From as far back as they can remember, 24-year-old Singaporean singer-songwriter and produceryeule – AKA Nat Ćmiel – has lived online. “I grew up on the internet,” they recount with a laugh when we speak, leaning forward before their illuminated streaming set-up and frequently fidgeting with small electronics. “That’s how my parents kept my brother and I occupied.”
Growing up in Singapore, this meant playing Metal Gear Solid and Halo with their brother on a PS1 or teaching their friends how to download the “cool ringtones and shit” on their Motorola RAZR flip-phones. In yeule’s teens, however – after their parents cut off their internet access in hopes of improving their grades – they pressed into the world of Reddit, Tumblr, and later, Twitch, exploring the pains and euphorias of virtual friendships, identities, and communities for the first time ever.
Perhaps this is what led the Gen Z pop star to their second album, Glitch Princess, a futuristic-pop record confessing the downsides to our extremely online generation, perfumed with experimental ambient production co-created byDanny L Harle and yeule’s signature whispering vocals. Since its release in February – besides scoring aBest New Music rating from Pitchfork and gathering support from some of music’s biggest names (Caroline Polacheck, Grimes, Arca, andDorian Electra) – the album marks a new era for yeule as an artist since their 2019 debut album, Serotonin II.
IRL, yeule left Singapore to study Fine Art at London’s Central Saint Martins in 2016, forming a handful of 3D friendships with like-minded queer artists. Up until then, the majority of their friendships occurred over the internet from social media or virtual reality gaming. “Everyone knew me as the kid who was always on their phone,” they tell us, noting that people would “talk shit” about whether their online friends actually existed until one day when their Tumblr friends came to visit. “I really loved that feeling of building connections online and finally getting to meet them in real life,” says yeule.
In fact, the musician based their stage name on the online sci-fi role-playing game Final Fantasy’s character Yeul (yeule plays Final Fantasy in chaos world BTW, in case you want to join). “Growing up having the option to be freed from the confines of what you’re born with or what you actually are was really liberating for me,” they say, explaining that MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing games) were a formative experience to the birth of yeule. “It’s not like yeule is confining me to a space where I have to be or perform this thing, this character. It’s more like, I feel like in real life, not a lot of people see me the way I want to be seen, and this is the way I want to be seen.”
I don’t want to be in a virtual reality and sit at a desk and look at a screen. I want to be able to fling a sonic PNG at you while twerking on a crystal pillar and change my skin to whatever I want without having any ads.
As we speak, yeule shares their opinions on the internet through jumping, energetic thoughts: they love computer scrap yards, electronic equipment and old-school Singaporean gaming arcades, but they have some reservations for the metaverse’s future. “I don’t want to be in a virtual reality and sit at a desk and look at a screen. I want to be able to fling a sonic PNG at you while twerking on a crystal pillar and change my skin to whatever I want without having any ads.”
Now, on Glitch Princess, yeule dives deeper into their existence, exploring their own gender and identity through distorted anecdotes of sex, drugs, love, and self-hatred. In the album’s opening track, titled “My Name Is Nat Ćmiel”, yeule introduces the likes and dislikes of their given name. “I like music / Crushing up rocks and snorting them / And genderless people / I like the way music makes me feel / I like making up my own world / And the people who live inside me,” they state in a glitchy AI voice – defining their core identity before they relay the ever-present tension between their digital and fleshed self.
Unlike many records depicting Gen Z’s tumultuous relationship with the internet, yeule takes a minimalistic approach to express being a digital entity – stretching the sonic possibilities of internet-led pop music with breathy vocals; shoegaze-heavy distortions; oscillating static; and synth-washed melodies. Midway through the album in “Don’t Be So Hard on Your Own Beauty”, they combine acoustic guitar with words from their own “stream of consciousness” journal entry to produce an emo-pop confession to someone who makes them feel better than they can make themselves feel.
Sometimes I wonder, how personal can you get before it starts to blur the lines between who you actually want to keep sacred to yourself and what you let out to the world? But that’s what’s beautiful about music, even though it’s confessional, it’s still considered a performance. You get to choose where you want to draw the lines between the personal details and a permutation of that personal story.
Much like their relationship to the cyberworld, yeule views this album’s honesty as a double-edged sword. “Sometimes I wonder, how personal can you get before it starts to blur the lines between who you actually want to keep sacred to yourself and what you let out to the world,” they say. “But that’s what’s beautiful about music, even though it’s confessional, it’s still considered a performance. You get to choose where you want to draw the lines between the personal details and a permutation of that personal story.”
Reminiscent of Charli XCX – who they’re supporting on her UK CRASH tour in May – yeule seems to eschew mainstream media’s expectations for a pop star on a major label. Where Charli allows fan feedback on Twitter, shares lyric ideas over Instagram live, and vlogs her all-nighters, yeule speaks with fans on discord, “manic posts” on their Instagram stories, recreates their bedroom as a backdrop for live gigs, and regularly streams on Twitch – allowing fans an intimate escape into their cyber dimension.
Although, yeule advises their fans to set boundaries on the digital connections they form in their own lives, recounting romantic relationships they never met in person. “Don’t become like me where you’re reliant on [the internet] because it’s your only reality,” they warn. “I relied too much on [it], and when people start to disappear and go offline, you feel like you’ve lost everything.” They add: “I’m still learning how to connect in real life, but I feel like every day I just learn a bit more.”
For now, yeule uses the internet’s imperfections as a way to comfort themselves in day to day life, viewing technological errors as a way to find light in their own flaws and faults. “I draw heavily from my life inside the virtual world and how I relate that to my psychological sense of self and the prerequisites that come with feeling like an anomaly,” they explain through the eyes of a malfunctioning video game – when you notice a glitch, press restart, and keep playing.
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