Asiahn Talks Colorism in the Music Industry & Premieres 'Like You' Music Video: Watch
"Proving people wrong is always part of the goal."
Asiahn is redefining what it means to take back one’s power in the music industry -- both as a young woman and an autonomous artist. The LA-based songwriting phenom cut her teeth penning cuts for superstars like Jennifer Lopez (“Booty”) and Miley Cyrus (“Hands in the Air”), and even worked with Dr. Dre on “Just Another Day” from his 2015 album Compton, earning her one of three Grammy nominations. These days, however, the artist is focused on her own journey and the self-love necessary to step into the spotlight as a singer.
“It’s draining to love something and then feel like you can’t do it because of restrictions someone else has put on you,” she tells Billboard about the lack of visibility for black and LGBTQ+ artists, as well as how women in the music industry face constant body shaming. “To put fear in someone is terrible. As a woman, I want every little girl to feel like she can do whatever she wants to do, to feel like she’s fearless and she’s strong, no matter her size. We have to make sure we don’t fold into the narrative of what they want us to be.”
Sharing her truth is a major part of Asiahn’s musical narrative. Her raw willingness to open up is woven throughout her new album, Love Train 2, the follow-up to 2017’s debut EP Love Train. This authenticity can be heard on tracks such as the melodic R&B standout “Like You,” her latest single, on which she describes being dissatisfied in a relationship while simultaneously yearning to connect with another young woman. In the video, premiering exclusively on Billboard, Asiahn goes through the motions of a woman on the brink of an inevitable breakup, expressing the not-so-black-and-white shadows that exist in the painful space between being in love and being eager to move on.
“My goal is to make people feel,” she says. “I wanted to get into the in-between of the relationship or the journey of love. I feel like so many songs are either ‘f--- my ex’ or ‘I’m so in love!’ There’s no middle ground. Where are the songs that talk about moving forward? Or finding self-love and realizing that you put more effort into loving someone else than you did yourself? I feel like those are things that we should tackle because music can help heal people. Considering the current climate of the world, we all need more love, but we also need way more self-love so we can know how to love others.”
Below, Asiahn speaks to Billboard about her debut album Love Train 2 (out now), colorism and sexism in the music industry, and how her lesbian love songs have connected with fans in surprising ways.
"Like You" is so relatable. Why do you think we sometimes stay with partners who don't give us everything we need?
It’s definitely about comfort. You’re just used to a certain thing and there’s the fear of change, or the fear of not getting something better. You’re like, 'is this as good as it gets?' A lot people have that fear of starting over. On Love Train 2, I talk about the whole process of getting to that point where you’re just like, 'Okay, I’m clearly over it.' I was even looking at other people. When you’re in a relationship and you get to the point where you’re actually looking at someone else, finding other people attractive, it’s like, 'Oh shit, I really need to go back and look at what’s going on here...' But I don’t condone cheating so it’s like, maybe next lifetime. [Laughs.]
The "Like You" video is very cinematic. What was the inspiration for the treatment?
We wanted to take the video back to the old school vibe, back to those Lauryn Hill-type videos -- hit you with the colors, but make it a house party vibe. I loved that when we were on set, we had a little break and were all just standing around, but the musicians were actually some of my band members and they were all playing the song, so I ended up singing live. It just became an organic vibe. I was like, 'We have to put this in the video!' You don’t see many live moments in videos anymore, especially not live singing. That was just us jamming, having a good time. Magic just happens, I guess.
You recently landed on the cover of Spotify's Newness playlist. What does that mean to you as far as how you view the trajectory of your career?
I know for bigger artists that may not seem like a lot, but to me, it kind of validates the fact that I’m an artist and I do the music that I do and people like it. I can remember when I put out my first EP independently —literally just me and the producer — and we were like, ‘Oh, I hope people listen to it.’ Now I’m on the cover of a major playlist. It’s crazy… I took a screenshot of the playlist image and sent it to my 74-year-old grandmother, who knows nothing about streaming at all. She was like, 'Who’s the blonde lady?' I said, 'Grandma, that’s Mariah Carey!' She was like, 'Shut your mouth! You’re up there with Mariah Carey?'
What’s the story behind your new album, Love Train 2?
It’s a complete story from top to bottom. It focuses on ending a situation, finding yourself in self-love, and then breaking down those walls. I feel like after a heartbreak, you don’t believe in love anymore. You’re like, 'forget all of that.' But then you always come back to a place where you want to do it all over again. I wanted to leave it on an uplifting note, so after you go through the ups and downs of a relationship throughout the album, it ends in a great place.
You’ve faced challenges in the industry from music execs who said you were “too thick” or “too dark” to be making the music that you do. How do you fight back against negativity, racism and body shaming like that?
Proving people wrong is always part of the goal. I remember at 15, I auditioned for this executive who told my management that my skin was too dark to do pop music, and that I needed to lose 25 lbs. It started a long journey of insecurity for me. I almost had body dysmorphia, to the point where I never felt like I looked how I needed to look to be able to be who I was meant to be. I was on this crazy diet, I was working out 3-4 times a day, I went from a size 9 to a size 2... I was getting sick, just to appease one person’s opinion of what they thought was supposed to be poppin’.
The crazy thing is, I met with this exec again now, as I am today, and it’s the same thought process: 'Well, you know, your music’s amazing, your voice is amazing, you’re super talented, I just don’t know how to market you yet. You’re thick and you’re a lesbian and you’re chocolate... I just don’t know how to market that.' Why is it so hard for me to just be talented and accepted as I am?
How did that criticism -- and, quite frankly, blatant misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women based on race and gender bias) -- affect your journey as an artist?
It bothered me in the moment but it doesn’t bother me today, ‘cause now it’s a goal to succeed. Talent has nothing to do with size, and I feel like there needs to be representation for regular girls, skinny girls, thick girls, plus sized girls -- everybody needs to be represented because we’re all important and we’re all beautiful. If you don’t accept me as I am, that sounds like a personal problem to me. It’s not mine. [Laughs.]
"NOLA” is an important song for you and for your fans as you sing very openly about same sex relationships and your sexuality. I noticed that many of the people who listen to you really connect with your openness. Is that something that’s important to you as an artist?
To be honest, when I first released “NOLA,” I was just speaking from a personal place. I was speaking on how I felt after a heartbreak, and I was in a relationship with a woman, so of course I would use “she” and “her.” I didn’t think about the magnitude of how many people it would touch, because I was just being myself. My goal is always just to be myself, and that’s what I want anybody to do: be themselves. If you love women, make music about women. If you love men, make music about men. Be yourself, love yourself. I feel like being represented in this lane, as a lesbian, is a good thing because due to the stigmas, a lot of people still feel like they can’t do that openly.
Me being a lesbian just happens to be who I am. The goal is to show people who don’t understand people in the LGBTQ+ community that we all hurt the same, we all want the same things, we all go through the same space of being comfortable with somebody. We all go through the same pain of being cheated on. Love is love, and it feels the same when your heart is broken.