CAPTURING VULNERABILITY WITH UMI
Feature photo courtesy of @whoisumi
Chronicling a brief but personal journey of discovery into UMI’s music, life, and art.
I discovered UMI when everything was starting to wind down in my life. After a pretty crazy work week, everything had calmed down but my mind was still reeling from the stress. Cue UMI, who slipped in with her mellow vibes and soothing voice. The lyrics spoke to me for some reason; perhaps it’s because we are at a similar age that our experiences, right now at least, bear certain similarities. We’d ultimately found each other after a strange, winding series of coincidences, but I believe that musicians arrive in our lives purposefully, meaningfully. This is the story of how UMI came into mine.
All the signs were there. First, there was the recommended YouTube video that I didn’t click. Then there was the song of hers that came on YouTube autoplay while I was working; then followed another song that was part of a Spotify mix from Joy Crookes. Some will say it’s an algorithm. I daresay it is fate. And either way, to some extent, these algorithms have helped me discover songs I’ve come to LOVE, and upon listening to UMI’s music, I realized that they’d been on my radar in some hazy way for a while now -- I just didn’t assign them to any specific artist. So when UMI demanded my attention for the third time, I figured I might as well properly check out her music.
And I did, following a very comprehensive standard operational procedure. I checked out her YouTube page, followed her on Spotify, and watched all of her music videos (many of which she wrote and creative directed herself, by the way) with the intensity of a film critic. She’s stayed on my mind for quite some time now, and her resonance absolutely stems from her smooth voice
and poignant lyrics that organically blend with the lo-fi beat. There’s a certain honesty to her music that is simple and straightforward, which makes it even more soothing to listen to. Plus, she writes a pretty damn good beat. Her chill vibe translates into her music, but she also writes candidly about love, heartbreak, and all the in-betweens without any tricks or fancy metaphors.
After a quick Google search to find out she is only 20 and recently left USC to pursue music full time, I was pretty enamored by UMI. I’ve compiled a tiny cheat sheet of sorts here:
Name: Tierra Umi Wilson
Latest Release: Love Language
Biggest Influences: SZA, Frank Ocean, Erykah Badu
Born to musicians (mother: pianist; father: drummer), UMI has been writing songs and playing different instruments since she was a child. Half Japanese, UMI grew up listening to a lot of Japanese music in addition to Western music, giving her a wealth of melodies to learn from and experiment with. She started to record and upload music on SoundCloud and YouTube, and though she initially began uploading covers, she eventually moved onto showcasing her original music. Thank god for that, because I don’t think UMI’s put out a bad song as far as I’m concerned. The song that was first stuck in my head was “Down to Earth,” mostly for the lyrics that said “I need you to see / Parts of me I hide / Parts of me / I hide away for someone else to find.” The rawness of those lyrics and UMI’s smooth voice struck a chord with me, and was literally stuck in my head for days after. I had to google that line to find the song, which I happily rediscovered. If you look into her lyrics, you’d see what I mean by her honesty. In “Love Affair,” the lines simply go “Don’t overthink, this is love / Maybe it’s just a crush / Baby is this your love affair, your love affair? / I hope what I feel is enough / Maybe this is just lust.” No frills, no adjectives, no extra flourish. Open and sincere, UMI simply writes about how she feels, and through that space her listeners find healing and connection too.
But what really got me enamored was her visual EP for Love Language. With four parts that correspond to her four songs, “Love Affair,” “Sukidakara,” “Runnin’ ft. Yeek,” and “Breathe,” UMI constructs a creative love story full of surprises. Dropped episodically throughout the month of October, the four part video traces the story of a girl who falls in love with a customer at the cafe where she works. At the risk of spoiling the storyline, I’m just going to drop the link here. Luckily for us latecomers, we can binge all four episodes immediately. Trust me, it’s worth a watch (hint: anime is involved *wink*).
I only hope UMI keeps churning out honest new music and creative videos like she has; until her next release, I’ll be waiting on the edge of my seat.