breathing bold& beautiful beats

Music artist Marie Digby releases her third album, “Breathing Underwater”

by sherry gong

You may recognize her cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” on YouTube. Or you may even remember that she won the Pantene Pro-Voice contest with her song “Miss Invisible.” Half-Japanese and half-Irish, Marié (pronounced Mar-ee-AY) Digby has risen from YouTube to Hollywood Records with her covers of popular songs as well as original songs about love and the conflicting emotions related to love.

You may not know that Digby entered UC Berkeley intending to major in philosophy (and then continue to law school like her father did), but dropped out after her first year. Contrary to what you may expect, her Japanese mother encouraged Digby to do what she wanted.

Digby’s music admits how human she is, more so than compared to some mainstream artists. In her song “Unfold,” she sings, “You see I am the bravest girl/ You will ever come to meet/ Yet I shrink down to nothing/ At the thought of someone/ Really seeing me.” She is honest about her insecurities and uses music to open herself up to love and to the world.

As an Asian American, it is refreshing for me to see an artist (add to that an Asian American artist) being so genuine. And the point isn’t that I like her music because it addresses aspects of being Asian American. Rather, her music expresses things we all go through: love, loss, growth as human beings. Digby just happens to be Asian American, and that fact along with her universally touching music makes the Asian American community seem less like an “outsider” community. Her music shows that Asian Americans have feelings, too, and we can make music that non-Asian Americans will like.

After her debut album “Unfold,” Digby released an album in Japan titled “Second Home,” which contained covers of Japanese songs, though Digby still hopes to release an original album with Japanese lyrics only.

Her third album “Breathing Underwater” (available everywhere), has just as meaningful lyrics as her first, though with a more upbeat theme, which is exactly what Digby intended. Not wanting to be boxed into the “guitar girl” image, Digby added new rhythms to her music. This shift seems to mirror a change Digby herself experienced recently; while working on “Breathing Underwater,” she fell in love, and the album is a reflection of her experiences with that relationship.

Digby used to think that her bi-racial background specifically helped her career because people wanted something different. But her opinion has changed somewhat.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m held back, but it is certainly something I’m much more aware of,” she told Nichi Bei Times. “I think people look at me and I look Asian and I’m proud of that, but I think it scares people too because there haven’t been Asians [successful] in this industry.”

Digby seems to be a part of the trend of ordinary people becoming famous through YouTube. YouTube connects artists directly to their audience without having to be funneled through an agent or record labels. This is particularly important for Asian American artists because not many of them are able to jump through these conventional hoops to fame. Record labels do not see Asian American musicians as being profitable or marketable, but that is something we want to change.

You might say that it’s impossible to change the entire industry. It won’t change overnight; that’s not realistic. But one of the obvious ways we can show that Asian American musicians are profitable is to support them (not just spiritually, but financially). We can also do what I am sure most of us have been doing: sharing Youtube videos with each other. More specifically, we can share videos of Asian American musicians with other Asian Americans as well as non-Asian Americans.

Perhaps Digby’s story is just one of many that will convince other Asian Americans that they don’t have to feel restricted in the entertainment industry; race doesn’t have to be the deciding factor in an artist’s success anymore. Although race and ethnicity perhaps still play a role in who gets a record deal and who doesn’t, being Asian American no longer means you’re automatically excluded from the game. Although I do not encourage you to drop out of UC Berkeley, I do encourage you all to follow your passions whether it’s music, art, math, English, or something else. That is exactly what Digby did.

In her own words, “I knew making it in music was impossible, but I didn’t care what it took.”