Artist Spotlight: kega on Genre-Bending, Heartbreak, Forgiveness & Turning 20

By: Ray Liu
09/09/2023
en

Nineteen-year-old Chinese American pop-punk artist Kega (stylized as kega) is deeply immersed in his world of music. Though still quite young in the cut-throat music scene, kega has a knack for shutting out the noise in order to create his art. Perhaps that is why you can barely catch a glimpse of him on social media. Despite his young age and phantasmic presence on the Internet, kega’s catalog of songs range from emo rap to pop punk. His recent rock ballad, “let go of my hand,” has garnered over 30,000 streams on Spotify. This song laments the past and memories of a now-broken love, a change in pace for the artist who started his career with emo rap and hip-hop.

Kega’s 2023 release, “Hell Sound,” is a “combination of my lessons learned, turning 20, and heartbreak,” says kega. The sound of this song is yet another 180-degree turn from his previous works — a sign that kega is never settling with one specific sound. As experimental as he is with his music, kega remains to be a musician who creates music from his experiences.

EnVi had the opportunity to learn more about kega. In an exclusive email interview, kega shares his musical journey of heartbreak, forgiveness, and how the lessons he’d learned made the sound of kega today.

Photo courtesy of kega.

Injury : kega : Inspiration

At 19, kega already has several singles and EPs on Spotify and Soundcloud. Though he may be young, he is a mature artist with a hunger for experimentation and evolution in his music. Much of his inspirations stem from personal experiences, namely heartbreak. 

The artist shared that “The Japanese word kega means injury.” This “injury,” of course, refers to the aftermath of a bad romantic relationship. In the short number of years that kega has been an active musician, he’s dabbled in various genres, from hip-hop to emo rap. But he told EnVi that “Lately, pop and pop punk have gotten my attention.” He also shared that at the beginning of his career, he “produced a lot of music that was merely on trend at the time of their releases. But as [he] continues to grow as a person and artist, I’ve come to understand that making things that reflect what [he is] most passionate about is the most important.”

This growth is evident in his 2022 tracks, “let go of my hand” and “I LUV U.” These releases were the first catalog of songs that shifted from his rookie sound, which leaned toward hip-hop and emo rap. kega’s latest release, “Hell Sound,” demonstrates the fruition of his evolution into pop punk, fastening his signature mellow intonations and vocals against speedy electric guitar strums and an upbeat style.

Photo courtesy of kega.

A transcontinental, new age sound for Chinese Americans

Originally from Hong Kong, kega is a fluent Cantonese speaker. While Canto-pop in Hong Kong has secured its footing in the music industry, the subgenre has yet to blow up the way K-pop (Korean pop) or J-pop (Japanese pop) continues to. K-pop and J-pop have established a foundation in American music and proven there is an appetite for Asian music in the market. Kega redefines the stereotype of the Chinese American sound by foregoing the pigeonholed narrative of gongs and sharp-sounding instruments that are often overplayed as stereotypes. His music connects with the new age of Chinese Americans who love many genres of music.

“I grew up listening to a lot of western music because of my friends from around the world,” kega said. “Though I didn’t use Hong Kong’s local music scene as much in my songs, I would like to broaden my musical horizons and start listening to more local Hong Kong music in the future.” Kega, who travels constantly between Chicago and Hong Kong, does not carry Canto-pop influence in his music. But he reassures his fans and audience that he is the musician that he is now “because of the memories, experiences, and lessons [he has had] in Hong Kong.” His songs and songwriting process are transpacific and transcontinental, connecting the musical elements of two vastly different territories across borders and the Pacific Ocean.

Everything that led to “let go of my hand”

One of kega’s most-streamed songs on Spotify is his 2022 single, “let go of my hand.” The sound is reminiscent of the early-2000s pop-rock scene, skater-boy aesthetic. But beyond the facade of this mellow, moody song is a deeply personal story. During our interview with kega, he walked us through the process of how the record came to fruition.

“The song was inspired by the experience of running into someone you once loved. The familiar feelings and flashes of nostalgia come up. It then seems like a mental war in your brain to keep the thoughts from gaining control once again as you remember the unpleasant aspects of the relationship and the reasons why it didn’t work out,” kega shared with EnVi. On the mechanics and technical aspect of writing “let go of my hand,” kega has this to share: “In comparison to my past works, ‘let go of my hand’ is a slower song. I didn’t think about the speed or beats per minute when I was writing the song… When something sounds nice, it sounds nice, and you don’t consider how slow or quick.”

Photo courtesy of kega.

“Hell Sound,” a continued advocacy for mental health

Having begun his music career after his first heartbreak, kega guards his heart and mental health very seriously. But his heartbreak helped him forge a safe space for his fans to openly talk about societal issues and mental health.

When asked, “What is one thing you would want to tell your younger self—the kega who was at the very beginning?” the artist had this to share:

I would remind myself to strive relentlessly for whatever I want in life. When it comes to love, I would want to be more tolerant and forgiving of circumstances. Everyone makes foolish decisions when they are young. But these regrets are part of our growth. If you keep that in mind while being in love, only beautiful things will happen.

Newly released “Hell Sound” is kega’s way of continuing his advocacy for mental health. The rock record evokes the skater boy and mellow sounds of the early 2000s. It begins with a steady strumming of bass before the kick drums burst in. This catchy, heart-on-your-sleeve release has an even more profound meaning embedded in the lyrics. “I don’t go deep into what works out,” kega sings in “Hell Sound.” Rather than focusing on the good and brighter side of love, kega chooses to ground himself in a more realistic approach to love. During the interview, he told us that “I don’t look into and consider anything that works out in love. From what I have learned, love typically does not last forever. If you go too deep into only the good, it will come back to haunt you once it’s over.” These are words from someone who is choosing to protect himself through the lessons he has learned.

Age plays a big role in how kega views life and love now. Quite astoundingly, he paints a vivid image of how age impacts our perspectives, which in turn births a very useful songwriting method. “As you get older, there tends to be more things you would worry about,” said kega. The soon-to-be 20-year-old singer-songwriter concludes our interview with a gentle reminder: “Don’t obsess over the small things in life.”

Make sure to keep up with kega’s upcoming releases on Apple Music, Soundcloud, Spotify, and Instagram.

*Please note that parts of the transcription have been edited by EnVi for brevity and clarity.

Discover more independent musicians across the Asian diaspora at EnVi! Check out our exclusive interview with Thai indie singer-songwriter Numcha here.