When Taiwanese singer-songwriter Dena walked into the cafe, she was wearing an outfit that was the epitome of comfort chic. It was quiet in this cafe in Taipei’s Da’an District, the wooden tables and art-filled walls reflecting Dena’s choice of casual jeans and an off-white, oversized button up. The glitter under her eyes added a subtle elegance, as the sparkles danced in the cozy light. When we made our orders (an iced coffee for Dena; a sparkling fruit drink for me) and chatted a little before officially kicking off the interview, Dena radiated a special type of warmth and groundedness.   

This warmth filtered into the words she’s bringing into 2024. After thinking for a couple of seconds, Dena said, “Stay appreciative.” And, she added a bit later, “see change as a good thing,” especially in relationships. Dena pointed to her Taurus sign and elaborated that for her, “change doesn’t come naturally.” 

But 2024 is already shaping up to be an eventful year for Dena. It was very apt that we were chatting in a coffee shop called Congrats Cafe: the singer-songwriter and YouTuber recently signed to Warner Music in Taiwan. Long before this major career milestone, however, Dena wrote her first song at 16 years old to pour out her first-day-of-high-school emotions (in Taiwan, high school starts in 10th grade). A few years later, she took her musical aspirations to the next level by studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts (before that, though, she studied nursing in her home country). 

Image courtesy of Sara Conway.

Now, Dena is based in Taipei, releasing new songs, collaborating with fellow Taiwanese singers, and continuing to build her community, both online and face-to-face. EnVi chatted with Dena over iced coffee and tea about her new single “on read,” her artistic inspirations, and being honest in her music. 

The Eras of Dena 

It’s been a big era for Dena, one could say. “On read,” her first single since joining Warner Music, was released on February 27. About a month later, Dena dropped “dumb af” alongside the free-spirited JOYCE 就以斯, another Taiwanese singer. To cap off her April (thus far), Dena lended her writing and her vocals to the sweet friends-to-maybe-lovers track, “游移在友誼的漩渦” (English translation: “Friends Or More”). This upbeat treat featuring Ben Wu is the theme song for the new Taiwanese drama 完全省錢戀愛手冊 (English translation: A Complete Money-saving Love Guide).  

Since we’re talking about eras and Dena, we can’t forget to mention Taylor Swift. “She’s such a huge part of my pursuit and my journey,” Dena noted, as she explained why Taylor Swift is such a big inspiration to her as an artist and a songwriter. At the end of the day, Dena is drawn to Swift’s music for a simple reason: “I just really liked the songwriting. And the authenticity coming through her music,” she said. Dena first found Swift’s music on MySpace and connected with “Invisible,” a bonus track on Swift’s self-titled debut album from 2006. The Taylor Swift era Dena believes she’s in now, though, goes to evermore. It’s a “post-clarity” kind of album, Dena mused, a project that was created following the height of Covid-19. 

As for explaining her “Dena era,” the singer-songwriter immediately spoke about appreciation and growth. “For right now, I’ve reached another level of being able to appreciate life a little bit more,” she said, pointing to how she leads with this mindset for her relationships and how she reacts to — as well as addresses — challenges.  

Growing also means looking back on your journey and seeing how far you’ve come. For Dena, two artists and their influence underscore her music career path. After we discussed Taylor Swift (and had a few side tangents about our first memory listening to the superstar’s music), Dena started to answer a question about musical inspirations. “So, the person who really inspired me to start writing my own songs…,” she began, but then suddenly paused. Instead of continuing her train of thought, Dena asked slyly, “Do you want to guess?” 

If you readers guessed Taylor Swift, then you would be correct! Dena’s Taylor Swift story began when she was just 13 years old, a then-budding musician. That same year, Dena started playing the guitar, but because she was inspired by another singer — Michelle Branch. Hearing the 2001 track “Everywhere” on the radio (years after it was released) spurred Dena to go down a rabbit hole to learn more about Branch. As a result, the Taiwanese artist found live clips of Branch playing the guitar when she was only 17 years old. Plus, as Dena emphasized, she was amazed that Branch wrote all of her own songs. “All of her songs are true…stories,” reflected Dena. “And the feeling of being able to connect with a song at that level was just cathartic,” she added, alongside being “very comforting.” 

Image courtesy of Sara Conway.

In the end, Taylor Swift and Michelle Branch and their stories encouraged Dena to take a leap into songwriting. She wrote her very first song because, as she said, “I want to do that too.” Dena’s first song was about herself. Specifically, about the Dena she was after her first day of high school. “I felt very, very alone and shy,” present-day Dena revealed to EnVi. “But I also [had] this deep desire to be seen.” So, Dena “wrote about that feeling,” just like Swift and Branch do in the music that resonates so deeply with her.

Don’t Wanna Leave My Heart “on read” 

Dena continues to write about her authentic feelings, like in her newest single, “on read.” This track was “definitely when I was like really in my Reputation era,” she said, thinking back on the place she was in when she wrote “on read.” With lyrics such as “It’s like the world had shut me out / Since the day you cut me off” and “Can I not go through it all again / Don’t wanna leave my heart open and on read,” pain ripples throughout every part of this song. 

Dena explained more about the inspiration behind “on read,” saying, “It was my first time encountering a heartbreak like that. When I wrote it, I was still experiencing that heartbreak.” As she continued, she had an honest and open look in her eyes: “I documented what I felt in that moment.” This vulnerability made it into the hook of “on read,” where she sings, “Can I not go through this again?” Yet, Dena’s soft and airy vocals are steady as she lets listeners into her true emotions. 

And listeners clearly resonate with Dena’s openness — apparent in both the reactions to “on read,” and a recent reel with “Find yourself a man who…doesn’t leave you on read” as part of the caption. But on the craft side, Dena is most proud of the musicality of “on read.” A light bass supports the groundedness found in the track, contrasting the delicate plucking elements that enter later on. The simplicity of the instrumentals then leaves space for Dena’s voice and her story to be at the forefront of “on read.”   

“I’m really proud of the songwriting,” Dena said of the lyrics she wrote on her own along with the fluid ebb and flow of the melody line. However, Dena’s songwriting process “differs,” she told us. Sometimes, she’s feeling “simple and organic,” so the singer just creates with herself and her trusty guitar. Other times — like when she crafted “on read” — she collaborates with others. For “on read,” for example, Dena elaborated on working with a producer she’s “always wanted to work with” named kvn (also known as kvnloverboy). 

To create the track, Dena was firm with what she wanted: “I want something different but that also represents Dena,” she said as she detailed the behind the scenes of “on read.” She enjoyed working with kvn in part because he was open to discuss everything about the track with her. If she’s writing with someone else, (although she eventually got into the “production side of the music industry” herself) there are many steps involved in just making the demo of a track. Dena listed them out, noting that first she toplines over the beat made by that producer as she thinks and tries out different melodies. She also plays around with lyrics before wrapping up the first round of a demo. From there, Dena will fine tune the track at home by adding vocal harmonies, and the producer mixes the track to complete the final demo. 

At the end of the day, however, Dena emphasized that “There is no set of rules when it comes to creating stuff.” She pointed to participating in a couple of songwriting camps, where she had the opportunity to write with people from around the world, including Japanese and Swedish musicians. “I feel like it’s the new way to write,” she mused. 

Regardless of how a track is originally created, Dena’s favorite part of that songwriting process remains the same. “I think the favorite part is always listening back to your own mix,” she said with a grin. You get to see “your hard work” and gain more “appreciation [for] your own talent,” Dena added. 

Stories Told and Lessons Learned

Dena knows what kinds of stories she wants to tell through her music. “Authenticity,” she said, her response coming immediately after the question. “I feel like music has the magic to touch people.” Music can resonate; music can heal; music can make “you feel less lonely.”

She continued, delving into more details about her answer, “You feel better about certain things or you gain a new clarity about a situation [that] you weren’t able to put into words and sometimes hearing that, it’s very comforting.” Just like how Michelle Branch and Taylor Swift’s stories have touched Dena in an incredibly personal way, she wants to have this kind of authenticity form the foundation of her own music. Dena concluded with certainty, “That’s a magic I don’t ever want to lose.” 

Image courtesy of Sara Conway.

From the moment we start chatting, Dena’s honest voice is clear. It was particularly strong when she spoke about the lessons she learned on her years-long musical journey. “I’ve learned so much actually,” she stated truthfully. “I would sound cliché, but I think it would be ‘appreciation.’” Dena added, “If it wasn’t [for] all of these setbacks and challenges and my support system around me, I wouldn’t have been able to learn how to face challenges.”

As she looked back on all that she has learned, reflecting on growth underscores her thoughts. “My biggest lesson would be…be thankful and grateful for all the challenges that [are] ahead of you,” she said. “It’s always a start of a new growth.” By refusing to let obstacles knock you down, these same setbacks can be a springboard for something new — even if it’s just a new perspective. Sometimes, too, appreciating life and the challenges you have experienced can also inspire an “appreciation [for] different people around you.” And connecting with others, as Dena noted, is something that is “very precious.” 

“You always have the power to make [challenges] into a positive impact,” Dena stated firmly. “You always have that power. So why not make it a positive path?”

We All Need Dena’s Honest Voice 

As a singer-songwriter, YouTuber, and producer, Dena has a lot on her plate. She’s still trying to find a balance that works for her, but balance isn’t necessarily her end-goal in it all. “I guess I’ve accepted the fact that you’ll never ever find a balance in these situations,” Dena admitted. “And maybe that’s the key: accept the fact that you’re always going to be constantly trying to find the balance and…taking it one step at a time and trusting.”  

She elaborated on her perspective: “There’s definitely give and take.” Yet, Dena understands that you might not always be on the same path forever. “It’s okay to make a change,” she emphasized. This advice comes from Dena’s personal experience. During our conversation, she talked about the time when she was focused on building her YouTube channel. Of course, Dena had her music career in mind, but at that time, it was important to her then to really prioritize building a community. “It [was] the first big community that I’ve built myself,” Dena revealed about the journey behind creating her channel of now 250,000 subscribers. Still, something had to give in her busy schedule. “But releasing a 20 minute video every single week for two or three years, I had no time to write music,” she added.  

Image courtesy of Sara Conway.

The next curve in Dena’s journey arrived when she became an independent artist and signed with a publishing company. Then, her focus was music production, and she couldn’t spend as much time cultivating her community. There is, naturally, a silver lining found in this time though: “I’ve learned so much in music production because [in] those two years, I was able to become an independent producer,” Dena said proudly. 

“As long as you’re trying your best, no matter what decision you’ve made for yourself at that stage of your life, it’ll never be a wrong decision because you only gain experiences,” she continued, speaking from a perspective of having witnessed this growth. “You will only learn from it.” 

Since Dena values honest and positive voices in her communities — across music and the internet — EnVi was curious what honesty is to her. The singer thought about this question for a little bit, collecting her thoughts. A beat later, Dena noted that honesty is “having the courage to acknowledge [what] you’re feeling.” Music plays a special part in expressing that honesty, she believes, as it “opens a gateway for you to also be able to be truly vulnerable.” 

Keep Betting On Dena  

While Dena was the interviewee in our conversation, she often is the interviewer. On her YouTube, Dena has interviewed other musicians (sometimes multiple times) such as Lauv, Olivia Rodrigo, and keshi. Most recently, Dena welcomed Filipino-Australian singer grentperez to Taiwan ahead of his concert in Taipei this past March. The main difference between being the interviewer and interviewee, Dena revealed, is “being the giver” versus “being the person who accepts.” But, “I love them both,” she added, since she loves having the chance to “connect with people and get to know [them].” 

Dena does have a question she loves asking regardless of the person she’s interviewing, though. “My favorite thing to ask is how they face challenges and setbacks,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Because honestly, I know it’s cliché, but people don’t understand how much it can help people.” As a result of hearing how someone you admire faced an obstacle or handled a difficult challenge, it can inspire you, too. 

Image courtesy of Sara Conway.

And what about Dena’s answer to this favorite question of hers? Change can be “a chance for you to grow deeper appreciation about life and people around you,” she emphasized.

2024 has been full of change for Dena — but in a very good way. Besides the three songs she recently released, Dena will be performing at Taiwan’s SPACEPORT Carnival on May 25 and 26. 

A few hours after Dena first stepped into Congrats Coffee, we asked her to share some thoughts with EnVi readers. In her response, Dena gave her honest thoughts and her whole-hearted support: “I hope no matter what you’re going through, you always [have] the courage to face the obstacle in front of you,…[have] a positive mindset, and always have the courage to start all over again.” 

Find “on read” on all streaming platforms. Keep up with Dena and her music on Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook

Want to learn more about the Taiwanese indie music scene? Check out seven artists to add your playlists here!