Milli: ‘There are so many brilliant creatives in Bangkok’
What better way to celebrate the opening of Soho House Bangkok than with Thai music artist of the moment, Danupha ‘Milli’ Khanatheerakul?
Thursday 9 March 2023 By Vasachol Quadri Photography by Perakorn Voratananchai Styling by Ann Muangsiri Makeup by Santi Kitjaroen Hairstyling by Min Boonsod Production by Town Productions Local production by Mannarumas Svasti-Xuto
Twenty-year-old rapper and songwriter Danupha Khanatheerakul, aka Milli, first rose to prominence in 2019 when she competed in season two of Thai TV talent show, The Rapper. She was swiftly signed by local label, YUPP!, and in 2020 she released her debut single ‘Phak Khon’, which has so far received more than 93 million views on YouTube.
Blending undulating rhythms with lyrics that refer to serious social issues (‘Phak Khon’ famously centered on an anti-bullying message), Milli’s rapping style is refined beyond her years. In 2022, the artist made history when she became the first Thai female solo artist to perform at Coachella. She also single-handedly kick-started the ‘mango sticky rice phenomenon’ when she ate the Thai traditional dessert on stage. As if that wasn’t enough, she rounded out the year being named one of the ‘BBC’s 100 Women of 2022’.
Suffice to say, Milli’s packed a lot into her four short years in the music industry. After her photoshoot at Soho House Bangkok, we sat down with her to discuss her meteoric rise, her aspirations for the future and her advice for other young creatives.
Top, trousers and shoes, all Palm Angels
Can you remember when you first discovered your love of music?
‘From when I was a little kid, my parents always had a stack of cassette tapes in our car – Tata Young, Mos Patiparn, Tik Shiro, Bird Thongchai, you name it. My mum was a huge influence on my journey into the world of music. Because of her, I’m familiar with 1990s Thai pop even though I was born in 2002.
‘When I was in junior high, I got to know the big names like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. I also became a huge fan of BTS. I would say I discovered hip-hop through Nicki Minaj. I felt something special; it touched me deep within my soul. And that was when I realised I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. Not necessarily as a singer or rapper, but just anything in this business. It was always my dream, so much so that I was too scared to tell anyone.’
But The Rapper 2 changed all that?
‘I was a huge fan of the first season of The Rapper, so I decided to go to an audition for season two and made it through. I never thought I could write a song by myself, but once I did it for The Rapper, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. And now I just really love making music every day.’
Top, Tiny Mood; trousers, Jaded London
You seem like a natural-born performer?
‘People perceive me as a really confident person, but that’s honestly not true. I’m naturally nervous every time I’m up on stage. From the first show of The Rapper up until now, I’m always nervous. But I like that there’s something different in every show – the audience, the environment, the weather or even my energy that day. That’s what makes every performance one of a kind.’
Do you have any pre-performance rites or rituals?
‘I love to hug everybody around me. Everyone in the team gives me energy. So, before I step up on stage, I run around hugging everyone. Then I close my eyes, take a deep breath, count to three, and I’m ready.’
You’ve collaborated with lots of people. Who do you enjoy working with the most?
‘I’d say Auttakorn “Korn” Deachmak or Autta. He’s one of the most talented artists for me. I’ve worked with him a lot since The Rapper. He teaches me so many things. Every time I share my new music with him, he structures it out and walks me through the process. That’s helped me grow a lot as an artist.’
Cardigan, top, shorts, socks and shoes, all Miu Miu
Who are you listening to most right now?
‘I’m all about old-school hip-hop. As a kid, I grew up listening to Lil’ Kim or Lil Wayne, but now I’m digging deeper into the OGs, like Tupac. My most played artist right now is Kendrick Lamar. I’m super crazy about him, because his music is just really, really great.’
Do you ever listen back to your own music? If so, which track means the most to you and why?
‘I never listen to my music. I feel like I’ve been with each song for every step way before it’s released, so I need a break from it [laughs]. But if I had to pick one of my tracks that means the most to me, it would be “Homework”. I wrote it when I was a second-year student, when I was really struggling with university. I was stressed from handling a lot of projects, and even now I can relate to that moment. I poured my feelings out into those lyrics. As a student, I felt a lot of pressure and expectation. And I still have high expectations of myself to this day. I want everything to be perfect. Those feelings are still with me, so I relate to the lyrics now, which makes this song really special to me.’
Is it true that you almost turned down Coachella?
‘To be honest, I’ve never ever dreamt about performing at Coachella. It’s Coachella! It’s way beyond me. I felt like “I’m so small, not many people know Milli” and that I didn’t really belong there. But my manager, Amp, changed my mind. She told me to take a deep breath and look at it from another perspective. She said, it’s not about going there because people already know you, you have to go so people can get to know you. That completely changed my mindset. All of my stress was gone because all I had to do was rehearse and be the best I could be on stage.’
Looking to the future, what are your big plans and ultimate ambitions?
‘Performing at Coachella makes people think I’m already rich and successful [laughs]. For me, I’m far from being successful. That was just the first of many steps. If I believe I’ve already made it, it will stop me from striving for bigger and better things. I have so many ambitions, and acting is one of them. I love acting and wish I had more opportunities to explore it.’
‘If I believe I’ve already made it, it will stop me from striving for bigger things. I have so many ambitions’
Soho House is all about bringing creatives together. What Thai creatives are you excited about and why?
‘There are so many brilliant creative industries here, but if I had to pick one, I’m really excited about Thai fashion. We have a lot of young, talented designers that are worthy of recognition. For example, I love the brand IWANNABANGKOK; it’s very unique and really good.’
What advice would you give to any new artist at the very start of their career?
‘Keep doing what you love. You might not make it at first, but one day it’s gonna be your day. Be prepared to compromise. Grab every opportunity you can. You might fail and, believe me, I failed a lot. But never stop believing that your day will eventually come.’