JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER FOR ALL THE LATEST UPDATES
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Hawaiian-born singer, Malia J lures listeners with her hauntingly gorgeous vocals on her upcoming debut EP Reflections that features four original songs and an ethereal cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the opening title track for Marvel Studios’ blockbuster Black Widow.
Black Widow is hardly the first time that A-list filmmakers have called on Malia’s gorgeous voice to conjure an appropriately evocative atmosphere for their imagery. In 2018 she won a coveted Clio Award for the Season 2 trailer for the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, which utilized her otherworldly cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
Earlier this year, Malia’s cinematic transformation of Bananarama’s hit “Cruel Summer” provided the unsettling vibe for the trailer for Netflix’s documentary series Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. Her music has also captivated audiences in trailers for the Fox series Gotham, the Oscar-winning documentary short The White Helmets, and the Warner Bros. horror movie Lights Out; and graced the CW series Riverdale, the smash Bollywood film Saaho, and ESPN’s coverage of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships, among countless others.
While she made her name with her alluring cover versions, Malia unveils her songwriting voice for the first time with the 2021 release of Reflections, her debut EP. Along with “Teen Spirit,” the EP features four equally atmospheric and evocative original songs, marking her as inventive a songwriter as she is an interpreter of other artists’ material.
“I've always written my own music, but when I started covering other artists’ music in a completely different light, people really connected to it,” Malia says. “Now I’ve come full circle, creating my own music with the same dark, dramatic production style.”
The songs that Malia has penned for Reflections follow in the vein of disillusionment and yearning established by Kurt Cobain’s angst-ridden classic. “If You Had Me” pulsates with the intoxication of a forbidden liaison, while the “The Wanted” hovers in the thrill of anticipated danger; the heartrending “When It Rains” aches with the painful memories and “LA Love” yearns through the complicated tangle of modern romance in the big city.
“These songs were written over a long period of time,” Malia explains, “so they come from many different phases in my life. Whether it was my first love or a heartbreak over someone I thought I would be with forever, or trying to find myself as a woman in this industry – when I listen to the music on this EP, it takes me back to those times and those relationships. These songs feel like I'm reflecting back on my life.”
That life began on the small Hawaiian island of Kauai, where Malia grew up listening to her parents’ Bruce Springsteen and Grateful Dead albums, as well as the Garden Island’s near-ubiquitous soundtrack of Bob Marley songs. Her mother was the first, though far from the last, to be caught short by the beauty of Malia’s enthralling voice.
“I was about four years old and my mom heard me singing along to one of the songs she was playing in the car,” Malia recalls. “She immediately pulled over to the side of the road and asked me to keep singing. She said that I had ‘the voice of an angel’ and she signed me up for voice lessons right away.”
While Malia tells this story with a self-deprecating laugh, it’s clear that her mother recognized an inherent gift in her daughter’s unique, crystalline singing. Malia went on to sing at her local church and in school as her family moved from Hawaii to Dallas, Texas. She later began studying the oboe, earning a scholarship to Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts.
It was as an instrumentalist that Malia had the opportunity to tour with the popular Christian musician Paul Wilbur. But when the ensemble’s lead female singer took ill before a huge performance in Argentina, Malia was thrust into the spotlight. “I instantly fell in love with singing in front of an audience,” she says, and the oboe went back into its case.
Once the tour ended, however, the 15-year old Malia found herself without an audience. So she turned to YouTube, eventually amassing more than 16,000 subscribers. At 17 she moved to Los Angeles, where she discovered the sound that would come to define her musical identity, crafting memorably ominous moods that shed an overcast new light on popular songs.
“I was experimenting with my sound,” she describes. “I think I've always had a kind of dark and mysterious vibe about me, but I'd never brought it to light. But when I did, I realized that I could be vulnerable with who I am rather than pretending to be happy or lighthearted. I started to get very personal messages from people telling me what was going on in their lives and how much my music helped them. There's something really powerful not only about being able to create and perform, but also to connect with other people from a distance.”
Her music also began to connect with music supervisors for television and movies, who recognized the inherently cinematic nature of her approach. The use of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Black Widow brings that pairing to a much higher level. “I got an email from Marvel one day saying they wanted to use the song,” remembers Malia, disbelief still evident in her voice. “I honestly thought it was a hoax, that someone was trying to mess with me. It’s a huge honor and it's such a thrill to see some of my favorite actors paired with my art.”