Yunalis binti Mat Zara'ai (born November 14, 1986), known professionally as Yuna, is a Malaysian singer-songwriter. Yuna's initial exposure came through the viral success of her music uploaded to Myspace, which received over one million plays. This online success alerted the Indie-Pop label/management company to her music, and in early 2011 she signed with the Fader Label. She is best known for the collaboration with Usher on her breakout single, "Crush", which peaked at number 3 on the US Billboard Adult R&B chart.
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. 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, earned five Malaysian Music Awards nominations (the Malaysian equivalent of the Grammy). She took home four trophies, including Best New Artist and Best Song for her breakthrough hit "Dan Sebenarnya".
The Decorate (EP) followed two years later. 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 a feature in Spin's "Eight Bands You Need to Hear Now". For her performances, Yuna was nominated as one of MTV's Iggy's Best New Bands in the World in 2011, and she marked the occasion by playing at the historic MTV Studios.
The 2012 single "Live Your Life", 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 artist DJ Premier. The full album, Chapters, was released three months later.
In December 2016, Chapters broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard Best R&B Albums of 2016: Critic's Pick; Chapters ranked at number 7. Yuna received an award for the Most Successful Malaysian Singer from the Malaysian Book Of Records. Chapters was also nominated in the Top 20 Best R&B Albums of 2016 by Rolling Stone magazine. Yuna performed as a special guest at the 2016 Soul Train Music Awards.
In May 2017, Yuna became the first Malaysian singer to be nominated for a BET Award; Yuna received a nomination for the BET Centric Award for "Crush", her duet single with Usher.
Early life and education
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 and her mother, Datin Anum binti Abdul Wahab is a retired high school chemistry teacher.
Yuna attended SMK Derma, Kangar, Perlis and 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. In 2009, she graduated with a Bachelor of Legal Studies (Hons.) degree.
2001–2010: Beginnings and early success
Yuna began writing her own songs when she was 14 years old and began performing at age 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 was eliminated from the competition. She went by her nickname Alis.
In October 2008, she released her second EP, the self-titled Yuna Its single "Deeper Conversation" became a hit in Malaysia. Her meteoric rise in the Malaysian indie music scene was helped by the strong following she gained on Myspace. Her first studio album, Decorate, was released on July 2010.
2011–2013: Early international breakthrough 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. She released her debut US EP, Decorate, in the United States in March 2011.
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. 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, The New York Times, Vibe Claire and National Geographic, who stated that her sound is "as fresh, honest and deeply personal as anything by Bon Iver or tUnE-yArDs," 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. 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. 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".
In 2012, Yuna was recognised with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for her exceptional achievements in arts.
Yuna released her second international album, Nocturnal on 29 October 2013 by Verve Records. "I Want You Back" featuring Vietnamese rapper, Derez aired on "Love & Hip Hop: New York" 20 January 2014 during Erica Mena & Cyn Santana's 3rd sex book scene. On 9 Jan 2014, Yuna graced the Jimmy Kimmel Live! studios, promoting her new album, Nocturnal. She performed the singles "Falling" and "Rescue" with assistance from a live band.
In December 2014, Yuna released the song "Broke Her" as a single. It features a sample of Drake's 0 to 100.
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.
On 20 May 2016, Yuna released her latest album Chapters through Verve Records. The album features the collaboration from Usher, Jhené Aiko and DJ Premier. As of December 2016, the album had been selected by Billboard in 7th place of its 2016 Critics' Picks for Best R&B Album. On 25 July 2017, Yuna took to the Late Night with Seth Meyers stage at NBC Studios to promote her album and performs "Used To Love You" from Chapters. The Jhené Aiko-assisted track was instead backed by an incredible full band complete with violins as part of a small string section.
In December 2018, Yuna creates history when gathering a streaming total about 36 million in Spotify throughout 2018.
2019–present: Rouge, directional debut and RIAA Certification
Yuna returns to materialise works for her fourth international album after taking a short break following her wedding. She further describe the new direction for the upcoming album, to which will be the "opposite" of her previous record, "Chapters". In an interview with Singapore's Straits Times, Yuna teased that the new album will also features guest stars, however no names were disclosed. She also hinted that new song off the upcoming album will be released in March 2019. Yuna describes the whole process of making the new album as "happier" and she gets more freedom compared to her previous releases.
In a detailed interview with Riff Magazine on 25 February 2019, Yuna described that the upcoming album was in the process of finishing up and that it brings everything full circle by going back to the music her father listened to when she was young. “It’s still Yuna, it’s pop music, but it’s pop and R&B. For this album we wanted to bring back the feel of old records, old vinyl."
Yuna released "Forevermore" on 5 April 2019. In a Star2 article, she said that the song "is about growing up in a small town and coming from a small country and how that environment made me strive to be the best that I can be." For the video she had enlisted her husband Adam Sinclair who is a director, and they shot the video entirely in Malaysia, mostly in Kuala Lumpur and Perlis. "Forevermore" debuted at number-one on Malaysia's RIM Domestic Chart on 11 April 2019, her first number-one since the reintroduction of the official chart in 2017.
Apart of making new album, Yuna ventures into directing scene. She made her first directional debut on October 2018 for Malaysia's duo, Hani & Zue's "Alone". Yuna later directed another video for the duo, "Aku dan Laguku".
On 17 April 2019, Yuna earned her very first RIAA certification when her song "Crush" logged a gold certified sales of 500,000 copies. This feat was achieved after three years since the song was released.
Yuna released her second promotional single from her upcoming album, "Blank Marquee" featuring American rapper, G-Eazy on 16 May 2019. The music video was shot in Kuala Lumpur, featuring Malaysian actor, Amerul Affendi and also directed by Sinclair. On the same day, Yuna revealed several titles and lyrics from her new album Rouge, which was released on 12 July 2019.
Yuna’s past relationships include Malaysian personality, Qi Razali, which ended in early 2012, and afterward, Julian Schratter, an American photographer and model who also appeared in her "I Wanna Go" music video. The pair broke up in late 2014.
Yuna engaged to a Malaysian director, Adam Sinclair, the younger brother of actor Ashraf Sinclair and actress Aishah Sinclair on 6 August 2017. The couple met on the set of a television commercial in 2013 and were rumored to have been dating since 2015. On 26 January 2018, they got married. The solemnisation ceremony took place at a resort in Puncak Rimba, Bentong, Pahang, Malaysia. The wedding was attended by 300 guests including family and friends from Malaysia and the United States. It was reported that Yuna would be pursuing her career in the US shortly after her marriage.
Yuna is Muslim. Speaking on her hijab, she stated:
|“||When I first started playing music, I was already covered ... wearing headscarves. And, like, normally, people would expect you to change, toss this part of your life away so that you could be a pop star. But I just wanted to make music, not really be a "pop star" pop star. And there's always people who wouldn't necessarily agree with what I'm doing right now. But I'm really happy with where I am right now, you know. I'm a Muslim. I don't try to hide it. I'm also a girl who loves music. And I don't try to hide that as well.||”|
In March 2018, Yuna revealed in a statement on Twitter that for the previous six months she was the victim of sexual harassment and revealed that the perpetrator was sending disgusting comments to her Instagram account.