Anna Akana Talks Mental Health, Coming Out & Her Music Debut With 'Intervention'

Anna Akana
Sela Shiloni

Anna Akana

Anna Akana is many things. She's a comedian and an actress; a talented and massively popular YouTuber; the star of YouTube Premium’s Youth & Consequences; a bisexual woman (she came out at last year’s Streamy Awards); and a suicide awareness advocate… all before turning 30.

Akana, who started doing stand-up as a teenager, launched her eponymous YouTube channel in 2011. There you’ll find videos and skits about mental health, modern living, and general advice, always with Akana’s biting sense of humour. Akana has grown her following steadily over the years and now boasts more than 2.5 million subscribers on her YouTube channel alone. Later this year she is also set to support Vivica A. Fox and Brittany Snow in the upcoming indie film, Bailey and Darla.

Popstar is another title she can add to her ever-growing résumé, as she debuts her highly-anticipated first single and music video, "Intervention" (premiering below). The new song, reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a dash of Halsey, takes a deep dive into Akana’s struggles with addiction; addiction to alcohol, drugs, partying, gambling, one night stands, and even technology. “I don’t need no intervention,” she sings defiantly into the camera lens as her surroundings tilt and whirl around her. Akana drinks, smokes, and imbibes in all sorts of vices as she and a diverse cast of partiers run around LA, from the club to the drunk tank.

Billboard spoke with Akana about “Intervention,” her foray into music, and her life post-coming out.

This is your first musical endeavor. Congrats!

Thank you! I've been doing stand-up comedy since I was a teenager, so it's great to be able to do something that's a bit more heartfelt and beautiful like music.

Why music, and why now?

I’ve been vocal about suicide prevention, as I lost my little sister when she was 13 and I was just 17. What saved my life at that time was comedy. I saw Margaret Cho do stand-up, just for a half an hour, and it was the only thing that made me, A: forget that my sister was dead for 30 minutes, and B: made me laugh for the first time in years. I was inspired by the escapism that comedy provided, how it can give people the ability to laugh in the face of darkness. I have had really intense depression and addiction issues my entire life… I had a scary phase last year when I became convinced I was going to kill myself. Therapy wasn’t working, I was off my meds, and I was ready to die. I even had a plan. And in the same way that comedy helped me 10 years ago to pull through after the death of my sister, music is what pulled me up from my low point last year. I also feel like I'm more of an adult woman now, and I want to start conveying deeper messages and discussing more important issues, and I think music is an amazing way to do that. I’m happy I can do it!

What's the biggest difference between creating YouTube videos and making a music video?

The biggest difference is that I get to record without having to worry about sound! It’s fun and so freeing! I'm really a visual person -- I've been a filmmaker and have been using visual language forever, so the ability to elevate something sonically feels so great. I feel that if a music video is a let down, it will impact my experience of the song itself, so I get that importance. But making this music video has been one of the most fun projects I've ever worked on!

“Intervention” is about your struggles with loss and addiction. You’re 29, a millennial. Do you think the experiences you’re singing about right now are common among our generation?

I think so. We talk about addiction a lot, but they've done a lot of studies which say that most addiction comes from a sense of isolation, of not being connected. People turn to drugs because they don't have a support system in place. I used alcohol as a huge crutch. I got into drinking when I first got to L.A. I had no friends, I was 21, and I would often drink by myself to have fun. I started meeting other people who liked to drink all the time like me, and then my habit skyrocketed into an actual problem. Once I got sober I lost a big portion of my friend group. I think tons of people are dealing with addiction, whether that’s addiction to drugs, sex, alcohol, or even to your phone. Addiction to phones can cause an inability to stay present, much in the way drugs and alcohol can.

You came out as bisexual at the Streamys. How has your experience been since then?

Everyone on the Internet and in my personal life was like, yeah, that wasn't a surprise to anyone, at all. So I'm in a privileged position where I came out and nobody really made a big deal out of it. No one necessarily hugged me with tears streaming down their face, which would be an ideal coming out situation, but it really wasn’t bad. Coming out actually showed me just how much internalized homophobia I had, because most of the people in my life were actually grossly supportive!

There’s a scene in “Intervention” where one of your one-night flings is clearly a girl. Kudos to you for including bisexual visibility in your first music video!

Thank you! I think visibility is the single most important thing for any marginalized community. For example, I started doing stand-up only after I watched Margaret Cho do it. She looked like me, and I literally had the thought: “I can do that!” I think when you see someone on screen who represents you and they’re depicted in a positive light, it's an incredibly empowering thing. I’ve seen so much more visibility for the LGBTQ community, which is amazing, especially for trans folk. Although I may never be able to fully understand what the trans experience is like, I want to be able to, and I want to be compassionate and understanding. How we learn, especially these days, is through the media, and ultimately there are just more interesting stories out there to tell. I’ve been shown and told the 45 year-old white man’s story many times, but I want to know what someone who may be asexual is going through, and I want the tools to be supportive.

Do you feel proud to be part of the conversation in this way?

Absolutely. I've only publicly been a part of the LGBTQ community for a little while. My biggest struggles have been with race erasure. The Asian community talks about this a lot, but traditional media often makes Asian lives and experiences seem invisible. Now that I’m also openly bisexual, I’m also dealing with bi-erasure. But through it all, I'm happy that I’m able to give all these things a voice with my music.