meta-scriptUMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To" | GRAMMY.com
UMI Press Photo 2024
UMI

Photo: Eddie Mandell

interview

UMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To"

Nearly six years since her breakthrough hit, singer/songwriter UMI has focused on growing as both an artist and a human. She sits down with GRAMMY.com to detail the vulnerable and meditative process that led to first independent EP, 'talking to the wind.'

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2024 - 04:43 pm

For UMI, there's comfort in spontaneity. When you take a look at her typical creative process, it's not an exact science — and that's precisely the point. In between those moments where the neo-soul/R&B singer/songwriter felt inscrutable or moments where she wished there'd been an easy Google answer for how to be happy, she found herself in nature. No plan, no schedule, no pressure — just reveling in the resilience of the wind. 

This confidence is intrinsic, almost woven into her DNA. Born Tierra Umi Wilson to a Black father and Japanese mother, UMI's stage name translates to ocean in Japanese; she's much like her moniker, imperceptibly strong as a wave, beguiling and powerful like the sea. Even as her artistry has metamorphosed — from independently releasing her viral song "Remember Me" in 2018, to partnering with Keep Cool/RCA Records for her projects from 2020-2022, back to being an independent artist —  the nucleus of her music has always been sitting with her emotions in nature. 

UMI's first independently released EP, talking to the wind (due Jan. 19), is a sprawling, sparkling and cinematic experience that translates life's delicately vulnerable moments into angelic, earthly croons. Lead single "happy im" is UMI at her most gloriously honest, detailing changes in her team, pondering attachment styles, and finally embracing both fear and joy. "I was afraid so I ran from you," she sings with curious clarity over a dreamy beat. "Why don't I not think too hard about love?

The release of talking to the wind is a celebratory look at throwing caution to the wind and trusting herself. Born from mood boards, raw and unedited music videos, and last-minute song overhauls, the EP is UMI at her most carefree. "I didn't really know my path, but just one step at a time it was revealed to me," she tells GRAMMY.com. "The whole project has taught me faith in the process." 

After finishing a meal with her mother in the home she purchased for her family, UMI chatted with GRAMMY.com to discuss finding the peace of mind to create talking to the wind, her organic collaboration with BTS' V, and healing she's doing with fans-turned-friends. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

This is your first project released independently — congratulations! How did you come to the decision to release talking to the wind independently?

When I first started making music up until my EP Introspection, I was dropping all those independently. It's something that I feel like is a foundation to me. And when I was at the label, I think that I just kind of got the label experience of being asked to be someone that I'm not. 

That just was so counter to who I am as an artist, and also feeling like I was labeled difficult for having a strong opinion and knowing who I am. I think that coming face-to-face with that, I just realized in order for me to have the most authentic expression of my music, it was important for me to go back to being independent again. So that I could reestablish, for myself, who I am, come back to my joy, and then from there, kind of decide what my next steps are. 

I learned all the lessons I needed to, but the world is in completely different places. It's way more about authenticity as you feel, than it is about fitting some kind of mold that already existed. 

The music video for "happy im" is a really celebratory look at a queer relationship. What kind of creative decisions went into that? 

I'm an intentions-first kind of gal. So I sit and brainstorm a lot before I even start to create, especially visually. I have this binder in my closet — I scrapbooked a whole binder of what each song felt like to me. What type of visuals do I want? What do I want people to feel? What do I want people to leave feeling with? And once you figure that out, everything comes together. 

With "happy i'm," I want people to take a look into my relationship, and I want people to see what healthy love looks like. And then I was like, What's an intimate way to film? [Kodak] Super 8 [cameras] and film are really intimate, and I'm not going to color it either. I'm not trying to make it something it's not, so let me just show people the raw footage. 

I have a whole PowerPoint of what each song means to me, when I want to come out, how I want to communicate it on social media. Then I scrapbook it and I get a bunch of references. So it's a very all-in process for me. 

My hope is when people listen, if they have a question or something on their heart, by the time they finish listening to the project, some inspiration of clarity comes through them. Which is a meditative experience to me. 

UMI

In the past, you've talked about your ancestors really speaking to you when you write songs. "happy i'm" features Japanese lyrics —  how did you decide which lines to write in Japanese? Were there specific emotions you could only express in Japanese? 

That's such a beautiful question. It's interesting, because when I first wrote the song, it was all in English. And that was it for a couple months. And I was like, I don't feel like it's expressing everything that I need to. My whole heart isn't in the song right now. So then, I decided maybe I need another language to explain myself all the way. 

And the thing I love about Japanese is it takes a lot longer, in a way, to say something in the space of one sentence in English. You could say five different things, but because of how Japanese is one syllable, one letter versus it being one word — you can really take your time expressing something. 

That whole verse is really about the feeling of expressing gratitude and also the vulnerability of getting things off your chest — and how once you get things off your chest, it makes space for more love. I feel because I was using Japanese, I was able to say it so patiently and poetically, in a way I couldn't in English. I definitely feel my ancestors, and my family, and my culture moving through me when I mix languages. 

There's a line in "show me out" I thought was very poignant: "of all the places I go to I choose you." Are you ever afraid to put that much vulnerability on a track?

Sometimes, I could be writing a song about an experience I had with somebody that I'm making the song with, or I can be talking about an experience that I've never told them — but I'm going to put it on the song. I think that's more nerve-wracking to me than writing a song to people I might have not met yet.

I think it's because vulnerability is really connecting. A big part of my intention for making music is for people to remember the invisible thread that connects us all and how we all just live the same lives — just different colors or different hues of the same color. We go through the same things at the same time, in our own ways. So, I think the more vulnerable I can be, the more I can reveal that to people. But it is scary sometimes, especially to the people that I'm closest with.

How did the collaboration with BTS's V for "wherever u r" come about? 

V has been a fan of mine, I've been a fan of V for a long time. He had been sharing my music online with his friends for a while and he would post me on his story and tag me. A couple months ago, he did it and, on a whim, I sent him a message — and closed my eyes and threw my phone across the room. [Laughs.]

He was like, "Yeah, I'm down!" At this point, I did not know he was going to the Army. But after we finished this song and after everything had happened, I've just come to realize why he picked the song. 

The song is all about love, long distance love, and love of all kinds. The idea that you can have love for someone and share love with someone, no matter where they are. No matter what time it is, you could send love to the past, to the future, to someone and they don't even know you sent it. Love can be felt, love is so infinite like that. 

When I first wrote the song, I wrote about my grandma — who lives in Japan. I don't get to see her often and, sometimes, I forget to call her. I just wish I could be wherever she is. But, I know that when I close my eyes and go I love you, Grandma, she can feel it wherever she is. Now that [V's] in the Army, I feel like a lot of his fans are going to be doing that, too.

Has there been any moment, or person, or career move in the last year or so that helped you heal? 

A big moment for me was when I opened for Jhené Aiko at the Oakland Arena [on Dec. 2, 2023]. I had some intense impostor syndrome happen before the show and usually, I'm very calm and confident. But, I used to have really bad stage fright, so I feel like it came back up again. I've also been taking voice lessons again, so I'm relearning my voice. I was throwing a fit, I was so nervous and I was so confused, but also just letting it all come up. 

One thing one of my mentors taught me is fear is false evidence appearing real. I just had to keep checking myself and being like, none of my fears are real. I'm allowed to feel them, but I don't have to get into them. 

In the end, I was writing out all the things that scared me and how they weren't true. I really took the time to really dissolve all my fear. And that was very healing for me, because now, when a fearful thought comes up, I have an example of an experience to be like: that's just false evidence appearing real. It's not real.

Have you had a recent fan interaction where you were like, "Wow, I am actually influencing people with my music"?

Yeah, I have this one fan [who is also a] friend. They've come to so many of my shows and they've been going through their transition right now. I've seen them changing their pronouns. I see them finding a new name for themselves. I see their whole confidence and self shift and expand. When my album [Forest in the City] came out is when they decided they were going to start transitioning — and my album was a big part of them accepting and coming out to their parents. 

Their mom came to the [Jhené Aiko] show and me and their mom — we just had this moment of such pure joy, seeing her child coming to self-acceptance. Then, they came to the next show and the way they dress is changing and their confidence is going up and then their voice is changing. Every time I see them, they're embodying more and more of themselves. 

These people really love, care, and support me, but also, I'm actively witnessing them heal in front of me. The fact that I can encourage someone to choose that over unhappiness is so powerful.

You've done some manifestation sessions with your fans on Instagram. What are you manifesting for 2024?

2024 feels so big. I feel like I went through my "Avatar [the Last Airbender]" initiation training phase, for years, on how to be an artist. I really feel like I mastered the elements of artistry for myself. 

I'm manifesting a Billboard hit. I'm manifesting a GRAMMY nomination. I'm manifesting a world tour. I'm manifesting all of my music reaching a broader audience that far exceeds my expectations. 

What I have to share in my life experience is very unique and important for people to hear. And it doesn't come from ego, it comes from a space of love and a space of inspiration. I just get excited for more people to have access to understanding mental health or understanding manifestation — or just hearing the music. 

I always say my success is my mental health and my peace of mind. My career has helped me do that, and that makes me proud. 

When I look at my career, it hasn't made me more stressed, or hasn't made me feel disconnected from my family, or hasn't made me lose myself at all. It's made me become more clear and grounded — in all those areas. It makes me know that I'm going to have a really long, fulfilling, and fun career.

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UMI It Goes To 11 Hero
UMI

Photo: Ryusei Sabi

video

It Goes To 11: UMI Shows Off The Studio Gear That Streamlined Her Recording Process

Neo-soul singer UMI introduces her Apollo Twin X interface, the piece of musical gear that allows her to crank out her ideas "immediately."

GRAMMYs/Apr 10, 2024 - 05:00 pm

Neo-soul singer UMI describes herself as a "multi-dimensional artist" whose ideas often come to her in the spur of the moment — and she "needs to get it out immediately."

Thanks to her favorite musical gear, the Apollo Twin X interface, she can bring her ideas to life on the go.

"Instead of going directly into your computer [to record], you can use something like this," UMI explains in this episode of It Goes to 11. "It helps to enhance the sound of what you're recording and makes the recording process easier."

Before she invested in her Apollo interface, she says she used to buy cheap ones for $50 or $100: "I thought I was getting the best experience, but then, I went to a studio. They had one of these. Ever since then, I've been like, 'This is my baby!'"

As a self-proclaimed "studio gear nerd," UMI exclaims that the Apollo Twin X isn't just a fancy part of her collection — it's changed her process altogether. "I don't have to book studio time anymore," she says. "I can do it all in my house!"

Press play on the video above to learn more about UMI's cherished Apollo Twin X interface, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of It Goes to 11.

UMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To"

Miguel

Miguel 

Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images 

news

Sol Blume Festival Returns To Sacramento With Miguel & Jessie Reyez As Headliners

Additional festival performers also include a great array of emerging artists and 61st GRAMMY nominee Tierra Whack

GRAMMYs/Jan 31, 2019 - 05:33 am

Sacramento's Sol Blume Festival has announced it will return for its second year to Cesar Chavez Plaza in Sacramento, Calif. on April 27. This year the festival is headlined by 61st GRAMMY Awards nominee Miguel, joined by Jessie Reyez and a great array of emerging talent.

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Emerging artists at Sol Blume include Snoh Aalegra, Dave B, Jess Connelly, J.I.D, Kiana Ledé, Tobi Lou, Masego, Queen Naija, Parisalexa, Raveena, Ivy Sole, Umi, Summer Walker, and Tierra Whack whose "Mumbo Jumbo" is nominated for Best Music Video at the 61st GRAMMY Awards. Billboard has more detail about artists' backgrounds.

Festival organizers told the Sacramento Bee attendance last year was about 6,000 and said, "Creating and producing this event is an amazing milestone for Sacramento's thriving music community, and we just couldn't be more excited about what the future holds."

Tickets, VIP packages and more information are available at the Sol Blume website. See why Sacramento music fans hope this is the beginning of a long tradition.

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Megan Thee Stallion performing in Houston June 2024
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston on June 15, 2024.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

list

5 Iconic Moments From Megan Thee Stallion's Houston Hometown Shows

Megan Thee Stallion returned to Houston on June 14 and 15 for an epic homecoming filled with surprise guests, gifts and plenty of twerking. Revisit five of the most exciting moments from the Houston stops on the rapper's Hot Girl Summer Tour.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 08:31 pm

Seven years into her career, Megan Thee Stallion is no stranger to a sold-out crowd. The rapper has been dubbed "Sold-out Stalli" since selling out nearly 20 shows on her Hot Girl Summer Tour — and though her stops at Houston's Toyota Center weren't the first sellouts on the trek, they were considerably the most meaningful ones.

"I'm so happy to be home," Megan, a lifelong Houstonian, told the crowd on June 14, night one of the back-to-back shows. After honing her rap skills and launching her career in H-Town, the star expressed her gratitude for the support her Houston fans have shown her from the start. 

"Hotties, y'all know what we've been through, y'all been rocking with me since day motherf—in' one," she gushed on night one. "I love y'all, I appreciate y'all, I respect y'all and I'm very grateful for y'all because, without the Hotties, there would be no motherf—in' Hot Girl Coach."

The two-night stint highlighted Megan's vulnerability, drive and exceptional showmanship. But above all else, her hometown shows reminded fans that she's just a strong-kneed, animé-loving girl from Houston. 

Below, check out five of the most memorable moments from Megan Thee Stallion's Houston homecoming.

She Organized A Hottie Egg Hunt

Before stepping on stage on June 14, Megan sent Houston fans on a Hottie Egg Hunt for a chance to win merchandise and tickets to the show that night. The three-part interactive adventure featured clues, documented on Instagram and X, that helped fans locate the golden eggs. 

The first clue reads, "A wild stallion can't be tamed…meet me at the place where I'm gonna rock the stage!" The second, "Where I run through the mall with your daddy." The last, "People are smart, my Hotties are smarter, find this egg where I got one degree hotter."

Eager fans scoured the whole city and eventually found the eggs at Megan’s favorite spots in Houston: Toyota Center, The Galleria and Texas Southern University. So far, Houston has been the only city Megan has done this for, making for another special moment between her and Houston hotties.

She Continued To Prove She's A Girls Girl

An unfortunate rap show trend has seen several female opening acts receive hate ahead of male headliners. Luckily this hasn't been the case for Memphis rapper GloRilla, who has noticeably been enjoying her experience as an opener on the Hot Girl Summer Tour. 

On night two in Houston, GloRilla presented Megan with a blown-up art piece commemorating her upcoming album, Megan, on stage. In return, Megan complimented the 24-year-old rapper, saying, "Glo is one of the realest women I've ever met." 

That evening, Megan showed her love for another rising star — and fellow Houston female rapper — Monaleo. The Mo City rapper sent the crowd into a frenzy as she sang her 2023 hit song "Beating Down Yo Block," which samples the classic "Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall" by Houston's Yungstar.

She Paid Homage To Houston Legends

Monaleo was far from the only Houston native to take the stage with Megan during her hometown visit. On night one, Megan surprised fans with a legendary performance from a few Houston all-stars. The room filled with excited screams as H-Town''s Bun B popped out to perform UGK's "Int'l. Players Anthem (I Choose You)." As if it couldn't get more iconic, Megan joined the legend on stage to rap Pimp C's verse of the song. 

The night also featured a legendary performance of "Southside" by Lil Keke, which Megan teased prior in the show with her "Southside Royalty Freestyle." Fans also got to enjoy Slim Thug's verse from "Still Tippin," a song he shares with Mike Jones and Paul Wall. (Wall also performed the song on Megan's tour the previous night at Austin's Moody Center.)

On night two, Megan brought out another Houston great, Z-Ro to rap a classic, "Mo City Don." Though a Hot Girl at heart, Megan couldn't help but celebrate the legendary men who paved the way and left a historic mark in Houston's dynamic hip-hop scene. 

She Showed — And Received — Hometown Love

As Megan arrived at the Toyota Center on June 14, she received a surprise welcome by students from her alma mater, the Pearland High School Band and Prancers — a heartwarming kickoff to a night of mutual love between Megan and Houston that put her in high-spirits before the show. 

Both nights were filled with an immense amount of energy and support, from Megan signing autographs throughout the show to making sure she got the perfect selfie with her beloved supporters. Even during more tender moments — like “Cobra," a song about suicide and her depression — felt particularly moving because of the interaction between Megan and her hometown fans.

She Put The "Hot" In Hottie

Taking notes from another H-Town hero and fellow Houstonian, Megan put on an impressive show reminiscent of Beyoncé, from jaw-dropping choreography to stunning wind-blown poses. Megan also tapped into her past life as a Prairie View A&M Panther Doll with majorette-inspired dancing during her song "Cognac Queen." 

Of course, she wouldn't be Thee Stallion if she didn't show off her twerking skills and famously powerful knees during her two-hour show run. Fans even got to participate in the twerk-fest during intermission, as a "Hottie Cam" panned through the audience, showing love to the girls and boys.

If her hometown shows were any indication, Megan Thee Stallion's future is not just bright — it's smoking hot as well. 

GRAMMY Rewind: Megan Thee Stallion Went From "Savage" To Speechless After Winning Best New Artist In 2021

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform  at the 77th annual Tony Awards in New York City, Sunday, June 16.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State Of Mind" at the 77th annual Tony Awards on June 16.

Photo: Mary Kouw

news

2024 Tony Awards Recap: Musical Theater Wins And Exciting Performances

From the big wins for "Merrily We Roll Along" to "The Outsiders" taking home Best Musical and "Suffs" unexpected win, musicals made a splash at the 2024 Tonys.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:36 pm

Broadway had a jam-packed slate of musicals this year, with everything from originals to adaptations and highly anticipated revivals. It would only follow, then, that it would be a busy race toward the 77th Tony Awards

Fifteen musicals were eligible for nomination this year, up from nine in 2023. Fittingly, the June 16 telecast from Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in New York City had some dramatic surprises — especially in the music-related categories. 

One race that was anyone’s game was Best Musical. While many thought Alicia Keys' "Hell’s Kitchen" would take the big win, the award went to "The Outsiders." Featuring music by folk duo Jamestown Revival, the book/film adaptation won a handful of awards, including Direction Of A Musical for Dayna Taymor. It was a landmark year, in which four of the five nominees for direction were women.  

Broadway is perhaps trying to capitalize on pop music fans more due to post-pandemic struggles and the reputation of Broadway being for the elderly elite. The uptick in pop stars gracing the Great White Way led the New York Times’ Michael Paulson to declare that Broadway was entering its pop era; fittingly half of the eligible new musicals had scores composed by people who primarily work as recording artists. 

Broadway is rife with recording artist-helmed scores and jukebox musicals, including Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Who, and Jamestown Revival. Recording artist-driven musicals were also among some of the notable snubs at the Tonys. Shows that failed to secure Best Musical or Original Score nominations included Ingrid Michaelson for "The Notebook," Barry Manilow for "Harmony," Huey Lewis for "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and Britney Spears for "Once Upon a One More Time."

The music categories did offer up some big name winners. Best Original Score was set to be an interesting category this year because a play, "Stereophonic," with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler was in the running. However, the suffragette musical "Suffs" written and starring Shaina Taub took home the award. She also scored Best Book of a Musical, which was predicted by several experts. "Stereophonic" did win five awards total including Best Play and Sound Design Of A Play. 

Orchestrator and musical director Jonathan Tunick expectedly won Best Orchestrations for "Merrily We Roll Along." While the orchestrations aren’t terribly different from the original production, the Sondheim show flopped when it first opened in 1981. Yet the "Merrily" revival has found huge success due to the strength of the music and its three famous leads — perhaps the biggest name on the show's Playbill,  Daniel Radcliffe, won  Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Radcliffe was joined in the winners’ circle by costar "Merrily" Jonathan Groff, who took home Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role In A Musical. Costar Lindsay Mendez lost out on Best Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical to "Hell’s Kitchen’s" Kecia Lewis, whose performance in the Alicia Keys bio-musical was very well reviewed. Considered a front runner for Best Musical, "Hell’s Kitchen" only ended up taking home two awards: Lewis’ actress award and Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical, which went to Maleah Joi Moon, who was the frontrunner in predictions.  

Beyond wins and upsets, performances were the highlight of the Tonys. "The Outsiders" has been garnering praise for its rumble scene, a segment of which made up the show’s Tonys performance, complete with rain. Meanwhile, "Merrily" featured its three stars with a sweet rendition of "Old Friends." Other notable performances showcased the "wow-factors" from many of the nominated shows, including a number from the passionate dance-focused show, "Illinoise," and circus tricks in the number from "Water for Elephants." Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought the audience to their feet with their performance of "Empire State Of Mind" from "Hell’s Kitchen." Meanwhile, "Suffs" leaned into the history lessons of the show.  

Non-nominee performances that stood out include a Fosse-fueled tribute to Chita Rivera, which also included a dance from "West Side Story" performed by host Ariana DeBose (who won an Oscar for the 2021 re-make for the role of Anita, which Chita Rivera originated on Broadway). Nicole Scherzinger, who will appear in "Sunset Boulevard" next season, sang the "In Memoriam." Speaking of West End, the London-transfer production of "Cabaret" included an immersive rendition of "Willkommen," led by Eddie Redmayne, who got dragged on social media and in the press for the clown-like performance many found "terrifying." 

Next year we will be getting even more pop-artist driven musicals, including Elton John leading the charge with two musicals in the works, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Tammy Faye." Other notable upcoming shows will have music by John Legend, Elvis Costello, Nas, Neko Case, and Mitski. Plus, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" will feature music by frequent Taylor Swift collaborator (as well as 2024 Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical) Jack Antonoff

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