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“I am Yeule. The person on stage and the person in the picture and the video is not me. But I am her. I’m just not on the screen; I’m in the songs. But I’m not here either, I think. Are you there?”
The above is a typical example of Singapore-born, London-based musician Nat Cmiel aka Yeule’s meandering discourse, which is to say, she’s far from your conventional, manufactured-to-please pop star. When interviewed by the influential cultural magazine Paper earlier this year, her description of her sound was anything but straightforward: “There’s structure in liquid, but the particles aren’t so packed together. It’s kind of loosely fitted and has no regular arrangement. The molecules vibrate quickly and escape into the air as vapour.” To condense that into more understandable terms, it’s a hazy mix of electronic pop and shoegaze, anchored by her lark-like, breathy vocals – and it’s mesmerising; with echoes of iconic post-punk band, the Cocteau Twins, and neo-neo-punk pop princess formerly known as Grimes.
The 21-year-old plucked her stage name from the Final Fantasy universe, namely a character named Yeul, and this fascination with the realm of make-believe throbs throughout her work and MO. For starters, it’s hard to not notice her, but the Yeule aesthetic is constantly morphing.
As of now (at our shoot with her in July, when she was home to open for the album launch of fellow London-based, Singaporean musician Kin Leonn), she’s a ’90s Harajuku character with hyper-intense makeup – think kabuki gone radioactive – transported into a steampunk story. It’s clear that she understands the power of clothes – or, more fundamentally, image – but she’s not here to sell you a bag or lipstick like some preening influencer. This is a fairy witch who cites ero guro – the Japanese cultural movement informed by a blend of the erotic and macabre – as a major source of inspiration.
Veins of ero guro can be found in the music video of her latest single Pixel Affection, an Ex Machinameets- Black Mirror dream world where Yeule’s real and digital selves bleed into each other. (On it, she sings: “Wasted in a cyber dimension/Pour my heart into simulation/Digital in reciprocation/I’m staring at the screen that you live in”). Ditto that for Pretty Bones, a phantasmagoric time-lapse production directed by rising Berlin-based, Singapore filmmaker Joy Song, and which sees the singer maniacally destroying and disembowelling autumnal-hued, ’Gram-perfect banquet set-ups.
One could say that it’s akin to performance art, and it’s not too far a stretch given that Cmiel’s also currently studying fine arts at Central Saint Martins. “I’m not writing from a persona, but I use a persona to be the front of the (Yeule) project,” she says. “Maybe Yeule in some way might be an art project; a lifelong project about me up to when I die. Or when I want Yeule to die. Wait. I’m not sure.”
At our shoot, she gets to work after some conferring on the art direction, expertly painting on Dietrich-esque eyebrows on her own. As much as she exudes highstrung nervous energy, the sinuous ease of a long-time pro kicks in once she’s in front of the camera. Cmiel is a natural performer and – as a hyper-stylised aesthete who absorbs some of the Interweb’s most visually powerful cultures, moulding them to suit herself – is primed for making it in today’s image-dominated world.
Already, cultural heavyweights like Paper, i-D and The Fader have caught onto her and premiered her music videos on their websites. This month, Yeule will release her first full-length album – the 12-track Serotonin II with New York label Bayonet Records, owned by Dustin Payseur of indie rock band Beach Fossils fame.
According to Cmiel, the record company approached her after listening to Pretty Bones, which she self-released in late 2018. The track’s MV – revealed this July – has garnered over 360K views as of press time, putting her within arm’s reach of much more well-known Singapore pop acts.
Going by the image she’s crafted, one would automatically assume that she disdains comparisons to what’s considered mainstream. Not the case, she says. “I do appreciate popular music too. I think it plays a bigger role in understanding the genres that oppose its purpose. I follow a lot of trends and I do conform to an extent, but there is a certain beauty in conforming as well.”
By the time this story comes out however, she might do a 180 and utter contradictory statements or inhabit a whole new persona altogether. As Cmiel herself puts it: “Each song released in its respective era reflects that part of myself. That’s most probably gone by the time you read this.” Pithy or nah? The only sure way to keep up with this chameleon is to hit “follow”.