In her Instagram bio, Vietnamese-American singer Thuy says she “sings a lil” when in fact, she sings quite a lot — and quite well at that. Last month, the prolific Los Angeles-based singer released a brand new single, “in my head,” as an anthem for those who have loved, hurt, and still loved. “If you’ve ever been down bad after 4 or 5 too many drinks, you can relate,” muses the 29-year-old songstress.
Originally from the Bay Area, Thuy grew up in a big traditional Vietnamese family — developing a love for music during weekends spent karaoking with cousins, aunties, uncles. Her parents could have been professional singers, Thuy says, having shown great talent and love for music. And Thuy’s own talent was apparent from a young age. But coming from a “typical” Asian family and seeing how hard her parents worked instilled in Thuy the importance of getting a degree. After she graduated from UC Santa Barbara, she proceeded to work as an optometric technician and sang on the side.
“I would do both music and my day job, but I realized I was at a point in my career where I felt like I was limited in where I could go musically,” she explains. “The environment I was currently in was capping my creativity and growth. The timing worked out perfectly because there was a room available in Los Angeles. I was so scared to make the jump but I knew that I just had to dive all the way in.”
That’s exactly what she did, and she hasn’t slowed down since. After taking that leap of faith to move to Los Angeles in 2015, Thuy saw her career flourish. Opportunities to write her own songs and record them came knocking on her door, and her goals to make it as an artist began to materialize.
Her parents, who were initially worried about how she was going to make a career in music, saw her hustle and eventually were fully on board. “They’re constantly singing my songs and it means the world to be able to live out another version of my parent’s dreams,” Thuy says.
‘In my bag’
Unlike many artists in the US who started attending voice lessons and going to auditions at a young age, Thuy feels that she was quite late to the game. The 29-year-old singer says she only started writing songs after college, and never had a mentor to guide her through the harsh realities of the music business.
Then there was the lack of visibility and representation for Asian American artists. Early in her career, years before the era of BTS, Squid Game, Awkwafina, and Crazy Rich Asians, Thuy never saw artists who looked like her in mainstream media. But the singer says she leaned on the resilience she learned from her Vietnamese immigrant parents, testing different methods of promoting her music and talking directly to her growing community of fans.
And people are taking notice: her viral sounds have helped her amass over 233k followers on Tiktok. Since 2019, her Spotify channel has grown from 182k listeners to 1.35 million today.
“I tried a lot of different marketing ideas, used multiple platforms to share my music, and there were times when it didn’t always work. I think that was probably one of the biggest challenges; just getting my music out to people,” she says. “But, I never gave up. I was consistently failing until I wasn’t. Being flexible and not stuck to one idea has allowed me the room to try everything. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried it and now you can try something else. With new technologies and tools now, I think that changes the game for independent artists like myself.”
Her recent 2020 hit R&B single, “in my bag” speaks to rolling with the highs and lows of a career in entertainment. “Had to coast, through the lows, took a while tryna find my light,” she sings gently, before building up to a playful, but defiant refrain: “It's time to get in my bag, run up a check, pick up the slack, yeah, yeah. Front me the bag, I'm good with that, I'll get it back. Yeah, yeah.”
Her ethereal voice, complemented with 90s-inflected hip-hop beats and mellow synths, is a sound that embodies confidence and empowerment — both of which she continues to gain as she carves her name into the American music industry.
An identity of her own
Beyond her heritage, it’s her bold sense of style that makes Thuy stand out in the industry. A quick glance at her music videos and Instagram reveals her penchant for the colorful and bright. Never one to say no to long mermaid waves and butterfly hair clips, she leans into ‘90s nostalgia, but also makes it her own. Ultimately, Thuy says she wants to be celebrated for being wholly herself — and if her individuality can inspire other young Asian Americans, that’s a win-win.
“I love that there has been more visibility of Asian-American artists. Even though at times I don’t want it to be solely based on the fact that I’m Asian, I can’t deny that I am indeed Asian. It’s not about creating a narrative or writing the perfect story, because I am Vietnamese and it’s not something I should hide. I’m extremely proud of where I come from and that should be celebrated.”
It’s important to not get “boxed in” to a certain image or sound based on how you look or where you come from, Thuy says. And that’s what we’re all fighting for — defining ourselves on our own terms. It’s this commitment to being authentically Thuy that has paved the way for her rise to stardom in the US where she is currently making waves, and maybe also one day here in Vietnam, where she says she would love to hold a concert that her parents could attend.
“I would love to visit Vietnam; especially with my significant other and close friends,” Thuy says. “And a concert would be a dream for me and, I think, it would also be something special for my parents. Since I haven’t been back to Vietnam since I was 15, I want to be able to go back and experience it at an age where I can fully appreciate the culture and especially, the people.”