Welcome to Yaeji’s hypothetical animated universe, an addictive viewing experience

We can't stop listening (or watching) the acclaimed DJ’s latest track Waking Up Down. Here, we go behind the scenes with Yaeji on a fun-filled tour of her creative imagination.

11 March 2020


It’s been a very happy time here at It’s Nice That in the past few days. We’ve been dancing, fist pumping and singing in meeting rooms, and it’s all because of Yaeji. If you don’t know who Yaeji is, get yourself plugged in, open whatever streaming device you are currently in favour of, and just have a great time (I personally love the Yaeji classic Raingurl or her more recent track One More for the first listen.) Today however, we are not here to talk about either of those bopping songs, but her newest release, Waking Up Down.

This joyful work of art is not only heavenly for the ears, but also for the eyes. Directed by Annie Xing Zhao, the video (which brought me nothing short of elation mind you) features characters of Yaeji’s own creation. Who knew she was an illustrator as well as a boss ass musician?! With dewy metallic hues and fantastically fun characters throughout, in the words of Yaeji herself, “Waking Up Down is a feel-good experience about getting the basic things down in life.” Here, she tells It’s Nice That about the ins and outs of the creative process, from the creation of the fluffy, sunglasses-clad Woofa (a highly loveable character) to the motivating lyrics.

In the three-minute-animation, animated Yaeji and Woofa (formerly known as Sub Woofer) arise from their bespoke lilo sleeping bags floating on a glassy lake, and proceed to have a number of adventures while appreciating the simple things in life, like waking up, cooking, hydrating and being a good listener. “The video created a little world where friends help each other become more comfortable with healthy habits,” says Yaeji, whose first name is actually Kathy. Together, animated Yaeji and Woofa meet a cohort of zesty characters including a big bird who always carries round a wriggly pink worm, a chef in his whites with an egg for a face, and even, old Yaeji granny-style who offers her wisdom to the younger version of herself.

GalleryYaeji: Waking Up Down work in progress sketches

With a myriad of colours and compositions to indulge in, the animation is a culmination of Yaeji’s long interest in anime and manga. “I’ve always grown up watching animation or anime as an only child with busy parents,” she tells us. She recalls the first anime she watched around the age of five or six, Sailor Moon, which led to a love of One Piece, K-On!, Hunter x Hunter and Crayon Shinchan. It’s an interest she keeps to this day, and something she could explore fully in the ideation for making Waking Up Down.

Usually, when visualising one of her songs for the music video, Yaeji starts out by thinking about what the song evokes. Sometimes following a literal path, sometimes a more abstract one, ultimately for the NYC-based DJ, “thinking about the medium and the collaborator is most important to me.” She continues, “I wanted to introduce my listeners to a hypothetical universe with an alternate version of me,” and once she had the idea nailed, Yaeji got to work on further developing the characters and storyboard.

GalleryYaeji: Waking Up Down work in progress animatic

Woofa had made an appearance in her work before, and with this starting point in mind, Yaeji expanded her animated cosmos before our very eyes. “My creative director Enayet was key in helping verbalise and organise my ideas to start” and with their help, Annie Xing Zhao and Studio Yotta came on board to further bring Yaeji’s ideas to life. Collaborating on the storyboard, animatics, characters and so on, the animators then got to work on making Yaeji’s images move, consulting Yaeji every now and again for feedback on how the project was progressing.

Annie, on the other hand, got into animation at art school when she came across the medium’s greats such as William Kentridge, Suzann Pitt and Atsushi Wada. Also based in New York, she enjoyed collaborating on the character design, drawing inspiration from the drag queen Ruby Fox’s make-up and 80s power suits to inform the wonderful characters. The director goes on to tell us, “For Bird and Worm, I thought of a typical Disney bluebird with fat cheeks who is super Type A and red-eyed from always being up so early. For Old Yaeji, I looked at Korean hanbok dresses and Gigantamax Pokemon.”

Combining an aesthetic which is both polished and idiosyncratically imperfect at the same time, the short embraced a risk-taking approach in line with the more subversive animations such as Mob Psycho 100, Ping Pong, Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro, or other experimental Japanese studios. But despite the fact Waking Up Down references a number of dynamic cultures from anime to rave posters to breakdancing videos, the animated short takes on a unique life of its own through Yaeji’s musical, and highly original touch.

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Yaeji: Waking Up Down

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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