Audrey Nuna Is Airborne

Audrey Nuna Is Airborne

By Ivan GuzmanNov 21, 2023

Audrey Nuna likes to defy gravity. Whether it’s flying, falling, levitating — in her music videos or in her dreams at night — she’s got a thing for being suspended in space and time.

“It’s so wild that you’re asking me this, because this is something I only tell my closest friends,” the 24-year-old rapper tells me as our conversation turns to the topic of flying during dreams. “Throughout the years, I’ve been able to hone my motor skills in the dream. Sometimes I really wonder if this is the dream, and my dreams are real life, because they feel so fucking real.”

She fixates on the idea of flying through her self-proclaimed “sonic paintings.” In her dream-like new video for “Cellulite,” Nuna falls head-first from the top of a skyscraper, winking at the camera and making the free-fall look effortlessly cool, before crashing onto the top of a car. “Locket” also incorporates this kinetic energy, with art-goers being sucked into the singer’s locket necklace. “Flying is a feeling that I always chase,” she says.

Since dropping her debut album a liquid breakfast in 2021, the NYU dropout has captivated the eyes and ears of many with her delicious mixture of rap, pop and R&B. For Audrey, the songs couldn’t come to life without equally-as-lush visuals to accompany them, of which she’s pumped out in droves. With her recent string of bigger budget productions (and more on the way), it’s no doubt that her career is about to kick up its wheels and fly her to the ether.

Below, the airborne star talks to PAPER about evolution, pie charts and the thrill of the unknown.

I know you grew up in New Jersey. What was the transition like when you came to NYU?

I grew up in and out of the city, and my dad had a clothing manufacturing factory in the Garment District. So I very much grew up going in and out, especially for bring your kid to work day. Or I would randomly tag along with him on Saturdays and just kind of check out his work. New York City always felt to me growing up like this weird, crazy world where once you cross the tunnel, it's just madness and chaos like you've never experienced before. Especially growing up in the suburbs of Jersey, where it's very quiet and boring. Those trips to my dad's garment factory were like a portal to a new world. And when I started at NYU, I think I went through a creative outburst just because of the fact that I grew up around basically no diversity, being one of maybe three to five Asian kids in my elementary school, and just not realizing that there's such a huge world beyond that.

[It was a] crazy time for me to start school at NYU. There was so much to discover. There was so much freedom that, growing up in the suburbs not being able to just walk anywhere you want, I didn’t know about. Honestly, a lot of my first project a liquid breakfast, which came out a few years ago, came into fruition from that time of just like, what the fuck is going on? I really owe a lot to those years of moving to New York. I do understand the isolation part, too, though. I think it's really interesting how New York is such a bustling city with so many people, so many cultures, so many communities, and then at certain times, it can still feel like a very lonely city.

What did your parents say when you decided to drop out of NYU?

I actually made a PowerPoint to convince my dad to let me take a year off. Because, you know, especially for Asian parents, I think even though my parents aren't super traditional, getting higher education is something that they always felt very adamant about because they felt throughout their lives that there was a lack of respect towards them because they didn't finish university or get a degree. I had to kind of convince them, but to be honest, my parents have always been dreamers and been the type who, yes, [would say] 'You should do what you need to do'. But also, 'I want you to be able to live a life that I didn't live, which is to be able to do what you love for a living and not just live out of pure survival'. I think it was generally pretty easy to convince them, especially after showing them I could make a living out of it and take care of myself while still doing this craft. They turned a new leaf and we're like, 'Okay, cool. Do what you gotta do'.

What did the PowerPoint have in it?

Pie charts and shit. I don't even remember why I put a pie chart, I think I just put in random graphs. I just put in bios of people who I knew in the industry to be like, this person's gonna help me do this. I even put in a quote from my dad who growing up, he would always say this thing in Korean to us: 꿈이 죽으면 인생도 함께 죽는다, which means, ''If your dream dies, your life dies with it'. I kind of threw it back at him. It worked somehow, with all the pie charts. Honestly, bullshit graphs, but maybe the quote got him.

I noticed a trend with your recent videos from this new era. This sort of surrealism, but also, it's very much about kinetic energy.

Whoa, okay, we’re psychoanalyzing now. Great. Yeah, that's a really good observation.

Yeah, like you flying through the air in “Cellulite.” And then in “Locket,” everyone else is flying into your locket. Do you ever dream about flying?

Oh my god, yes. I have these recurring dreams about flying that I've had my whole life. And it feels so real every time, and it’s the best feeling. I don't know if you've ever had a dream where you're flying, but it feels so real. I've also come to a point where I've had so many of these recurring dreams that I'm actually pretty good at flying. I can control myself pretty well. Throughout the years, I've been able to hone my motor skills in the dream. It's so wild that you're asking me this, because this is something that I only tell my closest friends because I probably sound so crazy.

But yeah, flying is a huge theme in my life and a feeling I always chase, just even parallel to my real life outside of my dream life. Flying is truly bliss to me. And what I've experienced in my dreams sounds like a crazy person. But I think with everything that I do, especially creatively, I aim for that feeling. I have to give credit to [director] Valentin Petit because the "Locket" concept was entirely something that he came up. I think that energy really inspired me when it came to building out the rest of the visuals for this world. A lot of the songs I've been writing and working on have been about feeling very challenged, very held down, and then feeling very betrayed and feeling like you're trudging through the mud. I really wanted the visuals to contrast that and be almost like a paradox to that. So, thanks for noticing that. That's cool.

That's called lucid dreaming, right?

Yeah. I've heard that you can practice controlling your dreams and learning how to do that. You basically have to recall your dream as soon as you wake up every morning and write it down even draw pictures to remember what it was like. So, practicing logging your dreams then also regularly asking yourself in real life, if any weird shit happens, asking yourself, am I in a dream right now? So that your brain can try to do it when you're actually dreaming.

Yeah, that's what I've heard, the part of asking, am I in a dream right now?

Are we dreaming right now?

Going back to your videos, I love how your visuals feel really thought through. Were there any specific visuals or music videos that had an impact on you growing up?

To be honest, I didn't watch that many music videos growing up. I was a bit sheltered. Honestly, Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” is one of the first music videos that made an impression on me. In sophomore year of high school, I remember discovering Hype Williams with all the Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson [videos] that type of stuff has always felt so fresh. Or even the Beastie Boys music video for “Intergalactic.” I think those types of videos said fuck you to all the rules, and especially all the rules of gravity and motion. I think that really inspired me, specifically for “Cellulite.” Me and the director watched a bunch of Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and Beastie Boys videos. A bunch of The Pharcyde videos, like that one video where everything is backwards. Also, I have to say again, shout out to Valentin for that because just this idea of, fuck you to the rules of gravity, is something that his whole entire spirit and creative portfolio kind of encapsulated. Is encapsulated a word?

Yeah. encapsulated.

Oh my god, we're really from NYU. Like, we're dropping multisyllabic words right now.

Dropping hints that we went to NYU?

Yeah, we went to NYU. We got it. But, ya know, I definitely think I'm a very visual person. Maybe it has something to do with just growing up around clothes and fashion when it comes to my dad's side. But definitely super visual. I love the Studio Ghibli stuff. I love just random billboards and random fonts and packaging. I've always just been super into that. I used to love drawing as a kid. And that's something that I'm kind of doing more for fun now as well. I think just overall, everything to me comes from a visual place, even music in a way has to feel like a sonic painting. I have to see the visuals of things for me to get really excited about it, and they definitely feed into each other.You’ve said that you're very DIY when making your music videos.

What's been the most difficult moment in creating one of your videos?

For one of my first music videos, I wanted to be sitting on a toilet in a kitchen. So me and my manager at the time Anwar, who was also my producer, went to a random Craigslist house in upstate New York and we fucking excavated a toilet from this person’s shed. It was insane. I would say that's by far one of the craziest things I've done for a video. And honestly, for the “Cellulite” video I was on a harness for three hours straight. I am not built for that shit. My ribs were, like, being crushed. I had bruises. I mean, it was definitely necessary for the video and I'm so happy with how it came out. But that was definitely one of the hardest and most physically taxing shoots I've ever done.

How would you describe your process when you sit down to write a rap? Your raps are very dense yet feel so effortless. How much of it is stream-of-consciousness versus pre-planned?

A lot of the time, I will just freestyle and see what happens. A lot of it will be nondiscernible, but there will be a skeleton in there of, oh, it sounds like I’m saying this and it actually makes sense. From there, I go and sculpt out the rest of it. The time that it takes me, it really depends. Certain songs like “Comic Sans” were finished in an hour and a half, probably. Other songs, like my song, “Paper,” took us eight months because we were going back on a lot of different versions and it stumped us a bit. It really depends on the song. I think it’s a good spectrum of a lot of different ways songs have come.

What do your fans have to look forward to in the coming months?

More music. I’m in a mood right now where I wanna drop music and share what I’ve been working on. I’m preparing for a larger body of work next year. I actually wanna say thank you to PAPER because my first editorial ever was with you guys. It was with a writer named Michael Love Michael, and I just cold-emailed you guys, so you guys really gave me a chance back in 2019. PAPER definitely holds a special place in my heart, so I appreciate your time and your questions.

Photography: Louisa Meng and Fay Ishac