Darkness of human existence is often side-stepped. #REIPOP newcomer REI AMI, however, balls up her fists and unleashes her demons across the breadth of her new work. “SNOWCONE” flutters with a heavenly, yet still icy, aroma to showcase a more vulnerable sensibility. “Thrift store sweater with the holes / Faded left sitting at home,” she coos, still leaving a bold, indelible imprint. “I want people to feel empowered and almost feel a sense of rage,” she says. “I want people to think back on all the times others doubted them, misunderstood them, defamed them, and just shrug it off and be like, ‘I’m going to do me, regardless. Why? Because I can.’”
Born in Seoul, South Korea, she moved stateside to Maryland when she was 6 years old. While her family adhered to a fairly strict Christian belief “where any ‘worldly’ music was banned,” she reflects, her upbringing became high-octane fuel. Her middle school days brought exploration of the so-called world music, from Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey to Britney Spears, as well as a ton of K-POP. Later, she would seek out the catalogs of Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, Luther Vandross, A$AP Rocky and Drake as further touchpoints to her own burgeoning craft. She also dove headfirst into live theatre, landing such roles as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Vanessa in In the Heights. “I remember getting in a lot of trouble from my parents whenever I got caught listening to music that wasn’t Christian. There was this one time my iTunes popped up while my dad was using the computer, and he saw ‘Birthday Sex’ by Jeremih and flipped out on me and told me I was going to go to hell for listening to that kind of music.”
Yet such resistance early on only equipped her with an unwavering determination. Even creative expression of any kind was “frowned upon,” as she recalls. “The only time my parents encouraged any musical endeavor was for worship purposes — they put me through piano and guitar lessons so that I could perform in the church.”
Now, far more self-possessed and capable, REI AMI stands as a true firebrand. A vast background of sensibilities, she’s a chameleon in every sense and unafraid of saying exactly what’s on her mind. Her debut singles “SNOWCONE,” “MAKE IT MINE” and YouTube/TikTok cut “TRIPPIN’ TODDLERS” burst with every color of what music can and should do.
Pop music isn’t ready for what’s coming next.