Kiri T Navigates The Possibilities of NYC Life in ‘Rearview Mirror': Video Premiere
Between dance and music, Kiri T always had her heart in being a performer. But as she learned how to play more insturments, she realized her true calling. Growing up in Hong Kong, she studied classical music but eventually felt stifled by tradition and what was considered "good music." Things changed when she attended Berklee College of Music, where she was able to let that creativity flow. Now the 23-year-old artist has made the move to New York City and released a number of singles, including her latest video for "Rearview Mirror."
"The music video features Danzel [Thompson-Stout] and I navigating through the buzzing personalities and marvel at the boroughs through the lens of the New York subway train," she shares about the video, premiering exclusively on PopCrush up top.
We had the chance to get to know Kiri T a little bit better, below. You can catch Kiri T play The Annie O Live Music Series at The Standard in New York City on September 18.
What are your first musical memories?
I used to do ballet when I was little, synchronizing my body with classical music is one of my first encounters with music. I've always liked music and dance. My mom used to bring me to ballet shows. I remember I was eight when the first time I watched the Rite of Spring, the intensity of the music combined with the choreography melted my little brain. I thought I was gonna be a ballerina at the time!
You play a number of instruments. Which did you learn first and how did you end up playing more?
I started learning piano and violin first. Like any Asian household (in Hong Kong at least), doing classical music and graded exams, from a very young age, were pretty standard procedures. I have always liked to improvise on my instrument ever since I was a kid. Although, I wanted to quit playing instruments at one point because I felt very restrained by the structure and musical atmosphere in Hong Kong. It felt like if you were passionate about music or wanted to pursue a career in music, there is a certain pigeonhole you [have to] fit in, like you gotta go the academic route or win a lot of music competitions [or] whatnot. I felt very restrained because I am a pretty freestyle [and] expressive person in nature. Also I was a little burnt out after doing years and years of music exams and chasing medals.
However, I rediscovered my passion in music after watching a pop musical in Hong Kong when I was 12. Something about that musical clicked with me and triggered my songwriting urge. I ended up playing more because I wanted to create music and be able to present the songs I wrote. So I got into playing guitar, production, singing and got really serious in perfecting my craft in music.
You're originally from Hong Kong. What's the music scene like there? And how did the city influence your own music?
I have very mixed feelings about the music scene in Hong Kong. The general vibe of the music scene (actually, East Asia in general... I am painting a really broad brush here) is largely very commercial and standardized, not so much about individuality. [It's] very much about entertainment (movies, soap operas, commercials, variety shows) and lots of social conformity and gender stereotypes. But like I said, I am painting a very broad brush. There are certainly a lot of beautiful artists and musicians around Hong Kong who are doing really well. If you dig deep enough and keep an ear to the ground. This community is pretty small but definitely growing, and I can see a lot of musicians and artists now want to make a positive change in the scene.
I am very grateful about Hong Kong, though. I got my first publishing deal in Hong Kong when I was fourteen, and that's how I got into serious songwriting and into the music [business]. It was a life-changing experience because, at the time, I was signed to an artist, Denise Ho/HOCC, who was my hero at the same time. Actually, she's the one who created the pop musical I mentioned. She gave me a lot of opportunities, and she was the one who inspired me to express myself through music and artistry. She is a very inspiring figure to me because knowing how repressive of an atmosphere it is doing art Hong Kong, and her being able to do her to the fullest, was like a shine of hope to a lot of people.
Coming from Hong Kong [and having] an Asian background, the biggest influence it had on me would be the language. Cantonese and Mandarin lyrics are very poetic and the Asian sensibility in general helps me to look at lyric writing through a different lens. Also, moving base from one side of the ocean to another really helps you to look at things differently. You start to think of yourself as a global citizen and having experienced different cultures made me appreciate things more, be aware of more cultural subtleties and not take certain things for granted. [Something] which immensely inspired my lyric writing.
And you studied at Berklee College of Music. What was that experience like? How did it shape how you approach music today?
I am very glad I went to Berklee. It gave me the space and time to figure out what my artistry is about, and there were a lot of resources around to help you perfect your craft. I think the best part about Berklee is that you get to hang out with a lot of immensely talented people and faculty members. They are the most important resources around, not [just] the practice rooms, not the studios, not the books. Being around a pool of really strong-willed talented people really pushes you to improve your work.
My major at Berklee was Electronic Production and Design. But I was really into jazz and R&B when I first got into Berklee. [And] probably because of the strong roots, I would transcribe Aaron Parks, Taylor Eigisti, Brad Mahldau piano solos and Lalah Hathaway runs in the beginning of my Berklee student life. I think that stuck with me. My music now is a combination of lush harmonies and R&B influenced vocals.
What is "Rearview Mirror" about?
"Rearview Mirror" is a feel-good song about leaving your past behind and finding the fun in losing control. Taking the listeners on an emotional roller coaster, from the love of torturing oneself to celebrating insobriety. A huge part of the meaning of this song stems from the emotions around my decision leaving Hong Kong and Asia. Feeling that I have to compromise a lot if I stay there, but at the same time knowing that I have more connections and foundations in Asia, that it would be easier to "make it" in Asia. But at last, I made a conscious decision to leave this comfort zone and move to New York because I believe this is the scene I belong to and really want to see how far I can go. Challenge my limitations, hands on the driver's wheel, full speed ahead, no regrets, not looking at my rear view mirror.
What's the story behind the video?
I teamed up with director Jonah Best based in New York City and Danzel Thompson-Stout from Philadelphia. The music video features Danzel and I navigating through the buzzing personalities and marvel at the boroughs through the lens of the New York subway trains.
What's next for Kiri T?
I will be releasing three more singles in from now to October. I just filmed [another] music video. Stay tuned!