Get to know R&B’s newest solo artist
While the sugary-sweet notes of Top 40 hits are fine and dandy, there’s nothing like a dash of soul to help calm one down from an artificial sweetener high.
Enter Annalé, a Korean-American singer whose debut track, “Roses”, made a mark on Billboard’s Top 20 Adult R&B chart late last year. After all, Annalé’s voice feels like a hot bath in sonic form: deep, full of warmth and comfort, and is downright soothing to the soul.
Born Anna Lee to a pair of classical musicians in New York, the singer’s foray into r&b and neo-soul didn’t start until she started studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. It was there that she discovered artists like Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, and Mint Condition, artists whom have swayed her pop-loving heart towards new genres.
Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams, in particular, is currently a big part of the young singer’s career. Annalé is currently opening for Williams’ latest jaunt around the east coast and the Mint Condition frontman has been helping produce a song or two on her upcoming debut album.
The Rhapsody caught up with Annalé in the midst of a recording session to talk about her parents, her early pop music influences and classic k-pop groups.
“I remember my mom saying that whenever I cried [as a baby] it didn’t just come from the throat. It came from the inside or from the stomach, so it sounded special or it sounded different. Like it had a resonance to it or something.
“It feels like a mom thing to say, like my mom would only say that because I’m her daughter. I know it was probably an annoying cry to other people but that’s what my mom would always tell me about my cries. So that’s one thing.
“I remember my dad would always play classical music at home. He was always studying it, listening to it or analysing it because he’s also a composer and arranger. . I don’t really remember hearing any jazz artists or even eighties k-pop (I’m Korean).
Now that I think about it, I learned jazz harmonies without knowing it and had them in my head because of him.
“My mom majored in organ and she taught piano, so that was always my first music thing. I started playing piano when I was four, and my parents would always make sure I had that classical foundation. I don’t think I really listened to classical music. I enjoyed more of the k-pop stuff when I was in South Korea.
“I moved there when I was four. In elementary school I listened to a lot of late nineties k-pop. That was the only thing I was exposed to and that was the only thing my friends and I would listen to. We would actually dance to it and stuff.
“[We listened to] Fin.K.L. It’s like a very old k-pop girl group, like one of the very first k-pop girl groups. We also listened to g.o.d and H.O.T., all old k-pop groups. They were like the groups back in the day, the ones that everybody would love. I remember buying pictures of them, posters of them and stuff. [Laughs] My parents wouldn’t really care what I listened to. They were kind of open to whatever I was doing musically.
“When I moved back to the States, I listened to whatever was on the radio and what I discovered through my friends. Beyoncé was obviously one of [the artists] I listened to because she’s so famous, Brian McKnight, Chris Brown, Jesse McCartney… You know that Jesse McCartney song, “Beautiful Soul”? That’s what I listened to because I hadn’t been exposed to R&B or old school soul yet. And Usher’s “Yeah!” would always be playing during gym class.
“Jamie Cullum was one of the artists I discovered through my sister because she loved Jamie Cullum. It’s funny because my sister is 10 years older than me and she knew some of the stuff I love now, back when it was still on the radio.
“I remember I had an MP3 player that could hold twenty songs. I had to be super picky when I was putting in the songs. Ashlee Simpson was always on there.
“I loved her first album, Pieces of Me. You know how [the CD] had lyrics inside? I would take that out and sing along. I got it as a gift—maybe it was from my sister or her husband, at that time, boyfriend. They knew I loved Ashlee Simpson so much that they got me her CD for my birthday! [Laughs]
“Jamie Cullum and Beyoncé were also always on my MP3 player as well. It was always those three for some reason. I just looked up to Beyoncé so much, like vocally, with her stage presence, artist image—all that stuff.
“And you know how Jamie Cullum can do more of a jazz-pop blend? Now that I think about it, I learned jazz harmonies without knowing it and had them in my head because of him.
“I don’t have a high voice. I have a lower voice so I was like, “dang, I really like this girl.” I was really into her first album and “Chasing Pavements” touched me. When I sang it, it felt right. There wasn’t much thinking involved in picking that song [as my Berklee audition piece]. I just really liked it.
I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. The only thing I was good at was music.
“I actually wasn’t trying to go to Berklee because my parents were against me doing music at first. They’re musicians themselves and they know how hard it is to go into music and do it as a career. My dad didn’t really understand me doing R&B or pop because he’s a classical musician. They were just worried for me, and Berklee was pretty expensive, too.
“I think I applied to five or six regular colleges so I could do Communications or something. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. The only thing I was good at was music.
“Berklee was really Plan B because at the last minute, my sister was like, “Why don’t you just try applying and see what happens? It’s not going to hurt you to apply.” I applied and fortunately I got a full scholarship. My parents had no choice so they were like, “Okay, you can go there. It’s free education.” [Laughs]
“It’s weird now because I love singing but it’s also work at the same time. So I don’t sing when I’m at a karaoke bar. I just like to rap. I love rapping Korean rap songs, like Korean hip-hop. It’s really interesting. Tasha (she’s also known as T) is one of my favourite Korean artists. She’s half-black, half-Korean. She’s amazing. I usually do her stuff.
“[There are] going to be Korean versions of my songs. It’s going to be the same exact song but just in Korean. I’m not sure yet if they’ll be on the album but they’re ready to come out.”
Photography by Yuwei Huang