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Emily Mei

On finding your people, creating cool stuff, and never giving up


Talent: Emily Mei @emily.ghoul

Photos & Video: Ryan Feng @justfeng

Fashion: Sky JT Naval @sky_is_dlimit

Makeup & Hair: Crystal Ciara @crystalciara.mua

As Emily Mei hops on the video call with Timid, we are immediately greeted with a bright smile. Behind her, a glass case showcases her cherished anime figurines, and to the side, a Chinese lucky tassel dangles from a floor lamp, a subtle yet meaningful nod to her heritage. During our call, the Chinese-American singer-songwriter, actress, model, and entrepreneur discusses her career, creative process, and how to navigate the entertainment industry with determination, patience, and heart.

“I started writing music as a form of therapy,” Mei shares. “I was going through a really hard time, and I wrote all my feelings into poems.” She met up with a friend, who suggested that she try making them into a song. “I was like, ‘Well, I've never done that before,’” she recalls. But they went to the studio, and they created a song.

That song ended up becoming “Ain’t Ready,” which was eventually released in October of last year. It became the first of a three-part series, followed by “Monster Under the Bed” and the recently released “Venom,” with an overarching storyline about being in your head and not being able to separate what’s real and not real.

Beyond her music, Mei is the executive producer and host of the series Global Spin Live for the GRAMMY Museum, where she has had the opportunity to spotlight various Asian artists around the world and hopes to bring more recognition to the C-Pop space. As an actress, her slasher Skill House is expected to release this spring, and she also has a Star Trek film lined up. Regardless of the endeavor, Mei is sure to bring her signature blend of creativity, passion, and authenticity.

Timid Magazine: First of all, congratulations on your recent release, “Venom.” What was the inspiration behind the song?

Emily Mei: I got into the studio with my producers, and we were thinking, “What kind of song do we want to write today?” And I was like, “You know what? I'm feeling kind of confrontational.” You know how you wake up one of those days, and you're ready to go? And it's funny, because I'm usually a very passive person. I just stay home. I chill. I don't go outside. Maybe I was watching an episode of anime, and I got really worked up. That's probably what happened. But I was like, “You know what, we're gonna write a song about toxic people today.” Then, how I usually go about writing my songs is that we just chat. So my producers and I just sit together and tell each other stories. We talk about things and somehow that just got put into lyrics, and it got put into a song.

pink set-CHARLES & RON, lace top-MOOD x MIURA, necklace/hair clip-FROU YORK
sneaker set-FRISK ME GOOD, coat-WEISHENG PARIS, necklace-VITALY, flower necklace-FROU YORK, sunglass-GIANT VINTAGE
TM: Can you tell us about a memorable moment during the filming of that music video?

EM: Oh, my goodness, there are a lot. It was actually my first music video where I danced, and I actually learned how to dance for this music video. It's crazy, because prior to this, I had pretty much never done choreography.

I worked with Jazzy, who was my dance coach, and I was like, “You know what, I want to dance, and I feel like I have it in me.” And she was like, “You know, what, why don't you just dance how you feel the song?” From there, we made it into the actual choreography. I really wanted to put the emotions and feelings [into it], and we wanted to build pictures in the choreography. There are a lot of points where the hands come out, or they pull me, and it actually has a lot to do with the lyrics and the feeling of the moment. I just wanted it to all be cohesive.

TM: Your debut song, “My Domain,” featured CLC's Sorn and f(x)'s Amber Liu. How did this collaboration come to be? Did you know you wanted them on that track right from the start?

EM: So funny story, I had actually been planning to make music. It was my first song ever, and I was very, very scared because I had never debuted as an artist before. I was getting advice from Amber and Sorn because they’re two of my best friends. They were like, “Hell yeah, do it. I'm down to be in it.” So I wrote the song with them in mind. When I wrote Amber's part, I thought of Amber. When I wrote Sorn’s part, I thought of her. I was like, “What are some things that I would want to see them singing and performing?” So it was always in my mind that they were going to be a part of it. I wrote it for them. And I just wanted a badass, girl gang kind of feel. So it was fun.

TM: Did they give you any important advice for your music career?

EM: Oh, for sure. I just did my first live performance ever, with Amber, months ago, and I got so much good advice. I called Sorn and Amber, and I was like, “I need help. How does any of this work?” [And they gave me advice] literally down to—they were like, “The thing that you hear in your in-ears is different from what everybody else hears, so you need to figure out with your sound engineer what you want to hear on yours.” [...] It's like, do you want all of the production in there? Maybe some people just want a little bit of the production and they just want the beats and all of that. Some people want to hear the crowd, and some people don't want to hear the crowd. But I was like, “Wow, I didn't know it was so intricate.”

And the one thing that they both told me about recording music and performing live was, “Just do it. Just enjoy it.”

TM: I have to ask—that song, “My Domain”—is it a Jujutsu Kaisen reference?

EM: Oh my god okay, I was like, “One day somebody is going to ask me this.” I'm a huge fan of anime, and actually, a lot of my songs have anime references, or like, “Venom” is a reference to Marvel, you know? I love comics. You're the first person that's asked me about that.

TM: How important do you think it is to foster connections and solidarity among female artists in the music industry?

EM: You know what, I didn't realize that I ended up getting advice from a lot of my female friends. I feel good knowing that there are other people who are like me in this space, and I enjoy learning from them. I feel like you can never learn enough. You can learn something from anyone for the rest of your life. And not just female artists. There's something that you can learn from everybody. [...] I know a lot of people feel like this is a space where if you're winning, they can't win. And I just don't believe in that. I believe in everybody working together. If you're doing well, the entire space goes up, right? That's something that I want to keep doing in my career. I want to see if I can push the envelope, do things, and just create cool stuff with people that I like.

TM: As someone who launched their career on social media, what advice do you have for others trying to do the same?

EM: Oh, man. I feel like my best advice to you is that even if you fail a million times, if it's something that you strongly believe in and something that you want to do, don't ever give up. As long as you work hard, somebody will recognize you. There are other people who like what you like, I promise you.

A lot of people were like, “Are you sure you want to start doing music? It's kind of late, you know. You're in your late 20s.” And I was like, “It's now or never.” All the songs that I'm releasing now, I actually wrote three, four years ago. I was like, “What are people going to think?” They're going to be like, “Oh, it's just another influencer trying to make music.” Music has always been a part of my life. I was just too scared to do it. I was told “no” a lot. [...] One day I just decided, well, if these companies don't believe in this project, I will find someone who believes in this project the way that I believe in this project. If I just start putting it out, and I just do it myself, I'm gonna find people who also enjoy what I enjoy. I just feel so happy because I found [those] people.

Long story short, don't ever let somebody tell you, you can't do it. Don't ever let people's rejections stop you from doing the thing that you want to do. Because I promise you that if you keep going, and you keep working hard, you will get recognized and you will find the right people who appreciate you.

“Venom” was released on February 2, 2024.

Disclaimer: This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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dress-LABELLA BLONDIE, jacket-CURRENT AIR, boots-VALENTINA RANGONI, pearl necklace-8OTHER REASONS, bow necklace-FROU YORK