Singapore Idol enthusiasts remember Daphne Khoo; the sprightly, fresh-faced contestant first introduced herself with a high-spirited cover of The Supreme’s “You Can’t Hurry Love”—a Motown classic that, according to stoic then-judge Ken Lim, suited her unique nasal tone. Weeks of gruelling performances later, she would go on to emerge from the competition as a finalist.
Since Singapore Idol, life has thrown Daphne a number of curveballs; all of which she has taken in her stride. The rising starlet had found herself in the harrowing clutches of ovarian cancer almost a decade ago and subsequently overcoming it through rounds of chemotherapy. In the time that has passed since we last caught up with her in 2013, she has seen through the releases of her own music, including laidback summer bop “Feel Alright” from 2018 and impassioned downtempo “Breathe” from back in 2014, which was accompanied by a music video that featured Benjamin Kheng.
But above all, she now identifies as Haneri for all matters pertaining to music; a stage name she chose for herself as a nod towards her Asian heritage. This year she returns with the dawn of a new era—MILLIONA, ushered in by latest single “IDWLY”, a snazzy dance number to set the scene for the album ahead.
Popspoken: It’s been a while! The last time we spoke to you, you mentioned the pleasure of having gone through Singapore Idol. How do you feel now when you look back at the footages of your auditions and performances from over a decade ago?
Oof that was such a long time ago! I definitely go through different phases of how I feel about the experience but all in all, I’m very grateful for it. I learnt so much and met so many people that still inspire me, as well as many lessons and values that have kept me grounded until now.
Popspoken: You previously mentioned that your parents disapproved of you joining the talent show. Was it hard for you to go through the audition process knowing that you didn’t have your family’s support and how did they come around in the end? What is your relationship with work and them now?
I knew I wanted to make music since I was 3—they knew this, I knew this. The older I got, the more obvious it was to me that my parents didn’t see it as a viable career option and were desperately hoping I’d see it more as a hobby, so it came as no surprise. Even though they had joked about me auditioning for American Idol when we were watching it the year prior, they were not jazzed about me wanted to audition for Singapore Idol. It wasn’t hard because I was able to lie to them regarding my whereabouts the night before when my friend and I queued overnight and on the day of the audition. They came around when I started to actually make money from it, but they had every right to be worried. Though hard to maintain, it’s a job that I truly love and am so grateful for. They’ve seen my struggle and have never said “I-told-you-so”… out loud anyway haha.
Popspoken: You used to put out music under your name but now go by Haneri. Was the identity transition deeper than a simple name change?
Yeah! I actually felt like I had lost a bit of my identity as “Daphne Khoo” as I had the tendency to release music just as they were made, be it pop, pop-punk, or singer/songwriter songs. I wanted to create something else, a whole new body of work that reflected my maturity; a little less reserved, a little more honest. Haneri is unafraid to address issues, a stark contrast to my reserved, younger self. I also wanted a name that sounded more Asian because I sing in English but don’t want to be mistaken for anything other than what I am, and what I’m very proud to be—Asian.
Popspoken: As a musician, has this lockdown been a fruitful period for productivity, or do you find yourself more restless when you are cooped up?
I think my mood changes frequently, so I’m just as productive, frustrated, content, distracted and busy as I was before the lockdown. Plus, right before the circuit breaker, I had just made my official move back to Singapore from Los Angeles, so it was months of madness leading up to that. The first two months of CB were actually a welcomed calm from all of that.
Popspoken: How does your newest single, “IDWLY”, serve as an introduction to the world of MILLIONA?
“IDWLY” is the intro to the era of MILLIONA, which is the EP that we were aiming to have come out this year, but so many things have happened this year that I felt deserved the attention from not just the public, but very much from myself as well. I believe there’s a reason for everything and whatever timeline I had planned for the EP just didn’t seem appropriate to stick to. However. I’m still very excited for these funky disco tunes to see the light of day. People who have heard the songs have given me really positive feedback so I’m excited to release them. For now, if you can catch a virtual show, you might hear some of the songs off the EP! It’s really just good vibes and me talking about issues that I have never really touched on before. I also feel a lot more confident in the new songs. A lot of what’s inside me comes out when I write music, as compared to having a simple conversation with someone, so I think it has also taught me a lot about myself. For the first time in a really long time—if ever—I like me! It’s a nice feeling. I hope people can find the good vibrations and sass in the music, and take some of that for themselves!
Popspoken: What is something from the LA music scene you’d like to see in Singapore? Which are your favourite haunts in LA?
Oh man! There’s this nightclub I go to called Funky Sole at The Echo; it’s all funky Motown records and remixes where everyone is really respectful and chill. It’s an incredible vibe. Other than that, LA is filled with producers, songwriters, artists and everything in between. But it was nice to go out and meet someone at like, the supermarket to talk about music, head to a studio or someone’s house to write a song.
Popspoken: Some of the music you put out feels more sombre than the others; were these tracks written from a place of self-reflection?
The new stuff is actually super poppy! Aside from “Worry”, which was released accidentally, everything I’ve put out in the last 3 years has been upbeat. I am working on a mixtape though because I felt like I haven’t put out any singer-songwriter-y music in a while but due to financial reasons and quarantine, I’m trying to figure out how to produce them myself. It’s taking a minute.
Popspoken: Did you turn to music as a way to cope with your illness, or was it hard focusing on anything else while going through therapy? How did surviving cancer change your creative process?
I think I would be making music regardless of cancer. It’s changed my life a lot—my stories and songs might have turned out different but I feel that music has always helped me get through life in general. Getting sick was just a part of the story.
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I've always been hesitant to share this photo because when I was in it, I wasn't as confident about rocking my lack of hair as this photo might suggest. But I want you freakin #cancerfighting champs to know you're not alone. It's World Cancer Day and not so silently, I'm proud to stand with all of you fighting the fight, patients and care givers, Doctors and Nurses alike. You got this. You're so loved. #worldcancerday
Popspoken: Can we get a taste of what’s on your playlist?
Right now my top played songs are:
- “Tints” by Aanderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar
- “Jealous” by Lennon Stella
- “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers
- “Pass You By” by Alaina Castillo
- “Love Me Like A” by RRILEY
- “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over” by Lenny Kravitz
- “Down For You” by Cosmo’s Midnight ft Ruel
- “Slow” by Shy Martin
Popspoken: Any new projects you’re working on that fans can look forward to?
THE EP! Also, I’ve been streaming a lot on Twitch and will be starting my show MAKIN IT in the coming months. It’s a show about my life and the unreleased songs I’ve written along the way that I’ve only played live at shows.