Bangkok-born musician, Gena Desouza, is the sort of artist that lives, breathes, sleeps and eats music – it’s deep inside her bones. As she tells me in our interview, she sees herself “more like music than human.” I don’t doubt her for a minute. It’s clear to see through her trajectory from regular teenager to adored artist that she was always going to be a star; starting with recording covers to share online while she was still at school, to competing on a country-wide TV talent show, releasing chart-topping singles and gaining thousands of devoted fans, Gena’s story is one that many young aspiring singers have dreamed of the world over.
Now, she’s ready to release new music, music that she believes represents the true, authentic Gena. In our conversation, she tells us that she has waited her whole life to be able to release these sorts of songs – and, obvious in her excitement when talking about what she has up her sleeve, she can’t wait for you to hear them.
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Before we get started, where are you at the time of this interview and how’s your day going?
Currently, I am in Bangkok, my home, where I live with my family. Due to the pandemic, work is relatively slow, but looking on the brighter side, this time has also taught me a lot personally as well as professionally. I have utilized the time channelling my thoughts in the direction I want to go. It has helped me analyze where I stand now and where I desire to be in the future.
Since appearing on the talent show MBO The Idol Game back in 2016, you’ve been on a trajectory that has seen you explode onto the Thai music scene and gain of dedicated fans. How does it feel looking back at your journey over the past four years?
I feel truly blessed to be loved by my fans and supporters. However, the Gena that they have witnessed is not truly who I am – all my past albums have been designed by the company I have been associated with, so those albums were their interpretation of me and not who I truly am or what I truly stand for.
I can’t wait to show the world the real me, my beliefs, my ideology, my aesthetic and everything I stand for as a musician. Stay tuned. Although without those challenges, I wouldn’t have found who I truly am today.
Even before MBO The Idol Game, you spent your early teen years recording lo-fi covers that you shared online, garnering an underground network of fans and excited interest from talent scouts. Has singing always been a part of your life?
My father, who was a DJ, would play a lot of old songs back in the day. Growing up, I have enjoyed and practised old songs that he would play – I started imitating him and that’s how my passion for music and old songs grew. One day after school, I went to a singing class with my cousin and started learning more about music. My parents generally were busy and many times they would be late to pick me up from the singing class, and so I used to wait outside for ages, but I’d sing alone while waiting for them.
As time flew by, one day I started recording my own songs with the help of an app called Socialcam. It was overwhelming to see myself gain so many followers, and eventually I got spotted by MBO, and that’s how I entered the world of music. At that time, the Thai music industry was highly influenced by Korean music and style. It was a little uncomfortable for me but I had to start from somewhere and I did as water does, I went with the flow. I worked extremely hard, and slowly I found myself. I have much more to offer and I’ve been waiting for the right time from the universe.
One of your first singles was 2017’s Drunk, a sassy break-up letter to an inadequate love interest; in contrast, your next track released the following year was Delete, a stirring, heartfelt ballad that laments the inability to let an ex-lover go. Do you enjoy not being held down by a specific category of music?
As humans we are not always one emotion, we are moody and made of various emotions, and we all feel them differently. I didn’t feel those emotions in the songs you mentioned as it was my agency who wanted me to feel them because that’s what they thought could sell. It was right for me to sing whatever they wanted, to be honest, as it was needed for the album to sell better and be appreciated by the fans. It was not something I truly saw myself in, I have so much more to offer and share with the world – I am currently working on it. I will sing and express my own emotions and philosophy and beliefs to the world.
The music videos for these tracks are as exciting as the songs, with catchy dance routines, gorgeous styling and vibrant sets. How important is aesthetic to you as an artist?
Though it always feels good to be appreciated and liked, the truth is that all these music videos you are talking about have been due to my agency’s taste and choice. The videos were designed by them, and in this process, I at least realized that I am not what those videos have portrayed me as. Due to the contract and commitments, I couldn’t do anything apart from self-reflection.
As soon as I am over with that chapter, I am going to show the world the real me – what I can create, what I’m capable of, my own aesthetic, rather than being influenced by someone else’s ideas. No matter if it sells or not, I at least will be satisfied. I would love to show the world who truly I am with my future music.
Speaking of aesthetic, from glancing at your Instagram page, it is clear that you are highly interested in fashion in your personal life. How would you describe your current style?
Fashion is the reflection of your self and your personality, it is like showing the inside on the outside. In my previous videos, I was dragged into following trends and luxury fashion brands. I used to buy into it, but then trends change so fast, and somehow, those clothes became boring to me. Finally, I decided that rather than following trends, I would make my own. Now I pick up stuff from local emerging designers and local shops and just mix and match. For me, fashion is how you want the world to see you.
I also noticed through your Instagram that you’ve been spending a lot of time in New York when not in your home city of Bangkok. What is it that you find alluring about New York and where are your favourite places to hang out?
I am from a country that celebrates its culture and I absolutely love that about my home, but there is something about New York that mesmerizes me every time I am there. I love the diversity! NYC is the place that welcomes people of all cultures, and I feel totally welcomed there. It’s the city where people come with a dream, and I am one of them. It’s very overwhelming to see and feel that – I am in love with the city.
I am not a very outdoors or party animal kind of person, but I make sure not to miss any music event or festival. I love to go and stand and scream in public and watch those flashing lights, those huge speakers, and the singer arriving on stage. I feel I am almost there, I want to be one of them. That’s where I thrive, and my dreams become almost like reality, even while watching someone else. At the end of the performance, we all are one – it’s giving me goosebumps thinking about it. Apart from this, my favourite place is Central Park, where I just go with my book and pen, lay in the grass on summer days and I write or sing.
“We can’t choose how we start our lives but we can always decide how we want them to end.”
If you weren’t making music, what do you think you’d be doing? Something else creative?
Well, music is my biggest passion. In fact, I see myself as more like music than human! However, I also have an interest in creative direction, which I already had a go at for my previous video by Polar, where I got the freedom to work as an art director. I would love to do more of this for upcoming artists and for my own videos too. Apart from art direction, I wish to have my own weed farm, create my own label and make people happy!
Earlier last year, you collaborated with fellow Thai singer, Youngohm, on trap-pop single Kuek Ka Nong, proving once again your diverse range and ability to adapt to different musical genres. Is rap a style you plan on pursuing creatively in the future?
Hip-hop is the genre I always related to the most. I was happy when I got the opportunity to collaborate with a rap artist – rap and hip-hop songs are always delivered from true stories and actual emotions, and that’s what I love the most about them. My collaboration song was all about people’s dreams and achievements. I personally want to create more songs with a marriage between hip-hop and rap, you will see me zone into this on my album.
What else do you have planned for the future? What should we expect from Gena D?
In Thailand, I am currently a big fish in a small pond – my dream is to come out of my comfort zone and be a fish in the ocean where nobody knows me. It will make me feel more grounded and almost reborn, I’m sure with a few complications along the way. I want to work passionately with a bigger level of opportunity. I know it won’t be a fairytale, but it will at least be my path. I will feel honoured about that. It doesn’t matter how far I go, but I don’t want to live going at one pace, I am totally ready to dive in.
I want to start all over again and make people meet the real Gena Desouza! Not only Gena D. We can’t choose how we start our lives but we can always decide how we want them to end. My beliefs, my life, my style, my passion. I am determined to work hard and want to constantly evolve into a better version of myself through my music – stay tuned world.
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Jacekt and shorts BENZ, shoes SILENCESSLEEP, stockings stylist’s own.
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Jewelry stylist’s own.
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Corset W, mask JITTRAKARN, jewlry stylist’s own.
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Full look NOIRPHETAMINE, crown SERRANO, stockings stylist’s own.
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Full look CHANAYAPAK K., shoes GUCCI.
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Dress OAK, earrings SARRANO, jewelry stylist’s own.