," have been rolling in.

She performed "Live Your Life" on late-night TV shows Conan and Last Call with Carson Daly. She was featured on the CBS Evening News in a featured profile piece and toured with Graffiti6 with stops at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. She also contributed to the Savages soundtrack on the track, Here Comes the Sun.

Having played at many gigs since the release of her Demo, EP and then two local albums; she is now focusing on promoting and performing music on her debut US Album. Yuna also performed as part of the Lollapalooza 2012 line up.

Yuna was the first runner-up of MTV Iggy's Best New Bands in the World.[9] She performed at the historic MTV Studios in Times Square New York singing "Decorate", "Come As You Are", "Lullabies" which is produced by Chris Braide and her new single "Live Your Life", which is produced by Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D.

Yuna recently signed with Verve Music Group.[10] Multiple Grammy-winning producer David Foster, who heads the creative operations of Verve, tweeted: "I'm really excited about the next hot artist to join Verve Music. Stay tuned and keep an eye out for Yuna in 2013".

Charted in Heatseekers Album on Billboard "Live Your Life".[11]

In 2012, Yuna was recognised with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for her exceptional achievements in arts.[12]

2013 - 2015: Nocturnal[edit]

In December 2014, Yuna released the song "Broke Her" as a single. It features a sample of Drake's 0 to 100.[13]

On 31 January 2015, Yuna performed in the closing ceremony of 2015 AFC Asian Cup. She has been appointed as Malaysia's tourism adviser to boost tourist arrivals in the country alongside with Dato' Siti Nurhaliza and Datuk Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat on June of the same year.

Yuna recorded the song Strawberry Letter 23 by singer Shuggie Otis used in a commercial for Swedish fashion retailer H&M starring Ukrainian-Canadian model Daria Werbowy that aired in March 2015.[14]

2016 - present: Chapters[edit]

On 20 May 2016, Yuna had released her latest album Chapters through Verve Records. The album had been selected by Billboard in 7th place of its 2016 Critics' Picks for Best R&B Album.[15]


Musical style[edit]

Yuna possesses a light lyric soprano voice.[16] She once described her music as "a cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay".[17] She explains about this characterization of her musical style, "I can’t believe people still hold onto that! It was a quote that I had on, like, my MySpace music page seven years ago. But yeah, what I meant to say is I like to incorporate a lot of different genres in my music, and, you know, having a sense of honesty and sincerity in the lyrics as well. But I’m still pop at the same time."[18]


Yuna has cited Coldplay, Bob Dylan, and Feist as influences, having been introduced to them by her father. Growing up in Malaysia, she listened to a lot of The Cardigans, Fiona Apple, and Garbage.[19]


Awards and nominations[edit]


Chart (2016-2017) Peak
US Top Heatseekers Albums (Billboard)[20] 5
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[21] 7
US Adult R&B Songs (Billboard)[22] 2
US R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (Billboard)[23] 19


Yuna co-owns a women's clothes boutique, IAMJETFUEL, in Subang Jaya, Selangor.[24] In 2014, she re-opened the shop with a new name, 'November Culture', which is also situated in Subang Jaya with a worldwide online presence. 14Nov by Yuna Zarai (brand name) are clothes and scarves that are designed by Yuna herself. She started introducing this brand in the US by promoting it in fashion shows (Fashion Fighting Famine or #FFFShow) in California. Besides that, she also opened a pop store in New York as well as Los Angeles. Recently, she has launched her new collaboration with Malaysian designer, Hatta Dolmat.

In popular culture[edit]

Yuna covered "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles for the 2012 film, Savages. The song was featured during the ending credits. "Tourist" was featured as part of the soundtrack in season 1 of a US TV series, Arrow.[25] Her song "Favourite Thing" was featured in another US TV series Pretty Little Liars. She was featured in the Malaysian version of KakaoTalk advertisement, released in Malay, English, and Chinese language. She also recorded a song in collaboration with Adam Young of Owl City called "Shine Your Way" for the soundtrack of the animated film The Croods. The film was released by DreamWorks Animation in March 2013. A remix version of her song "Live Your Life" by MeLo-X appeared on the in-game radio station WorldWide FM in the video game Grand Theft Auto V. Another Yuna song "Lullabies" was also featured in the twenty-second episode, the season finale of the fifth season and also the series finale of 90210, the reboot of "Beverly Hills, 90210". Not only that, this song was also featured in Being Mary Jane. Yuna also had her song "Lights and Camera" featured on an episode of the third season of the US reality show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. Lights and Camera was also used as one of the soundtracks from Beyond the Lights. Yuna's version of A Whole New World from the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, featured in the Deluxe Edition (bonus track) for the album We Love Disney (2015 compilation album).[26]


  1. ^ "Yuna Zarai". AllMusic. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Pesuruhjaya Kehakiman Mahkamah Tinggi Malaya | Laman Web Rasmi Pejabat Ketua Pendaftar Mahkamah Persekutuan Malaysia". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  3. ^ Koh Lay Chin (29 November 2010). "Yuna on being 'Malay Malay'". The Nut Graph. 
  4. ^ "8 Most Educated Malaysian Celebrities". 17 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Someone Out of Town by Yuna Music on SoundCloud – Create, record and share your sounds for free". Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Yuna joins The Fader Label". 2 February 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "FADER Label: Yuna’s Decorate EP". 16 March 2011. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  8. ^ Bryan, Beverly (24 January 2012). "Live Your Life by Yuna". Mtv Iggy. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "BEST NEW BAND 2011". Mtv Iggy. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  10. ^ "It's Official: David Foster Named Chairman of Verve Music Group". Billboard. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Yuna. Billboard.
  12. ^ "Pandelela, Yuna Win Youth Icon Award". Malaysian Digest. 1 September 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "LISTEN TO YUNA’S "BROKE HER," WHICH FLIPS THE SAMPLE FROM DRAKE’S "0–100"". 3 December 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  14. ^ "H&M Spring Fashion featuring Daria". YouTube. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 2 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Mitchell, Gail (9 December 2016). "10 Best R&B Albums of 2016: Critic's Picks". Billboard. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Joseph, Charlene (15 July 2009). "Yuna reveals her dark side". Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  18. ^ Rahman, Ray (24 October 2013). "Let the buzz begin: Singer-songwriter Yuna on her new album 'Nocturnal'". Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Tara Aquino (8 June 2012) Interview: Yuna Talks Her U.S. Tour and Working with Pharrell Williams. Complex
  20. ^ "Yuna – Chart history" Billboard Top Heatseekers Albums for Yuna. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  21. ^ "Yuna – Chart history" Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums for Yuna. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  22. ^ "Yuna – Chart history" Billboard Adult R&B Songs for Yuna. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  23. ^ "Yuna – Chart history" Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay for Yuna. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  24. ^ "Yuna Zarai Brings Her Sound and Style to the U.S.". Marie Claire. 11 May 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  25. ^ "Arrow Music | Season 1". CWTV. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  26. ^

External links[edit]