Hello Asia! writer K-Ci Williams profiles Sydney-based artist, JËVA.
The first time I saw JËVA was on my TikTok For You Page, his arms resting on the steering wheel of his car, broadcasting his feelings to the world. “I just don’t know if I’m ever going to find someone,” he says. Rain trickles down the windscreen and his eyes wander. He is honest. It is like talking to a friend. When he makes music, that talking turns to singing.
The Sydney-based singer comes across as a loveable goofball — his artist biography on Spotify says “please stream my music enough so that I can buy a subway” — but he is also incredibly introspective. It is his inner reflection of life as a 25-year-old gay Chinese man that translates into the chapter-like structure of his releases, from 2019’s Saturday to the forthcoming Typhoon EP.
In the weeks since he appeared on my FYP, I frequented JËVA’s Spotify playlist more than one might deem socially acceptable. His song ‘Typhoon’ was a finalist in Tones And I’s 2020 That One Song contest (as it should, it is a total banger). This was followed by the release of ‘Good Friends’ in November of last year. ‘Possibility’, JËVA’s final single from Typhoon, is out now.
We bridge the ditch via a Zoom call — from New Zealand to the traditional and rightful lands of the Gadigal people — and while it is no Trans-Tasman bubble, it gets the job done. He arrives smiling against a backdrop of large posters; a scene of pink and golden sunset hues over a bed of flowers. It is clear his affinity for a pretty aesthetic reaches beyond the ‘official visual’ videos he produces for his music releases.
Like any millennial, we start with a healthy dose of playful self-doubt, where JËVA admits his name is really hard to search online. “I don’t know why I picked that,” he says. “Even when I look up JËVA on YouTube, there’s like a really famous software channel.” It’s obviously the umlaut over the letter E. “It’s the fucking E,” he screams.
I ask about his nonchalant Spotify bio, too. “I’m very proud of that. I like eating a lot. Like, a lot,” he says. How close is he to actually buying a Subway? “With every single song that I’ve put out, if a Subway is ten dollars, I can buy fifteen Subways.”
“Growing up there was no music around the house,” he says as we segue into his early inspirations. “My sister barely listened to music but she had this one Spice Girls CD, one Westlife CD, and I’d sometimes listen to them on a little Walkman.” He uses his hands to describe the approximate size and shape of a Walkman; it is simultaneously the worst game of Charades I have ever seen and a tribute to the music device that got us through the 2000s.
JËVA’s childhood influences scream child-of-the-new-millennium, with access to Limewire (and inevitable viruses) and the discovery that albums of songs exist beyond singles. That is when he found MapleStory, an online game. “People would get the characters and animate them doing things, then they would animate a music video to songs and put the lyrics on-screen.” MapleStory was the gateway beyond Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ to tracks like ‘The Way I Loved You’. “At the time I was in love. That was when I had my first real strong crush on a guy in high school. The feelings were so strong, but I didn’t know who I was yet.” Taylor Swift would go on to become a fierce inspiration to JËVA in his songwriting journey, teaching him to write subconsciously.
“I knew pretty early on that as a musician there’s a few ways to go about it,” he says, weighing up the merit of either creating a fictional storyline in his work, or being himself. “In the beginning I was really scared to be myself. But once I started going further and further and my journey of self-acceptance continued to flourish and blossom, then I was like fuck, I just want to tell my story now.”
The upcoming Typhoon EP is soaked in that story, and watching JËVA open up about it on-screen feels like my For You Page has come to life. He fell for a close friend and fantasised that he would help him come out, in some knight-in-shining-armour moment. It did not go well. “We’re not really friends anymore, and it sucks but I mean,” and he laughs while saying this, “I got a really good EP out of it.”
“I’ve decided to just frame my artist-story as a journey,” he continues. His early music is about life before coming out, “Just ignoring the elephant in the room, living in bliss knowing there was something I needed to face that was such a huge, dark part of my life.” At the same time, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ was causing a stir worldwide. “I used [it] as a coping mechanism. [I] watched it like four or five times in the cinema and I was very publicly obsessed with it, so it was almost like dropping some small hints to the world that I was ready to come out.”
He shares a quote he found online. “The most important words you’ll ever say are to yourself, about yourself, when you’re by yourself,” he says. He never fully understood the concept of self-love and ‘backing yourself’ until later in life. Growing up gay means being burdened with internal hate. “You could never really be like ‘I gotchu’. After accepting yourself, being okay with yourself and then finally embracing yourself in the world, there is this whole childhood and adolescent experience that was never validated.” We can expect his future projects to explore this concept.
I mention the intersections of identity that JËVA sits across as a gay Chinese man. I poke fun that he is not Korean, like many TikTok comments assume. He launches into a ‘rip headphone users’ kind of scream, his laugh reaching peak volume. TikTok, he notes, is a funny thing, but we press on. “Back in high school I would separate parts of my identity. And I would really clutch onto any form of representation, but separately.” Sam Smith was a sweet person with a broken heart, and “even the homophobic aunty can get along with that.” And it was seeing Poh Ling Yeow win second place on MasterChef Australia that filled him with pride as an Asian diaspora. “I’m beyond the days where those things make me feel seen anymore. There’s not enough intersectionality that’s being represented in the media.” One would hope JËVA is aware that his existence at these intersections is a step forward in that representation.
“When I see someone who’s queer and a POC killing it in some sort of way, that intersectionality really fucks with me. When I see that, I get so inspired.” He apologises for a long-winded answer, but it is a strange comfort. The feeling you get watching his TikTok account is not inherent in the platform, it is his willingness to be as verbose as he wishes to be that shines through.
If JËVA’s journey thus far could coalesce to any kind of message, he personally offers these words of wisdom to me after learning about my own journey, which I have opted to share here. His words are too important and imperative to omit:
“I think it’s hard to see when you’re in your own shoes and you only care about your motivations and your external goals and success because then it’s really easy to give up on yourself,” he says. They are words straight from the angel on his shoulder, having nurtured his own soul with the realisation. “But when you think about it, you’re actually a pioneer, you’re a trailblazer, in the way that, you are inspiring more people than you know. Some people are genuinely gunning on you to make it. There is so much merit to what you’re doing and so much merit to picking a path that is harder and creative and unconventional. And there’s so much incredible value to the path you’re walking.”
As JËVA continues to make his mark on the music scene, with certified bop after bop being released, the industry will be wise to keep an eye on him. He is coming for the Australian pop crown, and if ninety minutes on a Zoom call with him is even a small sign of what he is capable of, you had better get ready. “You just have to remember,” he says. “That the reason to keep going is not even just for yourself, but it’s for the ripple effect that you will be making in the world.”
Find JËVA on Instagram @jevacado and listen to his discography on Spotify below: