Meet Princeaus, the Queer Korean Artist Storming Little Rock's Music Scene
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Meet Princeaus, the Queer Korean Artist Storming Little Rock's Music Scene

After winning Best Electronic Artist in the Black Apple Awards this year, Princeaus plans to release their debut album: Unni, I'm Sad.

Meet Princeaus, the Queer Korean Artist Storming Little Rock's Music Scene
Molly Brooks Wheat

With a mop top of turquoise hair and eyeshadow to match, Nora B. is a fan of bold patterns, vintage dresses, and statement accessories. A self-identified “queer femme” and the only Korean American in Arkansas’s indie music scenes, Nora brings the same boldness and color to everything from their politics to their performances.

Going by the stage name Princeaus (an altered pronunciation of the word “princess”), Nora can be found performing in independently run venues from Little Rock to Russellville. Though they’re a relatively new talent, Princeaus has quickly gained attention in Little Rock’s punk, DIY, and electronic music scenes, winning the 2017 Black Apple Award for Best Electronic Artist this past June.

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

Dramatic, fast-paced, and just a little bit surreal, pieces like “Scarrry Song” has had entire audiences singing along to Princeaus’s performances. Meanwhile, more slow and ambient pieces such as “Antigone” show a different facet of Princeaus’ emotionally charged and theatrical persona.

“I like to think of myself as anything from industrial/heavy synth pop to experimental ambient,” Nora says. However, they certainly don’t limit themselves to certain genres---Nora also collaborates with rap/hip hop artists and even composes classical piano pieces. They recently composed a classical piece called “Life After Death” to commemorate their grandfather, who passed away in July.

Artwork by Nora B.

These pieces show another side of the enigmatic Princeaus: their roots in classical piano and choir. Nora was able to take vocal and piano lessons from a very young age, as well as choir classes when they were a student at Little Rock Christian Academy. By the time Nora reached the age of eighteen, they had already studied French in Belgium and visited Finland, Estonia, Hong Kong, Korea, and much more. In 2016, Nora lived in Paris for six months to complete their baking certification at the Cordon Bleu, a well-known culinary arts and hospitality training school. However, Nora is also a self-taught composer and painter, creating all of their own songs from scratch and designing their own cover art.

Nora and their parents at the Sacré-Cœur in Paris, France

“I have mixed emotions about Little Rock,” says Nora. “Because it’s in the south, it’s really hard to be queer and a person of color here. But as far as the community here, I think we have a great one, especially in the DIY/punk scene and the music scenes.” In fact, Nora points out that they first started performing their music live in the DIY/punk scene.

Photos by Brian Chilson from Arkansas Times

“Nobody does electronic music, at this point, at a punk show. Nobody. So I showed up with this 404 sampler that I borrowed from somebody and just went to town,” they say, laughing. “I was shocked by the fact that people were dancing, some people had already heard my music and were singing along...since then I thought, I’m gonna like this a lot.”

The DIY and punk scenes of Little Rock host local artists and artists touring from out of town at house shows. These shows mostly consist of various subgenres of punk rock, pop punk, or alternative rock played by independent bands. Nora has also performed at similar venues in the much smaller electronic music and hip hop scene, such as the recently closed Hawtbox.

“The electronic music scene in Little Rock is growing, but it still pales [in numbers] compared to the rock scene here,” Nora explains. It was in the punk/DIY scene that Nora first found a following for their live music. Though Nora has a strong connection to this community, they still admit that they were troubled by the scene’s safety issues.

“[There’s] a lot of places claiming to be ‘safe spaces’ that are not, which has led me to the conclusion that---and many people may disagree with me on this---that there are no such thing as safe spaces. I don’t think they exist because every single moment has the potential for destruction and tragedy, especially when there are minors involved,” says Nora.

When Nora mentions minors, it’s clear that they are referring to several incidents in the punk and DIY scenes in which sexual assault allegations against members of the scene have become publicized. One of these individuals is a registered sex offender who had been regularly using his house to host punk shows, a carefully kept secret that Nora exposed---receiving major backlash in the process.

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

This poses a serious safety issue when it comes to the fact that a significant number of underage women frequent this scene. Many of the women and LGBTQ members of the punk scene, including Nora, received backlash after they called for alleged rapists and sex offenders to be banned from punk venues.

“I’ve become famous for my lack of subtlety [...] but lately the big problem in the community has been abuse, whether sexual or not. This has led to a lot of safety issues,” Nora says. “I have been a giant proponent of anti-rape apologism, anti-abuse, and anti-sexual assault. I genuinely believe that silence is violence, whether it’s silence about racial issues or silence about abuse. So I’m a very loud person.”

Art by Nora B.

Nora’s “loudness” has garnered negative attention from members of the punk/DIY community who disagree with their beliefs. In addition to online harassment and even death threats, Nora has experienced harassment at her shows and even a physical altercation.

“A person at a show got angry at me because I introduced a song, which was about a man who left me because of mental illness, by saying ‘this is about bad men doing bad things’.” Nora goes on to explain that the individual attempted to physically hit Nora. “She started harassing me online with racist comments. I was just like, okay, blocked.”

Recently, however, this community has been reeling from opioid addiction and overdose. Several members of the punk/DIY scene passed away this year due to heroin overdoses, prompting the community to put together a benefit show to raise money for naloxone (the drug that is administered to reverse an opiod overdose).

“Due to a lot of tragedy in the community lately, I think we’ve become much more close-knit than usual. People are savoring each other a lot more and nurturing relationships,” explains Nora. “I think the community is growing but the scene is still struggling. I’ve known five people that died this year.”

Though not a death from heroin, Nora explains how their communities came together to support them and their family after their grandfather passed away this month. Kimchi, a Korean restaurant located in Little Rock, donated an entire banquet of Korean food to Nora’s family, something that they are still extremely appreciative of.

Nora explains that they have always found community among other Koreans. Even though Nora is biracial and ¼ Korean, they were raised with a strong connection to their Korean heritage, which greatly influences their art. In fact, their very first live performance was a cover of the song “Maps” by Karen O, another indie musician who is ¼ Korean.

“You know, I always say that as long as I have a drop of Korean blood in me, I will be proud of it,” Nora remarks. They explain that they’ve never felt like they’ve been treated as “white” before and that others have always singled them out for being Asian. These experiences with their cultural identity have inspired much of Princeaus’s work, with many of their songs featuring traditional East Asian instrumentation and cultural themes. An excellent example is Tiger’s Tale (호랑이 이야기), a Princeaus song based off of an old Korean folktale.

“In this story [...] an old woman goes to this tiger’s cave every day. And every time she enters the cave, she says ‘Anyeonghaseyo, gong-gyuk hajima’, which means ‘Hello, please do not attack’,” explains Nora. The line is repeated throughout the song over a melody that combines traditional Korean musical elements with modern day electronic beats.

Tiger’s Tale isn’t the only Princeaus song influenced by Nora’s personal identities. Much of Princeaus’ music and persona is shaped by Nora’s own experiences with resistance and survival as a marginalized person. One of their most popular songs, Scarrry Song, is a glitchy and gritty electronic piece that deals with intense emotions related to Nora’s mental illnesses, namely post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition, Nora’s involvement in local LGBTQ activist groups, as well as their personal identification with the word “queer”, has attracted attention from the LGBTQ members of Little Rock’s music scenes. Nora created the song “I’m a Rainbow” shortly after coming out as a nonbinary person.

“When I made ‘I’m a Rainbow’, I was definitely looking to make sort of a queer anthem. It started out as a song about my own identities, but I wanted it to be relatable to other queer people too,” they said. They explained that they were inspired by their personal feelings regarding their gender identity and sexual orientation to create a light-hearted and relatable anthem for LGBTQ people.

In June, Arkansas arts & creative magazine The Idle Class awarded Princeaus Favorite Electronic Artist of 2017. Nora admits to being surprised when they received their nomination, as they had only been performing music for a few months.

“It’s fascinating that I’ve made it this far. I never thought that I’d do live performances until like February, and then I just started doing them. Since then, I’ve probably done upwards of twenty or twenty-five performances,” they say. “Everyone else who was nominated in that category were absolute geniuses. I was shocked when I won. I felt like I didn’t deserve it.”

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

Now that Princeaus is here and here to stay, what’s in store for Nora? The eclectic artist has been searching for opportunities as a baker while spending most of their free time working on their music and visual art. Nora explains that they plan on staying in Little Rock for quite a while and that they’re excited to release their first album.

“I just have too many things going on here. I need to be with my family and focus on my music. Right now, a day in my life consists of a lot of listening to my own music, working on my album, a lot of painting...a lot of self-critique.” Nora says. “I’m planning on releasing my album next month, and hopefully I’ll be able to start touring within the next year.”

Titled Unni, I’m Sad, Nora’s first album is set to debut on September 2. Look for it on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, or follow Princeaus’s official Facebook page to stay updated. Princeaus will also be performing a special show at the Cavern in Russellville, Arkansas on August 21 with a lineup that consists entirely of LGBTQ artists.

Artwork by Nora B.

“I just want to shoutout Carmen [Gresham] and Willow [Wheeler] for their activism. Also shoutout to Spirit Cuntz, Slow Panda, and Stalker, all great talents. Finally, shoutout to Kimchi---it’s an amazing restaurant with great food owned by a wonderful, generous family.”

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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