Solby Lim ’18 Reflects on Identity in Debut Album “Yellow”

With rhythmic beats and bright chords playing in the background, the voice of Solby Lim ’18 rings soulfully as she sings, “Why do I have to look like me?” in her original song, “Yellow.” As the background accompaniment pauses, a solid beat kicks off the next line, “But I love my hair, my skin, my eyes.” In the last seconds, the lyrics shift from a focus on Lim’s experience to her reaching out to the listener and encouraging pride and self-love.

Lim’s debut R&B and soul album “Yellow” was released on Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon on January 1. The album contains five songs written and produced by Lim, connecting her passions for activism and music while focusing heavily on her life as an Asian-American woman.

Claire Jungmann ’18, a friend of Lim’s, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Solby as a person is so powerful and loving, and you can really see that in each of her songs. Her love for social justice comes through with calm and loving power through her beautifully-sung lyrics. If you know Solby, you know these songs are truly parts of her that she expresses so well. Her songs are serious, but they aren’t cynical. They’re more like a celebration than simply stating what is unjust.”

Although Lim first thought of making an album a few years ago, she says that a trip to New York last year gave her the inspiration to bring her idea to fruition.

“I actually started this album last year because I was in New York for a couple months, and just being there… [and] finding the activist spaces I feel really comfortable in really inspired me to kickstart this album… I think that I’ve been trying to find this intersection between activism and music for a really long time, and I feel like this is finally it,” said Lim.

Lim also found inspiration in the 2017 album “Ctrl” by contemporary R&B artist SZA. Many of Lim’s songs draw from the authenticity and messages conveyed in SZA’s album.

“I think one of the reasons why [SZA’s album became popular] was because she just spoke from her heart and she spoke from her experiences as a black woman and experiencing love and dating and all that stuff. To me, it was just so natural. She used a platform, and she just told her story, and just the essence of activism and feminism for me is telling your story. So…  the basis of [my] album, was to [not be] educational, but to be like, ‘This is my experience as a woman of color, and this is why I want to be an activist,’ ” said Lim.

Lim’s favorite song on her album is “Too,” a piece based on her experiences as a Korean-American woman and her struggles with Korean body standards. A steady electronic beat softly pumps in the background as Lim sings of her realization that beauty is different for everyone and is not “one-size-fits-all.”

“I tried to make the theme for most of my songs to not to be too down and horrible and like, ‘Everything sucks.’ I think that [with this] song in particular, I was able to do that well, and I think that vocally that was one of my favorite ones. That’s one narrative that I really stuck to. One narrative was for girls like me who don’t fit into standards in their culture just to be able to listen to that song and be like, ‘Someone relates, and someone is telling me you don’t need to fit into those standards, and your body is there to empower you and not to put you down,’ ” said Lim.

One of the biggest challenges Lim faced during the process of working on the album was becoming accustomed to listening to her own voice for multiple hours, a transition from being a singer to being a producer as well.

“I normally don’t like the sound of my voice. I think that’s a very common thing. Thinking as a producer and not as someone who hates listening to their voice — doing that because I did have to listen to my voice over and over again for hours — that was probably the hardest part because, in my head, I was like, ‘Oh, I sound so weird,’ but I just needed to get through it to conquer those fears,” said Lim.

In the future, Lim hopes to create a second album. Although she has not began working on it yet, Lim has some potential ideas and hopes to entitle the album “Feminist.”

“I think I want to explore more the Asian-American identity. I did base my album “Yellow” on the Asian-American identity as well, but I also pulled together other things as well. I feel if I center on one topic, I’ll be able to write songs that go deeper into issues,” said Lim.