Yeule: The Future Face of Cyber-Pop

The UK’s boldest new pop voice and Noisey cover star is only just getting started with their latest album "Glitch Princess".

25 January 2022, 9:00am

It's 4PM and a small, round creature is screaming at me. It's the size of a big fist and covered in black, velveteen fur. I can barely see its eyes, but there they are: like sewn-on buttons. “WAAAAAAAH!” it screams again, revealing pearly white fangs inside a tiny pink rosebud mouth. 

“This is Kuro. She's only a few weeks old,” yeule scoops the creature up, who swipes at the air with miniature, fat paws. “I hope you don't mind cats.” 

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It's only when yeule speaks that I realise they also have tiny fangs; made out of silver metal, affixed to their two top canine teeth. Their makeup is a white line across the bridge of the nose, gently smudged with red and silver to create an eye mask effect. They're wearing a corset and grey tracksuit bottoms, ice cream-white hair sticking up in different directions. Line tattoos adorn their limbs and neck. At 5"1 or so, they look kind of like a video game character. 

“Come, let me show you around the house,” they say. Kuro burrows into their neck, blinking at me over their shoulder.

Photo: yeule, by Wanda Martin

You may have heard of yeule, or you may not have… yet. The 24-year-old Singapore-born songwriter and producer – real name Nat Ćmiel – is the kind of artist who has amassed hundreds of thousands of die-hard fans online, but you likely won't have read about them in mainstream publications like the Guardian, or seen their name on a slew of end-of-year lists. They're a Gen Z popstar in that respect, known best among queers in their teens and 20s, gamers and fashion-slash-music nerds. Or as they're otherwise known: ex-Tumblr kids who’ve since graduated to Twitch

Still, this isn't to say yeule is an underground act – far from it. They've already racked up support slots with the likes of Caroline Polacheck and were recently snapped looking powerful in Comme des Garçons for VOGUE Singapore. Their upcoming second album, Glitch Princess (out on the 4th of February), includes co-production from PC Music giant Danny L Harle, with a collab from Mura Masa and Japanese rapper Tohji. In other words, you can file them next to your other favourite future-pop weirdos. Grimes, Arca and Dorian Electra are among their most vocal online supporters.

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With all the buzz around Glitch Princess, you might think they were relatively fresh on the scene – not strictly true. yeule's self-titled debut EP came out waaay back in 2014, when they were just 16; their voice softer, their synth-laden sound more ambient and ethereal. By Serotonin II, their debut album released in October 2019, the tracks had become fuller and richer; imbued with video game sounds, harsh electronics, sweet softness melting into glitchy, discordant beats. Think Grimes meets Alice Glass, with a sprinkle of something forward-facing, indefinable. 

Still, Glitch Princess can be seen as a line in the sand. It's the sound of an artist entering a new era – of introducing a new version of themselves and teetering on the precipice of something bigger. 

Photo: yeule, by Wanda Martin

I'm surprised by yeule's place. Firstly, because it's slap-bang in Central London – unusual for a 24-year-old. And secondly, because it's kind of plush – again, unusual. Art adorns the walls. The shiny black kitchen has an island. There's an electronic piano in the hallway, which yeule plays expertly whenever I leave the room (here's a recent Sonar performance if you want to check their piano skills for yourself). Later, I find out the flat belongs to a relative, who's currently in Singapore. “But I'd like to get my own place, maybe east or south east,” they tell me. They want to make a home that's completely their own; somewhere to decorate, hand-pick the furniture, construct their own world. 

We chat over herbal tea. They move around frequently while talking – from the kitchen table to the floor to the sofa, their legs stretched out and then crossed, iPhone flashing in hand, always in motion. Their accent has faint echoes of Singapore, with a London edge – sentences are peppered and punctuated with “bruv” and “fuck that!” – and they have a tendency to jump from one subject to the next, going on winding roads with their anecdotes. They're not an artist who speaks in neat soundbites, making it difficult to extract solid answers. “I'm very hectic as a person,” they told Office in 2021. “Like, I've got ADHD straight up.”

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yeule spent the first two decades of their life in River Valley, a planning area in central Singapore. They describe their home city as feeling like a “giant theme park” due to its “manufactured” aesthetic. “I'm not saying Singapore is fake, but there's a sense of heavy, heavy capitalism there. You can't have fun if you're not rich. It's all shopping malls.” In an interview with Dazed back in 2019, they said: “Going back to my hometown is like going into a simulation. I long to wake up.”

Ironically, as a kid, they didn't get on well with “real life” as a concept. They had two or three friends at school – other “queer loners” – and spent the rest of the time existing online, in games and on chatrooms. Early on, yeule became obsessed with interactive games like Maplestory and Audition alongside the weirder, more surreal corners of 4chan and Reddit. Once, their mum took their computer away and hid it – their life was basically inside the screen at this point. “Fuck, what did I do in high school? I was on the computer,” they remember. 

This tension, between real life and the digital realm, is drenched all over their debut Serotonin II. On “Pixel Affection,” yeule's alien-soft vocals float above ambient electronics: “Wasted in a cyber dimension / Pour my heart into simulation / Digital in reciprocation / I'm staring at the screen that you live in.” Later, on “Pretty Bones,” they seem to express discomfort at being stuck inside the physical world. The music video, directed by Joy Song, shows yeule itching at their face, scraping away fruit innards, food and flowers rotting and wilting. Existing is hard, they seem to say, whether you're online or offline, in the real world or cyberspace. 

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They become animated when chatting about Tumblr, which entered its 'Golden Era' – from 2010 to 2013 – just as yeule was entering their teen years. As a result, much of their aesthetic – IRL avatar-slash-genderless faerie come to life – can be traced back to the platform and the way it pioneered internet subcultures. “I went through a lot of evolutions,” they tell me. “I was a seapunk in 2010. I was into ocean-y, weird shit, like 'Look at my neon mermaid hair and chill vibe and oooh I listen to Crystal Castles.' Then I transcended into health goth. And detergent core. Then I was on that Grimes aesthetic wave. And witch house.”

Wait… what's detergent core? “So like… health punks who prioritise health and skincare and cleanliness. On the blogs, everyone I was mutuals with would have, like, Dr Martens, spikes, but then detergent and dishwashing liquid, sponges… boots… stepping on someone's head… disinfecting it. That kind of vibe, you know…?” 

I nod my head, like maybe I do know. “Detergent core is crazy,” they add. 

Photo: Yeule, by Wanda Martin

For someone whose music sounds like it was forged by aliens within some futuristic cyberspace, yeule's tastes are surprisingly retro. They grew up listening to “a lot of 60s and 70s alt rock.” Stuff like “David Bowie and The Velvet Underground and Television and Patti Smith. Who else? Oh my god Iggy Pop. Nico… Lou Reed as well. When Lou Reed died on a Sunday fucking morning I was like… bitch!” 

Later, they idolised “dreamy female singers” like Carole King, Fiona Apple, Mazzy Star. They painted a lot of portraits of women, too. “That was when I was having a lot of gender dysphoria,” they say (they're non-binary). “When I unpack that now I'm like, ‘Why have I looked up to so many strong female figures in my life, or been obsessed with the symbol of women?’ It's because I was really out of touch with that part of myself.” Femininity was not something they always gelled with personally, so they became enraptured with it aesthetically. 

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This obsession extended to non-male producers and the bizarre expectations (or lack of) foisted upon different genders. At 13, they saw Grimes perform a bunch of tracks on KXP Live and realised they could produce, too – if they wanted. (“Music production was one of those things I thought was really intimidating in the beginning. But then I saw Grimes do it.”) They started with Logic, before transitioning to Pro Tools for mixing. Now they use Ableton for everything. These days, producing comes second nature. It's in their blood, like painting or gaming or experimenting with makeup.

It's been nearly a decade since Grimes kept repeatedly being asked what it's like being a “female producer”. But not much has changed. yeule still gets pushed into boxes like “South Asian producer” or, before coming out as non-binary, “female producer” – it's frustrating, claustrophobic. “Just call me a producer,” they say, rolling their white powdered eyes. “It's one thing to recognise and represent female artists, or trans artists, or queer artists, or POC artists. But it's another thing to put us all in a category. It's ornamenting. Why don't you just represent us and not have to justify that we are a permutation of the original?”

They compare it to the idea of straightness always being the “default”. “I just like people,” they add. 

Photo: yeule, by Wanda Martin

If yeule's life appeared as a timeline, there would be a sharp turn around 2016. They left Singapore, studied Fine Art at Central Saint Martins and finally met their “people.” If they'd previously been the only queer art loner at school, they were now surrounded by them – it was overwhelming, invigorating.

“I met some amazing people and they really taught me how to be a person,” they say. “It felt like a warm hug.” Suddenly, the 3D realm didn't seem so bad after all – “real life” had meaning. They collaborated with other art students, skipped tutorials to make “crazy music videos'', and swiftly signed to Brooklyn-based label Bayonet Records. 

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Which brings us to today. To Glitch Princess. The bulk of which was written and produced over lockdown – holed up in their bedroom in Singapore, swapping stems and FaceTiming in between time zones. For most artists, creating something in isolation, miles apart from collaborators, might feel a little strange. Not for yeule. This is something they were used to – whether doing late night DJ sets on Twitch or linking up with artists from the US and Japan.

“I was used to working remotely,” they say. “I always thought that was what a session was. So when I realised, like, Oh shit, people actually work in the studio together… It changes the dynamic.”

It's hard to speak about Glitch Princess without mentioning Danny L Harle. He co-produced five tracks on the record, and the combo of their production – yeule's darker, glitchier ambience combined with Danny's bright, euphoric, rubbery stamp – is something to behold. The result feels both shadowy and blissful. Dark and beautiful. Like having one final dance in the club, or cut flowers just before they wilt. On “Eyes,” yeule's voice rings out over piano, ice-clear and glacial, before pitching up and up into a wild, demonic crescendo. It's unusual, moreish. I've played it over and over again these past few weeks. 

yeule tells me that some of “weirder” moments in the album exist because they spent so much time with each track. “I guess Glitch Princess started sounding a lot more robotic because I had so much time to pick and choose the best takes and autotune the shit out of it,” they say. “I played around so much with heavy, heavy editing. To the point where it's like.. Yeah this sounds so off… but I like it.” 

This weird, “offness” is part of what makes the album pop. On “Too Dead Inside” – a yeule and Danny collab – echoey club beats thump behind yeule's syrup-sweet vocals (“Toxic like a burning haze / I got lost inside this maze / I'll say it once, always check it twice / I went offline from this device”). It's hard to know whether to dance, or cry, or both. The whole album feels like that.

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I want to know more, like what yeule was feeling while writing these tracks, but getting firm answers from them is like digging for gold. They're already onto the next subject, picking up their phone, throwing a feather to the cat, seeming restless. When I send follow-up questions after our interview, they go unanswered. This is what it's like hanging out with yeule – blink and they'll already be across the room, onto whatever might be next. 

Photo: yeule, by Wanda Martin

By 5.30PM it's time for us to part ways. We've been hanging out for well over an hour, and they need to get ready for a Rina Sawayama show at the Roundhouse later. Before I head though, they offer to show me their room, but request that I do not sit on the bed. They have a “thing” about it. As a fellow neurotic, I tell them I understand. I used to make people line up their shoes in the corner of my bedroom and still can't stand it if my sheets aren't flat.

It's a small, cosy space, with a bed in the middle and books lining the wall. Mainly though, the whole thing is taken up by a bunch of computer screens, multiple keyboards and a state-of-the-art gamer chair with neon green lining. Yeule strokes it like it's their pride and joy. This is where they do everything – Twitch streams, music production, random internet rabbit holes. They might have found their IRL people, but they're still a digital native at heart. That much is clear.

We say our goodbyes, Kuro takes one final gentle swipe at my feet and, as I close the door, I hear the tap, tap, tap of the keyboard and the click, click, click of the mouse.

Glitch Princess is out on the 4th of February.

@daisythejones / @wanda_martin

Tagged:

Noisey, PC Music, Cover Story, Danny L Harle, yeule

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