Real, raw, and honest: this is how KIANA VALENCIANO embodies the character of a true artist. Without needing to wear the shadow of anyone else, Kiana aims to amplify her mind, heart, and soul while being authentic from every angle.
Kiana learned that music was indeed her way of expression, but it was no question that she had to live up to a certain expectation given her roots. “When I was younger, I didn’t see music as something that I wanted to do, as it was a hobby and a means of expression. Now that it’s my career, there comes the pressure, but it’s a healthy amount to keep pushing my limits. It has taught me to be more honest with who I am. Because at such a young age, I was expected to act a certain way. If I didn’t, then it was kind of shameful to the reputation of the family: the reputation people thought we needed to uphold. Now, I’ve realized that you can’t base your life on other people’s expectations, and that’s what shaped me to become so honest.”
Evidently, Kiana is greatly influenced by her family’s inclination for the melody and lyrics, but she developed a uniquely diverse musical palette to draw inspiration for her own works of art. She explains, “Artistically, I listen to so many things that’s why I end up mixing up all my favorite genres or songwriters. I love Motown like Jackson 5 and Kool ‘N The Gang. I also love R&B like Brandy and Aaliyah, jazz like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the '90s house like Benny Benassi.” At the moment, she’s cooking up new content with a new EP and a YouTube per-track commentary of her upcoming music. “I’m just working on a way to release content that brings me closer to my fans. I’m just having fun with all the different producers I’m meeting,” she declares.
Despite these challenges, Kiana takes one step at a time. She makes sure to show her uniqueness through her music, personality, and even her penchant for fashion and beauty. Below, we talk to the rising R&B singer about what makes her sound unique, how she achieves performance-proof makeup, and how she lovingly embraces her morena skin.
At such a young age, I was expected to act a certain way. If I didn’t, then it was kind of shameful to the reputation of the family: the reputation people thought we needed to uphold. Now, I’ve realized that you can’t base your life on other people’s expectations, and that’s what shaped me to become so honest.
When you were young, did you feel that you were somehow limited to your actions?
I grew up in the public eye, and my dad has a reputation for being this inspirational singer. I think people expected me to not make mistakes, and I had to be cautious of how I acted because I didn’t want my mistakes to destroy what my parents had built. Up until I was 18, everything was very calculated, and I was very cautious with who my friends were and every action that I made which I think was very smart. It did play a huge role in making sure that I didn’t step on anyone’s toes. At a young age, you don’t know what you want to do yet. Even if you know what’s right from wrong, it’s natural to make mistakes. But then you add the pressure of being known or the kid of someone who’s known and in a way, it makes you rebel. It’s like instead of having two parents, everyone’s a parent, so it was tough. I still had a very good childhood despite all of that. It’s my norm, and it’s different for everyone. Everyone has something quirky about their lives, so I guess that’s mine.
Being in show business, it’s second nature to be inclined with acting. What lead you to taking the musical route instead of acting, and would you be interested in trying it out in the future?
I never wanted to be in showbiz, per se. Growing up backstage, I know that’s not what I wanted but connecting with people through singing, that’s what pulled me into doing music. I started writing songs, and seeing that someone that I’ve never met connected to the lyrics that I’ve felt, it made me love what I do. In terms of acting, there have been offers, but I never really [entertain] them because my focus is on music. I can’t really give my time to anything else; I’m so committed to it that if I did anything else, then it would be cheating. I wouldn’t say I’ll never do it though. If there’s a project or a script that really speaks to me, then who am I to turn it down? For now, I haven’t yet found one that I can connect with.
Do you believe that music is a way to express your emotions to people even though they’re far away or distant?
Yeah! Even us, we listen to music from the UK, Indonesia, and the States. Music just breaks barriers. There’s no such thing as distance or language because even I listen to Korean R&B and I feel, dance, and vibe with it. It’s just really a languageless and borderless way of connecting with people, and I think that’s so fascinating. That’s just really what I aspire to do.
I started writing songs, and seeing that someone that I’ve never met connected to the lyrics that I’ve felt, it made me love what I do.
How does your family guide you in your own artistic journey? Do you also seek advice from them when creating music?
The people that I run to the most in terms of the creative side would be my dad and my brother. Paolo is a songwriter and he’s also a concert director. He’s done all his research, so I love reaching out to him and picking his brain to know how I can push my ideas further. With my brother’s experience in directing multiple concerts and collaborating with artists and my dad’s experience in making music, they’re such a big help when I’m caught in my own head. Questions like, “Should I change the lyrics? Should I add a beat here? How do you think I could improve this one track?” It helps to have that trusting advice coming from family. I’m such a perfectionist, so I can’t tell when something is done anymore. It’s good to have people you trust to say stop! Sometimes, I can’t even listen to my own music, because I know there are parts I would’ve changed. At the same time, it motivates me to get back to the studio to keep creating.
Aside from being a singer, you also dance well. How did your dad Gary hone your skills to be a total performer?
When I started singing, I was just guesting with him, and you can’t guest with Gary V and just stay in the corner, because he owns the whole stage. As a kid, I was always shy being on stage, and you’ll see it in videos of my earlier performances, and my dad would literally push me and look at me and say, “Let’s go to the left side of the stage; let’s go to the right side of the stage”. There was a time when he said I needed to be choreographed for a certain song, and then he pushed me to let go of the choreography and just embrace the natural groove of a song until I just got more and more comfortable being on stage. I then realized, “Even if he’s teaching me to do this, I don’t have to be like him.” I’ll own and understand all the tips he gave me, but I do it my own way. During my gig at Mahalia’s, he was there and after the show, he said, “I have no notes right now because you were comfortable on stage and you were doing your own thing.”
How does it feel when your dad watches you perform?
When he does, I definitely feel a little pressure but also a good amount. I say to myself, “I’m going to show him a different side of Kiana.” When I get on stage, I own it, bring that sass, and come to life especially in front of a crowd that enjoys the music. So, when he’s there, it’s just an extra push.
When you were young, did you have stage fright?
I always thought, “It’s okay as long as I have my dad”. When I approached my teenage years and I had to start performing at school, it was so scary for me because dad’s not here to save me if I make a mistake or if I forget the lyrics. Even now, I’m always nervous no matter how small the gig, but I push myself. I end up going in the zone, shutting my eyes, and vibing to my music. You also have to know the character of the audience, because on stage, you’re a performer. You’re acting and you’re singing, but at the same time, you can’t really wear a mask and you have to be honest because it’s music. The only way you’re going to connect with people is if you’re connecting with yourself internally.
Music just breaks barriers. There’s no such thing as distance or language because even I listen to Korean R&B and I feel, dance, and vibe with it. It’s just really a languageless and borderless way of connecting with people, and I think that’s so fascinating.
What makes your sound unique from other artists?
I really don’t know what makes people unique these days, but I just add a bit of Kiana. Everyone expresses themselves differently, and my sound and lyrics are always evolving. If you listen to my latest single 5:30, it’s so different from Does She Know. It could be the lyrics, the delivery, and my voice.
Let’s talk about your creative process. What comes first when writing a song? Melody or lyrics?
I write in silence. When it’s too loud and there’s too much music, I get lost in the melody and I have a hard time thinking about what I want to say. Usually, I write the lyrics and the melody hand-in-hand then I bring that to the producer. I sing it for him acapella, then he’ll build the track around my vocals. It’s just me and my notebook writing as if I was venting to someone. And it’s like a process of elimination, and I’ll just remove what doesn’t work. I also get to think about questions such as: “What are you trying to say?” “Who are you trying to reach?” “How do you get rid of the masks you put on when you’re with other people?” I really appreciate the silence.
I really don’t know what makes people unique these days, but I just add a bit of Kiana.
What’s the most meaningful song you’ve written thus far?
From the songs that are out, I must say it’s Soldier. And it’s a song that I don’t like performing. I don’t like listening to it and performing it, but it was the most meaningful. It was the time when my mental health wasn’t the best. When I hear it, it kind of brings me back to the state that I was in, because it’s like a time machine. That’s why it’s so meaningful. And I think all my songs act as time machines. It tells my story, even to me. It’s telling me to Soldier on! It really shows me how far down I went and how I was able to pick myself up with the help of my friends and family. Having them on the track, it was such a good experience writing and producing that song.
Just skin! I’m obsessed with taking care of my skin. I’m really picky about what I put on my skin because I used to get so many gifts. My mom used to get me things and my friends would get me stuff so I just used that. Now, I really tried and tested products, and I even go online to check reviews. I got my skin tested just to see how bad the sun damage is, and it’s terrible. I know now that you really need to put on sunscreen every day. Without makeup, you’ll see that I have major discoloration, and my skin is much drier now than it used to be because I’m always under the sun.
Between live performances, TV appearances and traveling, how do you take care of your skin despite your busy schedule?
My skin isn’t perfect, and I break out once in a while. I drink a lot of water because my wrinkles are more evident when I’m dehydrated. My makeup doesn’t cling to my skin well, even if I moisturize. Every morning, I use an eye serum and moisturizer. I also make sure everything is off when I remove my makeup. I use the Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum, The Ordinary eye serum, and Drunk Elephant moisturizer. I turn to my La Mer renewal oil when it’s really bad. If I’ve been working five days straight without sleep so much, that’ll keep my skin from flaking.
Name the beauty essentials you always have in your kit and are there any experimental makeup looks you venture with?
For my daily makeup routine, I use sunscreen or moisturizer as a base, then Sunnies Face’s Airblush in Razz, K-Palette pen for brows, mascara and cheek tint. Right now, I’m really obsessed with Sunnies Face. I really love the airblush in Razz because it gives me that drunk blush look. It’s just the right tone for my skin tone & my lips. Just in case I go from day to night, I have my Lip Dip in Terracotta.
Any experimental makeup looks you venture with?
I don’t really use eyeshadow unless I perform or go out with my girlfriends. When I want to have fun, I’ll experiment with an eyeliner. There was one time when I couldn’t find my black one, and so I used my blue glitter liner instead!
What’s a beauty rule you live by?
Always wash off your makeup. You really see the damage the day after. It’s reached a point where one time I had a shoot then I went to an event after, I only half-removed my makeup and I regretted it. So, that’s my rule.
How do you keep your makeup budge-proof and long-lasting?
If someone had a good spray for me to use because I noticed I constantly reapply my makeup. But I think the sunscreen that I use helps also. As I said, I don’t use makeup day-to-day. I’m on the hunt for the right setting spray.
My style is always changing, but I go back and forth with athleisure and simple Boho. I’m always between kimonos, flowy pants, and prints. I appreciate both styles. My style switches up depending on my mood of the day. If I’m feeling a little heavier, then I’ll wear a hoodie, a pair of sweats, and really nice sneakers. I’ll have my hair up and accessorize. Some days, I’ll be super Posh Spice and put together.
Who are your style icons?
Victoria Beckham, Bella Hadid, Kylie Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, and Nicole Richie. I love their style. Those are the five off the top of my head.
Everyone wanted to have white skin and rosy cheeks and that was very hard for me and my friends growing up because we wondered, “Where do we fit in?” But what if we don’t want that? I’m more vocal about it now because I never wanted to be white but all the commercials made me think that. Now, I feel like it’s my responsibility to stand up for the girls that felt that way too.
You recently posted a photo of a shirt that says “That melanin though” and you added a caption, “Proud brown girls say hey.” What advice would you give our readers about loving the skin they’re in?
Whether you’re morena or mestiza, it really doesn’t matter and you should embrace it. If you don’t embrace it, then you’re always going to look over your shoulder thinking the grass is greener on the other side. You have to be proud of it. My friend Lauren Reid recently posted a quote that reads, “The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.” Just own it. Having tanned skin wasn’t a color that was embraced up until recently. Everyone wanted to have white skin and rosy cheeks and that was very hard for me and my friends growing up because we wondered, “Where do we fit in?” But what if we don’t want that? I’m more vocal about it now because I never wanted to be white but all the commercials made me think that. Now, I feel like it’s my responsibility to stand up for the girls that felt that way too.
In Asia, whitening products and Glutathione drips are rampantly promoted to achieve lighter skin. Being a morena beauty, have you encountered criticism about your skin color and how did you approach it?
Earlier on in the social media world, people would say “Ang ganda niya, itim nga lang”. I’d just think that, “I’m brown and I’m cute. Stop!” I’m fine hearing that because I grew up under the public eye, so I know that I needed to have thick skin. But for an ordinary person who doesn’t have to hear that, imagine how they would feel. If I’m able to get across a 10-year-old girl on social media with me saying, “Proud brown girls say hey!” and there are 200 girls commenting, “Hey!” then this 10-year-old girl is going to shamelessly respond the same way. Let’s just be positive. Self-love is a good growing thing. You have to spread it and help people love themselves.
If I’m able to get across a 10-year-old girl on social media with me saying, “Proud brown girls say hey!” and there are 200 girls commenting, “Hey!” then this 10-year-old girl is going to shamelessly respond the same way. Let’s just be positive. Self-love is a good growing thing. You have to spread it and help people love themselves.
What’s the one thing that makes you feel powerful?
It’s when I’m self-aware that I feel powerful. It makes it easier for me to point out things I need to change. When other people criticize me, I’ll say, “Yeah I know, I’m working on it,” instead of being super defensive. It’s not all the time that I understand my situation, but when I do it makes me feel like I have control over my life. It’s easier for me to say no, and I can respectfully decline because I know what I want and don’t want. I don’t feel FOMO, as if I lost an opportunity. You understand your worth even on how you make decisions or when you did something wrong. I’m not going to be bitter and just fix it myself because it’s on me.
Being in the spotlight comes with a lot of criticism and judgment. How do you keep your heart and mind strong despite these adversities?
I really like to surround myself with people that I love and trust. I just had this discussion about me having a soft heart and thick skin. You don’t want to respond to a bad comment about you by building your wall higher and fighting back with something worse. You have to have a soft heart. This person might be in a really crappy situation and needs to blow off steam, and I happened to be in that person’s way and came upon their feed. That’s very different from constructive criticism which I always get online especially in the DMs. If it’s really naturally constructive criticism, then I’ll respond with, “Thank you I really needed to hear that.” But if it’s criticism just for the sake of criticism na kontrabida lang, then block, delete, and erase.
Name a song that describes your life right now.
“Eternal Sunshine” by Jhene Aiko.
What’s a piece of advice you can give to artists who are just starting out with their careers?
Just be honest. I was watching a video of Billie Eilish, and she’s the biggest in the world right now. She said something along the lines of “Artists need to do what’s good for them at that moment.” It’s true because when you’re starting, it’s easy to get lost in questions such as, “What’s my sound?” or “What’s my branding?” All of that really does help, but it’s also a way of blocking your creativity. Focus on yourself and reflect on why you’re doing this. For me, I’m not doing this to be in showbiz, just so I don’t have to go the normal route. It’s because I can take my time and write my music. You need to know the right people and keep hustling. Remember, it’s a different hustle for everyone. Know what you want to do, who you are and what you want to say.
Photographed by Miguel Alomajan
Styled by Jana Silao
Makeup by Angeline de la Cruz
Hair by Jeff Valenzuela
Face tattoos by Tattumundo @tattumundo