INTERVIEWED BY: CAROLINE BAATARZORIG
EDITED BY: KARINA FATHANI
Vicki Lovelee is a Chinese Canadian alt-pop singer who recently released her virtual concert titled “Journey To Self-Love”, with the purpose of entertaining music lovers through her powerful vocals and intimate message in the midst of a pandemic. Read on to uncover Vicki’s upbringing, the hardships she’s had to face, and the ways she’s embraced her cultural identity to the fullest.
Can you talk about your background and ethnicity, especially the aspects of being a Chinese Canadian?
I grew up in Markham, Ontario, which is a very diverse community. In school, we even had "Diversity Day" where we would celebrate everyone's cultures. However, when I got to high school, I started getting really insecure about my culture. I got teased for being Chinese, I barely saw Asian representation in the media and I really wanted to fit in. I used to be embarrassed and I didn't want anyone to hear me speak Chinese.
Over the years, I started seeing more Asian representation in movies and on social media as well. I remember when I watched "Crazy Rich Asians" in theatres, there was a scene that had Cantonese dialogue. Hearing my own language in a North American movie theatre made me incredibly proud. The normalization of seeing my culture in the media really influenced me to be proud of where I come from. And in this pandemic, which caused a huge wave of xenophobia against East-Asians, I believe we should be even louder about our pride.
What made you gravitate towards the music industry in the first place? Any memories you’d like to share that display your interest?
I was 4 when I first took classical piano lessons and I dreaded it at first! But when I was around 10, I really wanted to be a singer and actress (like on the Disney channel haha!) I started getting serious about music when I started university. I graduated from the Jazz Vocal Program at York University and that was my first step in the music industry. Although I wanted to sing and perform on stage, I never felt ready and decided to work backstage at music events. I really liked it but never felt truly fulfilled.
It wasn't until 2019 when I went to a music conference called Canadian Music Week. I met a producer there and we worked on my first single together. I still remember the amazing feeling I had when I released my first single! Being able to share my music and connect with people is such an honor and I'm excited to continue this journey!
Being an Asian woman in such a competitive, often harsh environment, what hardships have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There's an unfair stigma against Asian women; that we are weak and easily pushed around. I've experienced people having preconceptions about me before even meeting me. I guess they assumed I was soft-spoken because they were taken aback when I talked and laughed really loud haha! Being an Asian woman in a predominantly white, male music industry brought up different obstacles. Some would talk over me or try to "mansplain" things to me. But I've learned from female role models (like my mother), that I can be tough without being aggressive and I can be strong without putting others down.
Let's talk about your virtual concert “Journey To Self-Love”. Just from the title itself, we can see that not only is it a lyrically genius performance, but an incredibly personal project with an empowering message for others. How did this originally start?
When everything got canceled because of Covid-19, I knew I had to go online to put on performances. I was super excited but also nervous to create this virtual concert. I wanted to make a striking first impression because this would be the first time I performed my original songs in front of people.
I reached out to Ziyaad Haniff (a creative director and photographer) and Kevin Young (director). And together, we worked on building this concert! Performing live was my first goal for this concert. But I also wanted to tell a story within the concert! I am a huge advocate of self-improvement and allowing yourself to make mistakes. So I created the "Journey to Self-Love" storyline so the songs would all connect together and the concert itself would share a message.
How would you describe the live music scene in Toronto in terms of diversity, community and livelihood?
Toronto's music scene is definitely diverse in both cultures and genres. Recently, more and more Toronto music associations (like RBC's Launchpad Music Program) have been showcasing BIPOC artists (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color). As Canadians, we always take pride in our multicultural country. And I'm glad we're now starting to be inclusive in our music industry as well.
In what ways do you incorporate your Chinese heritage into your music?
I always want my Chinese culture to be a part of my music identity. When I create my song artworks or music videos, I always show my face because I want people to see that I'm an Asian pop singer in the North American music industry. There are so many talented East-Asian artists in North America, but they don't get the recognition they deserve. I believe the music industry hasn't really allowed East-Asians to be seen or heard, and I really want to help break that barrier.
Even during a pandemic, you still managed to create such quality, almost theatrical content for people to listen to at home. For fellow aspiring artists, anxious teens and anyone with a sense of hopelessness due to the current state of the world, what advice would you give?
For most of us, this is the first time we've ever experienced a global pandemic. Apart from wearing masks and social distancing, there aren't any rules on how we're supposed to cope. But one thing that really helped me is to allow myself to slow down and relax. Take things one step at a time and remember that your feelings are valid. If you are tired, take a nap! If you feel motivated, start a project! If you're bored, pick up a new hobby! If you're feeling sad, video chat with a friend or family! I think now more than ever, we need to remember to take care of our mental health.
With a bright future ahead, what is your next step and is there anything we can look forward to?
I'm currently working on my first EP! My next single will come out around Spring 2021. This EP will be about things I struggle with and include topics I've been scared to talk about. But writing music really helps me cope and I hope whoever listens won't feel alone. Also if Covid-19 doesn't interfere, I plan to film a new music video in the summer!