Artists To Watch: KO aka Koala pioneers Asian American Entertainment’s Ascendance With Unique All-American Spin

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KO aka Koala
Photo credit: KO AKA KOALA

“No limits” is the theme of KO’s (pronounced Kay-Oh) rise as one of the upcoming artists to watch – a trailblazer and pioneer. With 5 singles released and a growing following, KO aka Koala, is wise beyond her years, understanding the importance of standing one’s ground and forging your own identity, regardless of a world that is trying to box you.

Considered a triple threat, fully involved in her artistic expression from music production to videos to her visual aesthetics in social media to a Twitch (her own video gaming channel), KO is indeed a knockout. Not only a jack of all trades but a master, in the quality of output.

It is no surprise then that she is introducing her unique futuristic, dystopian fantasy style and genre-busting music to the world, one single at a time. From debut “Sadderday” to the provocative women-empowerment anthem “Mean Gurl” to the dystopian “my fucked up fantasy” and her latest “GOD COMPLEX”, each single shows off her incredible range in style of music and lyrical content.

Here are some highlights from our exclusive interview.

KO aka Koala
Photo credit: KO AKA KOALA

On The “KO aka Koala” Name

”It was literally my first Instagram name. I don’t know why I made it. I guess I just like identifying with koalas. Then when I started releasing music, we were trying to figure out what name it should be. There were a lot of KOs – it’s very common, so [the koalas] stuck.”

“Genre Is Irrelevant. You’re Not Just One Thing.”

“Genres are all blending together. Even with fashion – before, people used to identify as ‘I’m goth’. So they would only dress that way to not be a ‘poser’. Now people can be an athlete in the morning, business person during the day, and goth in the evening. You go with however you feel, I think that’s the same with music. You’re not just one thing – we are multidimensional human beings.”

The IntegrAsian of “my fucked up fantasy”

Her “my fucked up fantasy” video was filmed in Mono Lake in Northern California, which represents a previous toxic relationship and the honest moments of push and pull and accepting powerful emotions. “My fucked up fantasy would be like wanting to be with that person but realistically that’s not an option. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that [fantasy is there.]” She loves embracing the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is and encourages people to look in their relationships and admit to yourself the desire to go back to a toxic relationship but don’t let the behaviors follow.

The futuristic setting in the video struck a sharp contrast with traditional Asian headpieces. KO says, “Growing up, you would never catch me wearing Asian stuff, like sticking out with a qi pao.” But now, she flaunts it and says she hopes to  “make people feel like they don’t have to erase their heritage and culture. I like wearing it in my own way, that’s current and modern.” 

KO aka Koala
Photo credit: KO AKA KOALA

Thoughts on Rise of BTS and Asian Entertainment

On the banner year of Asian Americans in entertainment, especially with BTS in music, KO is excited, as one of her favorite genres is J-Pop and K-Pop. She is hoping to see more people make distinctions, and especially with Western artists like her, who happen to have an Asian heritage. 

“It’s refreshing that Asian artists are finally being seen but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Growing up, I never even thought that it was a possibility for me to do something like this because it’s just not something that you see since there is no precedent. When I first discovered K-pop when I was younger – I loved it and while it was the only representation I saw, it didn’t feel like something I could do because I don’t live there. So I think that the rise of being able to see Asian people in media, is really good – we still have many barriers to break. Many people can’t differentiate the difference between K-pop or Western artists that are Asian. Whenever people find out I make music, they’ll say “So you make K-pop?”. And I’m like, ‘can you just chill for a sec?’”

Musical Influences, Understanding EDM

“Growing up, I was really drawn to  pop artists like Beyonce, Britney Spears, because along with amazing music their visuals were insane. So it’s inspired by that.” Her favorites include Nicki Minaj, Avril Lavigne, and emo band The Used. Currently, she loves Doja Cat, “I love the way she bends genres as well as her visuals.”

But KO also cites EDM music. “It’s tough to know where you fit in, in the America, because as I said there is no precedent. Although I haven’t really dived in to listening to EDM music – I read this study the other day that [asked], ‘why do so many Asian people love EDM music and festivals?’ It said it was because a lot of Asian people may feel like they don’t fit in at a rock show or rap show. EDM feels more universal, so that’s why Asian people seem to be comfortable going there.”

Twitch Video Games Helped Expand Audience, But Was Her “Safe Space”

While she hasn’t streamed for a while on her Twitch channel, pandemic’s quarantine got KO into playing one specific video game, the shoot-em-up “Valorant”. “When can I get home? So I can play video games. But I pretty much only play one game because it’s my safe space where I also do my vocal exercises at the same time. So I’m killing two birds with one stone.”

New Single “GOD COMPLEX”

“GOD COMPLEX” was produced by Grammy Award nominated Stefan Ponce, best known for his work with Childish Gambino, Kanye West, and Chance The Rapper, among others. It is a dance pop song, different from the rest of her music. It captures the dichotomy of young people, thinking they’re always right, but simultaneously hating themselves.

“I don’t know if I meant to do it, but it feels like every song that I’ve released is a different genre. The music you create is just a reflection of everything you love, so they all represent me.” Explaining the lyrical content, she says “I feel like we have two extremes. One is our God Complex. We’re always right. We’re always the best. And then the other side of ourselves is like, ‘Oh, I hate myself and I’m depressed’. It’s two spectrums. And this one’s about feeling like you are invincible and can do no wrong.”

God Complex by KO

Working With Tommy Brown & What’s Next for KO

Tommy Brown aka TBhits is a Grammy Award nominated producer known for his work with Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Blackpink, and many more. He has created his own label, Champagne Therapy. 
“Tommy heard one of my songs and really liked it. So we started working together and it’s been a very creative journey. I love everyone at Champagne Therapy.” KO enjoys the process where they get to collaborate with all of the talented individuals and having a home base where they can experiment and create. “It is really an inspiring energy.”

For what’s in store for the future, “I think definitely more singles, and then probably an EP, and then an album after that. I’m just excited for people to see different dimensions of my music, because there’s so many unexpected ones.” When pressed for specificity, she reveals, “I have metal screamo songs, pop songs, and then disco songs.” Stay tuned.

Find KO aka Koala’s work for streaming on Spotify. Check out @koakakoala on social media (Twitter, TikTok and Instagram) and her youtube channel.

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