Hana Vu feels 500 years old. She also feels two years old. She feels ancient because she's been on three tours, and is gearing up for an international run this fall. She feels like a toddler because she's only on her sophomore release (as a double-sided feature, her upcoming release, Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway, will count as her second and third EPs), and still feels brand-new in the world. In reality though, she's 19, and, as of three days after her high school graduation, a new member of the esteemed "Los Angeles renters community."
"I’ve been walking this world ever since," she joked over the phone. She's calling from San Francisco, having arrived moments earlier for a show later that evening with Nilufer Yanya. I'm calling to talk to her about her new song "Outside," and its accompanying music video, both making their debut here on Refinery29's The Drop.
In the video, Vu, from the safety of her bed — albeit one placed on a basketball court, in a field, and later, a parking lot — sings, "And I really wanna wake up / But there's nothing to wake up to / I know I'm better on the outside/ I don't really see an issue."
Directed by Vu's friend and "At the Party" collaborator Peter Ferris Rosati, the video feels and looks like a daydream. It's synth-y, chill, and (appropriately) extremely L.A.. Vu is alone, save for a new fish friend at the end, willingly isolating herself from friends by staying on her phone all day. As in her first EP, How Many Times Have You Driven By, there's a thread of melancholy weaved throughout. It's a bit sad girl pop, but better. Her songs, like "Outside," don''t stay sad; they swell and compress likes the waves in the ocean. You can dance to it, or zone out to it, or cry to it. But after speaking with Vu, I'd say she probably wants you to laugh at it, because it's really not that serious.
"[Ferris Rosati] was like, 'We’re shooting you in this bed, and you’re going to do your thing.' I don’t have a gauge for film or storytelling, so he just came up with it all," Vu said. "I didn’t know what was going on. If he tells me too much to do then I’m going to get into my head about it. Ultimately, I'm like whatever, here’s a music video."
Her reluctance to read too much into her work is probably because Vu has a lot of material to cover. Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway will feature 10 tracks, chosen from the dozens of songs in Vu's extensive backlog of work.
"I’ve been making music since I started high school, so I was like 14. Then, I got signed when I was 17. Before that I was local gigging a lot, releasing stuff independently," she said, adding: "I have a ton of songs. I just write a lot....not all of them are winners [but] I'm writing a lot."
"I feel like a lot of music is coming out right now, and everything has an agenda or is trying to teach you something, but that is not really my approach to it," she says. "I just kind of do whatever. If the song is good, someone will tell me, and we will put it out."
And the songs are good. All 10 of them. In fact, I wish there were more, not only to hear her smart lyricism and soothing voice at work, but also to see which third legendary actress she'd pick to add to the mix.
An unlikely inspiration for the her work was The Hollywood Reporter's Roundtable talks . Every award season, the best of the year come together to talk shop, and muse over each other's performances. It's a little self-indulgent, but endless entertainment for Vu. "While I was writing this album, I was watching a lot of Hollywood online content and I was watch those Actress Roundtables for hours. [I'd] ingest that information and regurgitate it out into songs." The EP cover itself is a painting Vu did made of Hathaway accepting an award, which she later digitally altered to look like melting plastic.
Vu chose Nicole Kidman's name for the title first, and later added Anne Hathaway when she realized she would release a double-sided EP. But why them?
Kidman is "cool," she says, and Hathaway, to her knowledge, had never been invited to a roundtable for the site before. (She did appear in one — only one — in 2012.) She felt it was unjust, since Hathaway has delivered some incredible performances. Vu specifically points out in her battle with Helena Botham Carter in Through the Looking Glass , the way she she eats brunch in Ocean's 8 , and that time she hosted the Oscars with James Franco, as some of her favourite Hathaway moments. Her favourite Kidman performance is when she ate bugs in a Vanity Fair video.
A full-time musician and performer now, Vu says she still honing her skills — those that come naturally (like singing, songwriting), and those that don't (performing, painting — we'll get to the painting in a minute). "In theory, I never thought of myself as a performer," she says. "You have your natural skills, and then your acquired skills. I feel it is something I am still working on actively. If I'm playing a really big show and doing a solo set it’s really funny because it’s like, these people are just watching me scream for half an hour."
But watching Vu "scream" for half an hour is easy, because she's also hilarious. I tell her I saw her at a show during her first tour, in the fall of 2018, and she asks if I remember the joke about the caterpillar she told. I weirdly... do. And she laughs. Even though she maintains in our interview, and in her lyrics, that she feels like a bit of a "tiny boy" outsider, she's a natural talent, which is why she can joke about stuff like selling out shows at 17. I ask her about her evolving sound on the EPs (one yet-to-be-released song off Anne Hathaway sounds way more rockish than her previous tracks): "I don't know. I wasn't really trying to do anything. I think I just acquire new skills and implement them. I am two years old, and the world is my oyster."
Check out the debut of Hana Vu's "Outside," exclusively on Refinery29's The Drop.
Nicole Kidman/ Anne Hathaway releases October 25.