From The Magazine

thủy Just Wants to Have Fun

The Vietnamese-American pop star always dreamt of being a singer. Now, she’s making it count.

by Lauren McCarthy
Pat Martin/NYLON

thủy originally wanted to be a doctor. “Then I went to UC Santa Barbara and I was like, ‘I don’t think I have the grades,’” she says. She pivoted to becoming a physician’s assistant, but as it turns out, that wasn’t right either. In 2015, the Vietnamese-American singer released her first song, “Hands on Me.” When it began to gain traction, she quit her job and moved to Los Angeles — though her parents didn’t realize she’d made a career change until they read about it in the local paper. “I think my mom thought I was still going to work toward becoming a PA and that music was just a hobby. It wasn’t until I got on the Bay Area news back home that they realized.”

Her Hannah Montana era juggling both careers was stressful but thankfully short-lived. “I felt so trapped,” she says. “I was fully living a double life.” But her confidence never wavered. “I honestly believed in myself more than anybody ever did, even in times where people made me feel small. I always knew. I was like, ‘No, bitch. This is what you want to do.’”

TikTok fame came for thủy when her 2017 song “All Night Long” had a resurgence on the app in 2020. Her sultry music has since led to a headlining tour in North America and Europe, but she considers her “big break” to be booking Coachella this year. “When I saw my name on the lineup, I was like, ‘Did I kind of do something?’” She’s already feeling the nerves. “I think I’ll maybe throw up before I get onstage.” (Spoiler alert: She didn’t — and delivered a soulful performance of “girls like me don’t cry” that had the whole crowd singing along.)

Her forever pop idol? “Britney Spears,” she says with no hesitation. “She is the one person who could make me cry if I got to meet her.” For her Coachella performance in April, she looked to another icon for inspiration. “I need to train like Beyoncé does.”

Here, learn more about the rising pop star, who will perform at this year’s Head In the Clouds festival in May.

When you took the first leap from moving on from the medical field and pursuing this dream, what were you most scared about?

My parents, probably. They're immigrants from Vietnam. They don't know anything about the music industry or even media, entertainment, anything like that. They immigrated here and all they've known is, "My kids have to go to school to get a degree so they can take care of us and our family back in Vietnam." So I always felt a lot of pressure to do that for them. But I've always wanted to sing, and it was something I hid for a really long time.

It was really scary to quit my job and tell my mom I wasn't going to do that anymore. But I don't think she registered it at the time. I think she thought I was moving to Los Angeles but still going to work towards becoming a PA, and that music was just a hobby. And it was a really scary thing for my parents. I could tell they were worried about me. And then my dad would come and visit me in L.A., and I would just feel the lecture coming. He was like, "When do you go back to school?" And I'm like, "Shit. I'm not going back to school. This is what I'm doing." And then it wasn't even until I got on the Bay Area news back home that they knew what I was actually doing.

They didn't care about all the streams I had, anything I've done, getting booked, actually getting paid to sing and stuff like that. They didn't really truly understand. But then when they saw me on the news back at home, they were like, "My daughter's famous?" They started getting all these Facebook notifications from cousins, cousins in Vietnam, aunties and uncles. I'm really grateful they've come around because I've always wanted to make my parents proud.

What was your own “I’ve made it” moment?

I honestly believed in myself more than anybody ever did. And even in times when people made me feel small, I still did not lose that belief I had in myself, even though sometimes I'd be like, "Maybe I should just quit. Maybe I should do this. Maybe I'm not good enough." But I always knew, I was like, "No, bitch. This is what you want to do. And even if you're just doing it in the darkness of your room, this is what you really want to do." And so I just kept faking the confidence. I don't even think I've reached my full potential, but I feel like I faked it enough. I will say, when I saw my name on the Coachella lineup, I will say, I was like, "Did I kind of do something?" So I'm going to say that.

When I saw my name on the Coachella lineup, I will say, I was like, "Did I kind of do something?"

Has your confidence grown over time?

It’s up. I literally faked it so much that I've now gotten to a point where I'm confident. If you start thinking that you're like, "Maybe I'm not good enough," or when you stay in that mindset, then you kind of start believing it too. Then you start not maybe taking opportunities or taking risks because you're like, "It's not worth it. What is that going to do?"

What’s a recent risk you’ve taken?

I've always said no to things that scared me because I knew it was going to take me to that next level. Fashion Week, for example, is a new level for me. I'm a thick girly. And that's always something I've dealt with as a kid, too, insecurities with my own body. But I've always wanted to get into fashion because I'm like, "We need more people that look like me who do that."

Are you the type of musician who prefers the writing and recording process, or the performing aspect?

I love the recording. Recording is the most fun for me because I don't have to show up and put on makeup or wear a certain outfit, and then I get to be in my element. But I also is sometimes the scariest part when you're linking up with a producer for the first time. It's a very vulnerable thing.

What were your biggest hurdles when you started performing?

Not being out of breath. In the beginning, [performing] was nerve-wracking.

What's the best concert you've ever been to?

My first concert ever was with my brother, and he took me to Boys Like Girls. I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I really love pop-rock alternative vibes. Even though I make more pop R&B, I love going to more fun concerts where I can really scream.

What’s the best afterparty you’ve ever been to?

My own. I had a show in San Francisco at the Warfield, and after we went to a place called The Bodega. And they had a section for us, but they also brought out shrimp dumplings, egg rolls. What's better? There's alcohol there and there's shrimp dumplings?

Photographs by Pat Martin

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Contributing Style Director: Jan-Michael Quammie

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

Editor in Chief: Lauren McCarthy

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

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