If you’ve heard or come across the song NVMD recently, that’s not Ariana Grande singing, but 20-year-old Pinay musician Denise Julia.
When Julia Denise Lee, or more commonly known by her stage name, Denise Julia, began her year, viral success and millions of streams wasn’t something she had in her 2022 bingo card. Prior to that, the 20-year-old sophomore college student studying International Relations diplomacy with a major in Japanese Studies from Ateneo de Manila university was just an underground musician who had released a handful of singles. But that all changed when, you guessed it, TikTok, and social media in general helped turn her latest single, NVMD, into a viral hit.
It brought Denise into a whole new spotlight with legions of new fans. When NYLON Manila recently caught up with her, she told us that we were her third of four meetings that day. However, the new attention hasn’t been all golden as some have also accused her of copying Ariana Grande’s sound in NVMD. To hear it straight from her though, that wasn’t her intention at all nor is the young musician just riding on the coattails of others for attention. With big dreams for her career, Denise Julia is her own artist, trying to find her sound.
MEET DENISE JULIA
While Denise has only been in the music industry for a little over a year now, music has been a part of her since she was a teen. “I have been writing since I was like, 13 years old. But I was very shy,” she tells NYLON Manila. The change happened when she transferred to DLSU Senior High School and the new environment prompted her to step it up. “I became the company manager, or president of the singing organization. And then through that, I kind of got connected with a person. And then that person connected me with more people. Then those people connected me to more. It was mainly connections. I started posting covers, and then producers would hit me up and like, ‘Do you want to work on a track and everything?’ And then I officially started.”
Performing, in fact, was (and still is) a core part of her DNA, or at least that’s how Denise sees it. “Ever since, I’ve always wanted to perform. It’s always been in my blood. I wanted to be an actress. That was my first dream. And then I found out that I could sing. When somebody told me that I have a nice voice, I kind of focused on that more, like the music side.” She specifically credits working with producer NEXXFRIDAY as a catalyst for launching her musical career.
Already taking heavy inspiration from music, when she was young, Denise Julia listened to a lot, specifically that of R&B. “It’s a combination of two worlds. I grew up listening to 90s R&B women like Beyoncé, TLC, and Aaliyah, and modern R&B like Summer Walker, SZA, and Kehlani. I think my sound is definitely the combination of those two.”
It’s hard to state just how much R&B was an influence in Denise’s life. Not only is it her favorite genre, but that love even permeated in her own family. “My mom and my aunt, they were they’re all big fans of Beyoncé. They would make me dance on a freaking table, like belly dance to songs like Naughty Girl. And so you know, when I grew up listening to that, you kind of like perceived them as your icon, especially fashion. I’d take a lot from that. And they were the ones that I just thought were beautiful growing up. They were amazing. And naturally, when I started making music, there’s that influence.”
But just because she loves R&B, that doesn’t mean she isn’t open to trying her hand in other genres. In particular, she’s experimenting with including more upbeat and pop tunes in her latest and upcoming releases.
NEVER MIND I SAID I WISH YOU’D MIND
Released on February 4, 2022, NVMD (pronounced as never mind) serves as Denise Julia’s latest single. Once you press play, it’s not hard to imagine why the song has gained a strong following. The upbeat R&B track sounds like that dreamy trip you imagine from start to finish. Denise’s voice is so smooth and airy as she brings out the “boy bye” energy of the track. The breakup track about not wanting to get back with your ex is perfect for any baddie playlist. While not an immediate hit at release, the song slowly but surely attracted listeners, hundreds of thousands all over the world in fact.
To date, NVMD has over 7.2 million streams of Spotify and counting. It also is one of the most streamed tracks by a female OPM artists on Spotify right now. On TikTok, the song has been used as a sound over 25,000 times. And that’s just the official sound with other iterations of the song being used tens of thousand of times. If you’ve been on TikTok as of late, you may have come across a video using the dreamy R&B bop as its sound. It’s quite appropriate then that NVMD can trace its origins to TikTok.
She participated in an open verse TikTok duet and she soon realized that what she did was good enough for a song. Going over the beats producers sent her, she came across one that samples NIKI’s Vintage, hence why both songs sound similar especially in the beginning. A few back and forth between her and her team later, NVMD was finally complete. By her estimate, it took a week to finish the song.
ARIANA GRANDE COMPARISONS
When you listen to NVMD without knowing its context, you might feel Denise sounds familiar. In fact, you would be forgiven if you thought she sounded like Ariana Grande. This is something Denise herself has poked fun at, and it actually what made her realize that the song was going places. “When the bashes and haters were coming in, I was like, ‘Oh, she’s getting in there. Like she’s getting her name out there.’ But yeah, weirdly, it was when you know people started bashing on me and creating these weird stories and I was like, ‘Yeah, sounds like she’s known.’” When asked about the hate she gets, she shares, “They were saying that I was wasn’t even on Ariana Grande’s level. They’re like, you can’t even come close to her level.”
So, how does she feel about the comparisons? “It’s actually just funny. You know, it’s just me. I don’t really take it seriously.” For those who accuse Denise of copying Ariana, know that there was no ill intent behind it. Like with any up-and-coming musician, Denise is still trying to find her own sound, and compound the fact that most musicians start out being inspired by their faves. Even Ariana Grande herself faced accusations that she was just copying others when she began her career.
“I feel like it’s really a process of a musician to find their own sound during their whole career. So, I get that. I accept it as part of the journey. It actually teaches me and actually pushes me to really find my own sound and my own design. But for the most part, of course, as an artist, you wouldn’t want to be known as a bootleg version. But I kind of take those criticisms and turn them into areas that I would improve on.”
All this and more started thanks to NVMD going viral. But just make sure to don’t call Denise Julia as just another viral act. Because for her, she never set out to create a song that would make the rounds on the internet. “So here’s the thing about going viral. I actually never wanted to be known as a viral artist. My goal was to progressively build an audience, because I really don’t like it when people make music for the clout. I don’t like that.” She adds, “I have a love-hate relationship with virality. While it did good on my end, I do notice that for others, it’s kind of you know, it’s like a one hit wonder and everything.”
EYES SET ON THE GLOBAL STAGE
Denise Julia is set to be quite booked and busy this 2022. “More music, more fits, more fashion,” she shares. But aside from that, she also has her eyes on the bigger prize, that of signing with an international record label. “We’re definitely looking at a lot of international labels reaching out. They’re trying to fly me out to New York or LA. So, let’s see, because it’s hard to just leave everything here and go there. I’m doing it on my own, but I already am looking at my options. You know, if it’s right, and I do sign this year, it’s gonna be a huge moment for my career.”
The fact that Denise is still young and still an independent artist but has her sights on going global is pretty admirable. “Ever since I started my career, I have this mentality that it’s like, ‘Go big or go home.’ That’s the only way right now that it’s actually happening. And I’m just taking my time trying to see what will be best for my craft and my career, you know, if I’m going to be taken care off.”
It seems though that her rising career hasn’t gotten in the way of her studies since she’s currently studying, and an honors student at that. Her parents have also been supportive of journey so far, both in her career and how she’s managed keep track of her school priorities.
And just like that, social media has given us another underrated artist to stan and follow. Thanks to the success of NVMD and her own talents, Denise Julia has jumped from relative obscurity to another rising confident female Filipina to keep an eye out for.
If NVMD has gotten you hooked and you want to her more of her, Denise suggests you check out Pity Ya next. “It’s gonna give you that ‘I don’t need a man. I can do this on my own’ energy. So, yeah, it’s just independent vibes.”