YAN turns her struggle to be a “perfect” youth into music
Her childhood dream was and continues to be to sing for National Day.
At eight years old, Yanni Ruth Chin picked up the ukulele. Four years later, she taught herself how to play the guitar, posting covers of Taylor Swift songs on Facebook and joined a Christmas carolling group.
One day in school, she mustered the courage to sing Cups from the movie Pitch Perfect in front of her class. Her classmates praised her voice, giving her the realisation that she might have what it takes to pursue music as a career.
Today, Yanni, who turns 21 this year, has released her own songs.
As a teenager, YAN sang at school events, gigs, and even auditioned for Asia’s Got Talent. She learnt from that time that singing is “therapeutic” and “healing”.
“It helps me with self-confidence. I want to bring joy and happiness to people around me,” she says.
However, she continued to struggle with herself and felt her command of the English language was too weak for her to write her own songs. It didn’t help that she also didn’t speak much in school. She read books and wrote essays and songs based on instinct.
“I had no formal education in music,” she explains. “I just listened to a lot of music. I tried to look for meaning and imagine the lives behind them. I thought, maybe I could use my life in song to help other quiet, vulnerable people.”
During her formative years, YAN lived with eating disorders, depression, anxiety and OCD. She understands the impulse: “We shouldn’t rush ourselves into recovery. It will take longer than we expect. In adapting and accepting that, I try to relate my experience in music and what I put on social media to help people struggling alone. Their feelings are valid. It’s okay to not be okay.”
She continues to struggle today, but knows it’s a process.
“I’ve learned to re-define and embrace mental health. To me, it means acceptance, embracing where we are and what we have, empathy — not just for others, but ourselves — forgiveness, self-gratitude and prioritising inner peace. Everyone is fighting something. We should always be kind. I try to treat others how I want to be treated,” she says.
YAN’s perception of herself and Singapore often got, and continues to get in the way of her instincts.
She describes Singapore’s music industry as “very broad”, with “nothing particularly ‘Singaporean’ across the scene.”
“A lot of what is produced is reminiscent of Western sounds. I do feel pressure to fit into a ‘pop’ stereotype, to be ‘21st century’,” she shares.
She can’t seem to align what seems to be popular and her own tastes. Yan loves listening to old songs, in Mandarin and English. New songs don’t automatically interest her. She’d rather loop her favourite ballad, R&B and country playlist on Spotify.
“Because of what I listen to, I feel like the songs I end up writing sound dated. It makes me feel like I don’t understand music, or I’m not a part of normal society. I wish I was born before my time,” she jokes.
A self-proclaimed idealist turned realist, YAN says: “The idea of making a sustainable living in the arts scene in Singapore seemed difficult. I wanted to have more than sufficient life for myself. Since I wasn’t confident in my voice and songs, I kept stopping, even before trying.”
Today, she reminds herself to “have courage and dream big”.
“I’ve learnt to take small steps towards feeling confident about my work. In the next five years, I hope to produce my own music. I want to make Singapore proud. My childhood dream has always been to sing for National Day,” she adds.
Besides making art imitate life, YAN seems to be skillful at putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe she knows to apply the lessons learnt from one struggle to another.
“I turn 21 this year. It’s ‘the’ transitional age between adolescence and young adulthood. I want to create music out of this change,” she says, before providing a sneak preview for her next EP.
“My next EP, Transition, has five songs, including one in Mandarin. I wrote one of the songs in the form of an apology letter to myself for not being the person I needed to be when I was down. I punished myself through food.
“I want to highlight the importance of embracing change and accepting the unexpected. I want to start a YouTube series with the same name as a safe space for sharing mental wellness stories and raising funds for non-profit organisations who share my passions.”
YAN’s most recent single, Tell Me, sounds like a prelude to what’s to come.
“I wanted to embrace my vulnerabilities while not submitting myself to judgement. I trap myself rather than ask for help. I was tired of rejecting love,” she says.
YAN shares organisations to check out: giving.sg, Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE). But she doesn’t discount everyday effort.
“We can all do better by starting small. Have an open mind. Recognise humanity in people. Respect their dignity. Be kind,” she says.
As for how music can be a conduit for kindness, she explains: “I never want to stop singing. I remember struggling with my mental health alone. I hope my music can help fill the holes of other lonely and broken hearts.”