Luna Li Turns Viral Fame into a Blossoming Music Career

"Coming into the rock scene in Toronto, I didn't see myself represented there," says Hannah Bussiere Kim

BY Heather Taylor-SinghPublished Mar 2, 2022

Hannah Bussiere Kim — also known as Luna Li — was in the studio working on final touch-ups for her debut album when she got a phone call that blew her mind: Michelle Zauner's Japanese Breakfast wanted to take her on tour as an opening act. "I was screaming in the studio," she tells Exclaim! over Zoom. "I was so excited. It was very surreal." 

Bussiere Kim, who is Korean-Canadian, had looked up to Zauner as an inspiration because of her music career. "She's also half Korean, which is a direct reflection of me. It was really a special moment to see her [perform live] — I got emotional when I saw her play," she explains. 

Based in Toronto, Bussiere Kim found it challenging to find diverse role models. "Coming into the rock scene in Toronto, I didn't see myself represented there. I felt like I had to try to fit in with everyone else and do what everyone else was doing," she says. "As I got a little bit older, I realized that it's really special to emphasize those unique parts of yourself and to honour where you come from and every aspect of yourself." 

Bussiere Kim has always been authentically herself with her music. Since 2017, she's mastered the art of divine feminine energy and nostalgia with her dream pop vocals and ethereal soundscapes. She first went viral on social media in 2020 with a series of videos where Bussiere Kim crafted hypnotic instrumental tracks with guitars, harps and violins (which were then collected in her jams EP in 2021). In a matter of months, she signed record deals — to AWAL in Canada and In Real Life everywhere else — and is now gearing up to release her debut album, Duality, out March 4. 

When exploring titles, Duality felt like a natural fit. "These were songs that I had written over the span of a few years, and I was trying to find something that connected them all," she explains. Growing up with classical musical training (her parents are co-directors at Classical Music Conservatory in Toronto), Bussiere Kim used her skillset to emphasize diverse sounds and arrange her music in unique ways. "[The word 'duality'] applied to my musical self in terms of classical background and balancing that with creating more modern sounds like pop and rock," she says.

Duality will feature previously released singles like "Cherry Pit" and "Alone but Not Lonely," but Bussiere Kim encourages listeners to hear the album front to back. "I am really excited for the album to come out. The singles are great standalone, but I had the songs in mind as a body of work altogether," she says. 

At 13 tracks, Bussiere Kim is effortlessly able to capture the relatable feelings of complicated relationships, insecurity and uncertainty on Duality. "Star Stuff" is a pop moment with punchy lyrics and guitar riffs that depart from her soft sound — but its one of the most lyrically confident songs on the album. The album's closer, "LonelyLovely," is a strong instrumental track, showcasing an impressive string section — including Bussiere Kim's harp, which makes multiple appearances on the album. 

While the album isn't a drastic departure from Bussiere Kim's previous work, it is an amalgamation of the effort Bussiere Kim and her team put in to make the album flourish. With the push from In Real Life, Bussiere Kim started collaborating with other artists — something that was unfamiliar territory for the singer, who had mainly written her music alone. "I really loved that, because I felt like it was breathing new life into the songs that I had been already kind of sitting on that felt a bit stagnant for the last couple of years."

When she brainstormed potential collaborators, she decided that she wanted to feature Asian women, resulting in feature appearances from Jay Som ("Boring Again") and beabadoobee ("Silver into Rain"). Bussiere Kim explains, "I was already really big fans [of them] and had been listening to their music for years. I kind of just cold-reached out to them on Instagram. We were already following each other, so we had an online connection. They were both down to do it, which was so wild to me. Everyone sent me their parts, and it enhanced their respective songs." 

Initially, Bussiere Kim wanted to release Duality independently, but she is happy with the album's final result. "It was a long journey — there were a lot of ups and downs," she admits. "There was definitely some frustration on my part because I was ready to release it, and it kept getting pushed back by the pandemic. But in retrospect, I'm really glad that it all unfolded in the way it did. The album has evolved into a better form. It's stronger, and I'm very proud of it." 

Releasing a debut full-length album is a rite of passage in a musician's career — but making Duality also introduced Bussiere Kim into a more non-traditional career path.

"Having a traditional career was, in my head, sort of the only option because it felt like the path that had been forged by others. It felt like that's what you do when you're a musician," she reflects. "Taking a detour with jams was really cool because it had never occurred to me that I would be able to make music in that format and that people would listen to it — like, instrumentals without lyrics." 

The viral success of Luna Li was unplanned, but Bussiere Kim is leaning into the uncertainty and happy with the direction her career is taking as she prepares for her first headlining tour this spring. "The jams EP kind of proved that [my career] doesn't have to take this traditional route," she says. "It can go anywhere, and I can go to unexpected places. I'm just keeping myself open, and I would love to expand the world of Luna Li past music into dance, fashion and other types of art. I'm excited to see where it goes."

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