Taiwanese-Australian musician Kim Yang has quite a story to tell when asked about the video for her song “Fantasy”. Co-directed by her and Sean O’Gorman, it opens with Yang standing alone in a forest with the sound of a bird cawing. As she begins singing, imagery flips between this ethereal scene and an indoor studio as she dances and sways to heartfelt lyrics of longing.
“So I start to dance, to keep your gaze on me,” Yang sings as her voice takes flight. “I never want to let go of you.”
In “Fantasy”, the Canberra musician declares that she wants the subject of her affection to be hers. Then she asks: “Is this a dream or a fantasy?”
One might think that it’s a song about a lover. In fact, it’s about her longing for her parents’ adoration. When she sings about dancing, it’s her way of saying that while her musical career may be thriving in Australia, she still feels incomplete without her family’s validation in her hometown of Taipei.
Watch the official video for “Fantasy”.
In a Zoom interview with Pancouver, Yang reveals that she was raised by a hardworking single mom who was “really reserved”. Yang recalls quiet times over the dinner table and sometimes joking with her mom while watching TV. According to her, they didn’t talk about serious issues or how they actually felt about one another.
“I kind of took it as normal,” Yang says.
She learned that life didn’t have to be this way after moving to Australia in 2012 with her partner and joining his family. “We just say things we want and understand each other a bit more.”
Joni Mitchell inspires Yang
Yang has now made it her mission “to encourage all people to be comfortable with themselves, and to be confident enough to embrace their passions and share their stories”. And she’s certainly not shy about sharing her feelings in her music, which is inspired, in part, by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. There’s a similarity in how Yang and Mitchel alter their pitches to convey emotion.
“I just love how vulnerable she is in her songs,” Yang says. “The lyrics are, I would say, poetic but also cheeky in some ways. She would really express her feelings with beautiful words.”
When Pancouver tells Yang that Mitchell has a part-time home on the Sunshine Coast near Vancouver, she jokes in her Australian accent that it would be nice, as a tourist to Canada, to be able to check out her place.
Watch Kim Yang’s acoustic cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”.
For years, Yang says, that her parents weren’t comfortable with her decision to become a full-time musician in Australia. And because they didn’t approve of her job, Yang felt that they didn’t approve of her as a person. She yearned for them to see one of her concerts where she could win their acceptance.
Three months ago, her mom finally saw her perform for the first time when she played a gig in Taipei.
“So ‘Fantasy’ is really about me fantasizing a bit more love from my parents—from my mom, especially.”
Singing about mental wellness
“Fantasy” is the final song on Yang’s second EP, Brave. It opens with the title track, which is about the importance of looking after one’s mental health. Yang acknowledges that she wrote this song after “a bit of a meltdown”.
In “Brave”, Yang sings about the ground cracking open and descending into a black hole as someone watches her fall. The song is about learning to say “no” when it’s unreasonable to say “yes” to every opportunity and then burning out.
“You just have to look after yourself—look after your mental health—so we can go a longer way in our lives,” Yang declares.
Watch Kim Yang perform “Brave”.
On October 19, Yang will perform at a Jade Music Fest showcase event called Rise Up at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond.
The Society of We Are Canadians Too created the Jade Music Fest last year to elevate Chinese-language music in Canada and around the world. This year’s festival runs from October 18 to 20 in Vancouver and Richmond with performances at the Hollywood Theatre in Kitsilano, Gateway Theatre, and the Annex in downtown Vancouver. In addition, there will be panel discussions, artist talks, and workshops. All events are free at the Jade Music Festival.
Yang grew up speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese, though she almost always performs in English. However, she co-wrote a song in Mandarin with Canadian indie-folk rocker Tennyson King, which they plan on performing at the Jade Music Fest. King, who lives part of the year in New Westminster, sings in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
“I would say I’m really excited to go to the Jade Music Festival,” Yang says. “I rarely write or sing in my own languages, so this is really a good opportunity.”
In addition, Yang will perform alongside King at Courtney’s Old Church Theatre on October 27 and at Char’s Landing in Port Alberni on October 28.
From customer service to the stage
In addition to her family history, there’s another reason why Yang is drawn to writing personal songs. She spent several years in customer service, including flying with Cathay Pacific. She would chit-chat with those she was serving, but didn’t get the opportunity to form deeper friendships through these encounters.
“That made me feel like I need to express myself in some ways,” Yang relates. “I always loved music; I always loved singing since I was little; and there were always karaoke machines in family restaurants back in Taipei where I was growing up.”
When she was young, her mom could only afford to pay for three months of flute lessons. Yang later learned to play the guitar and ukulele and auditioned for Taiwan’s Super Idol TV show in 2009. She later went to school for six months to learn how to read music and become more familiar with music theory.
“I can talk to musicians,” she says. “That six months was really helpful to prepare me to be a bit more professional in what I do.”
In 2016, Yang took the plunge by starting to perform publicly in Australia. She released her first EP, Ocean of Mind, in 2019, touring across Australia. In the pandemic year of 2020, she quit her full-time job and released more songs. Then she resumed performing live when audiences were permitted to return to venues.
Watch Kim Yang perform “The Nurse” about her IVF journey.
Yang celebrates kindness of healthcare worker
One of her most confessional songs is “The Nurse”. It’s about her four-year journey through in vitro fertilization and the kindness of a healthcare worker.
“The Nurse” is a heartbreaker about a topic that many women don’t discuss publicly.
“I just wanted to put down my feelings of that day—this specific day when I was feeling frustrated about everything,” Yang says. “Like, why am I being part of this system going through all the processes, and not being understood?”
At times, she feels that going through IVF treatments is akin to being one of many cows on a farm. But on this day, a kind-hearted nurse brightened her spirits by talking about her music.
“Maybe this is a song for all the nurses who work so hard in their profession,” Yang states. “That little fleeting kindness just makes people so happy.”
The Jade Music Fest will present Kim Yang at the JMF Showcase called Rise Up on October 19. It takes place from 7:30 to 9:35 p.m. on October 19 at the Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Road) in Richmond. She will also perform in Courtney’s Old Church Theatre on October 27 and at Char’s Landing in Port Alberni on October 28 with Tennyson King. Find Kim Yang on Instagram @kimyangmusic, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp, and Apple Music.