A few years ago, I had the chance to meet Jack Ma. I told him I had met a lot of rich people who were very unhappy. He agreed with me. He said he’d given all his life to Alibaba and lost his friends. He told me that true happiness comes from spending time with our loved ones.
28-year old singer and performer Peeralada Sukawat known by her stage name Pyra calls herself Bangkok’s dystopian pop deity, and she doesn’t hold back with her dark views of the world. The artist’s latest single Bangkok is about people with critical voices who have disappeared in Thailand. She sympathizes with the young pro-democracy demonstrators who have been clamoring for constitutional and social changes all year. And she feels that society’s priorities are all upside down. Today, she lays down Pyra’s Law over a coffee at Karo’s in Phra Khanong.
“We idolize rich people. We’re taught that money will make us happy. I grew up in Bangkok, in a very traditional Thai family. I went to an international school. Until I was 25, I hated my life. I didn’t want to go the stable boring corporate route.”
In 2017, Pyra founded a fashion and music start-up and met the Chinese billionaire. His words stayed with her.
Everybody told me I couldn’t make a living from art and music.
Apple Music noticed these efforts and connected Pyra with French distributor Believe.
“I got funding to record my debut EP Better Being Surya and make a video. I was the first Thai artist to receive funding like this and my music is now on Spotify, Apple Music etc. That’s kind of my portfolio now. It gets me everywhere in the world. It’s so hard for Thai artists to break out of Thailand.”
But just getting on the musical map wasn’t enough. Pyra needed to do concerts and she didn’t have an agent.
“I sent 300 emails to promoters I found on google. Burning Man responded. That was a real milestone for me, to perform in the Nevada desert.”
Pyra has fused hip-hop, electro, RnB elements into a sound that is all her own and has sinc toured in Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan.
“My first single Levitate which is lo-fi hip-hop, is in Thai. But everyone says I’m like someone coming from the future. I make music faster than current trends and if I keep singing in Thai, no one will fucking understand it. I want to play to an international audience. With my recent single, I was really ahead of the curve. I wrote ‘Bangkok’ in February. Because I knew the mob shit would happen. I’m talking about youth movement. I just know the government needs to get the fuck out. The new generation needs to replace the old. The song alludes to this in just one lyric where I tell bad people get off my Bangkok. But when I made the video, the demonstrations were underway, I twisted it into something more serious.”
The video to ‘Bangkok’ has plenty of supernatural elements that are distinctly Asian. Pyra suggests that contemporary art need not necessarily clash with old Thai culture.
“We Asian artists were swallowed by western capitalism. We idolize every artist from the West, while we forget our heritage. I came back from the US and thought how can I do something about my heritage and make it contemporary art that is acceptable. How do I fuse Thai culture into pop music?”
I am the naga under yo bed, keep it up I’m a monster, she sings, a third eye on her forehead. Pyra’s hands and fingers are heavily inked with mandalas and line work. She’s happy with the way she looks.
“The tattoos are inspired by Thailand’s ancient spirit tattoo tradition. But I live in this era, so I don’t want to wear a tattoo from 200 years back, but my own.”
She adds, “Getting your hands inked closes doors. My tattoos are a promise to myself that I will never go back to any kind of 9 to 5 job.”
In early 2020, Pyra forged a new contract with Warner in Thailand.
“I signed a 360 deal. That means I’m a complete artist in their system. They own me. But they also invest and I’m happy because the art I envision costs a lot of money.”
Her contractual obligations don’t appear to have made her deviate from her artistic journey.
“My music is about capitalism, feminism and mental health. That’s me. I’m never gonna be the person who sings about love. I like to talk about my problems. I see lots of things wrong with the world, but I can’t talk to other people about them, so I put them in my songs.”
But Pyra is optimistic that things will sort themselves out, both at home and in her career.
“I think there will be change in Thailand, not sure what form it will take, but it simply has to. My short-term ambition is to get on the bill at Coachella. My next song asks why white men fetishize Asian women.”
On that rather cheerful note, the dystopian pop deity escapes into the bright afternoon light.