When the real world felt unwelcoming, khai dreams turned to the internet to find a distinct voice and bedroom pop sound.
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Like most people who fall under the spectrum of Gen Z, khai dreams (she/they) grew up exposed to the internet early in life. Websites like Gaia Online, Neopets, and Runescape provided the 23-year-old musician with the kind of space that their hometown of Eugene, Oregon wasn’t providing them. It’s also in this exploration that khai discovered all kinds of resources, particularly for music, that they felt was “like a homey place and innovations…where music created there wouldn’t necessarily be found in a professional environment.”
It’s this internet comfort and influence that fittingly shaped a unique bedroom pop sound, which is realized with viral hits such as Sunkissed and the newest album, Absolute Heartbreak. For the full body of work of khai dreams, it is one that explores self-identity, romantic and platonic relationships, and what it feels like when you hit rock bottom in a way only the artist can share.
NYLON Manila recently chatted with khai dreams where the Vietnamese-American opened up about how high school was a pivotal time of their life, music as therapy, and separating the personal from internet life.
Growing up in a predominantly white town, khai tried to appeal to mostly white neighbors, but that gave some short-term comfort. Eventually, there was a space that defined and encouraged a more authentic identity. “When you’re in those kinds of positions (feeling like) the worse it gets, the more you have to think like this isn’t forever, it gets better,” says khai.
That time came in high school, which became a pivotal time, because here, a sense of self and was carved out. While high school may feel like the worst place to be for some teens, that wasn’t the case for khai. At some point, they switched to an alternative high school where there was more of a connection with classmates and teachers rather than a public high school system.
This switch is where a full potential in music thrived after a supportive friend played their first song in front of class. Looking back now, khai has these words of wisdom to share: ”You don’t have to try so hard, and you’re doing okay.”
MUSIC AS THERAPY
“Writing music is a therapeutic process for me,” expresses khai, mentioning how they struggled with anxiety and depression since childhood. It’s a feeling that’s found in all four concerns of Absolute Heartbreak. “Bugs came together pretty quickly and Heartbreaker was the hardest to write comparatively because it was the last song that came together,” khai shares on the album’s production.
Aside from making music, khai also turns to watching anime, cooking, and baking for some therapeutic R&R. Or, there’s also the comforting tactic of McDonald’s. “A Bacon McDouble in there, Hot n’ Spicy McChicken, and fries in a medium size,” is khai’s go-to meal at the golden arches. “The rest will be filled with whatever toys can fit in there.” While fast food may not be the most healthy of meals, it’s the feeling that counts. “It unlocks so many layers within ourselves and can be associated with positive feelings.”
REAL LIFE VS INTERNET LIFE
Because of how connected people are these days, separating that narrow divide between the digital world and the real world isn’t easy. And given how the internet served as khai’s personal and musical awakening, you would think that applies to the non-binary artist as well. However, that isn’t the case. “I separate my artistic life from my personal life. khai dreams is something I had to learn to see as a different entity so that I don’t overwhelm myself.”
Many communities that khai has explored have been online and here, long-lasting friendships have been fostered. “I let people know in real life what they’re getting into…at first I tried to act cool online when I first started as khai dreams but it became pointless afterward.”
Setting boundaries within your personal life and internet life is ideal. khai views music and the internet as an escape from her every day worries. With their new album now out, khai can confidently say that they can put an end to this current chapter of their creative career. What happens next will be up to khai where the hope is to be thoughtful about what the next steps are. But regardless of where khai goes, whether it be the continued exploration of the digital space or career as an artist, it’s going to be one of growth.
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