The plan was to meet Hana Vu at a coffee shop somewhere in Downtown Los Angeles. As all plans tend to deviate at one point or another, this did not go as planned. After several calls and texts between Vu and her manager, we found a new location in West Hollywood.
I drove as fast as my 2009 Honda Civic would let me without it falling into little plastic pieces. When I arrived, Vu was sitting down nonchalantly, wearing big brown tortoise colored glasses that covered her tan face, a light brown knit sweater and black pants. She looked up with a glance and the universal nod as she sipped from her iced coffee. Innerspeaker from Tame Impala played over the coffeeshop’s speakers.
Vu is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. Her EP How Many Times Have You Driven By received critical acclaim–it got a 7/10 score by Pitchfork–an amazing feat for a debut. Thanks to the success of How Many Times Have You Driven By, she was able to tour with Phantogram, Kilo Kish, Sales and Madeline Kenney, for which she expresses extreme gratitude. You can catch her live at the Fox Theater in Pomona on Saturday, Sept. 21.
She’s now at the cusp of releasing her second studio EP, Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway, on Oct. 26. Vu admits she’s moved away from the bedroom, the DIY influence of her past. After several listens, she’s definitely discovered a newfound maturity and level of introspection that’s swayed toward a sound focused on dance and pop; “Reflections” and “At the Party” are indicative of this. However, the focal point is still her unique, deep voice that sets her apart from other artists.
Because of her sardonic sense of humor front, she is difficult to gauge. But beneath that veneer of ironic detachment, I found a woman who wants to be taken seriously for her music. Vu admitted this bluntly to me as we talked about her writing process. For this record, she purposely researched poetry tips to improve on her songwriting.
“I read a ‘Top 10 Tricks of Poetry’ article that taught you not to use cliches, how to use metaphors and so forth,” she explains.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I probably need people to think I’m smart.” She elaborated that she wants to be great, even if she doesn’t quite yet know what that means.
Because she’s a fan, Vu decided to title her EP after the Academy Award-winning actresses. However, she clarifies that she is not so much a fan of Kidman and Hathaway’s movies as she is of their images through online shows such as Vogue‘s 73 Questions. In fact, Vu says her record was heavily influenced by the junk content she was ingesting throughout her time writing her EP. This included Big Little Lies, The Princess Diaries, Mulan, The Sound of Music and all the YouTube programming she streamed. To my surprise, “Reflections” is a cover of a song in Mulan.
“I love content,” Vu says. “But there’s a difference between content and art.” We talked about the differences between the two in-depth, and she conceded that most art is a commodity. When you sell anything, it’s no longer a piece to be admired. It’s now in the market. “When is your art, art?” I asked, and she responded, “That one month I have it on my computer, it’s art. When I release it, it becomes content.”
In a Billboard profile piece, Lil Nas X himself says he views his art as content, too. The argument between content and art isn’t new, but it’s become prevalent during the Information Age thanks to more focus on the bottom line.
“Does it bother me?” says Vu, repeating my question. “If I think about it for more than four seconds, it probably will. It’s the new world order.” This reminds me of a quote from Rick and Morty, when Morty sees a big alien blob born, age and die within several seconds: “Don’t think about it.”
As Vu left the coffee shop, she mentioned she was going to see the movie Hustlers for the third time. She then shook my hand, looked at me and said, “Good luck.”
Phantogram with Hana Vu at Fox Theater, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona; foxpomona.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $35-$75. All ages. Vu is also scheduled to perform Wed., Oct. 2, at The Lodge in Highland Park.
I like to stare at my computer. Occasionally I type words to pass the time. Those words are usually about music.