In Taiwan’s crowd of female pop stars, it is quite hard to stand out. Everyone looks exquisite, dressed in the latest fashions from the trendiest shops. All the songstresses have choreography in their flashy videos to go with their sugarcoated lyrics. Most important of all, they have huge media conglomerates backing them and pushing their songs onto radio stations, into KTVs and in commercials.
Naomi Yohani wants to be a star, but she is doing it on her own terms and discussing a topic — her struggle with bipolar disorder — that would be considered taboo in the saccharine world of pop music.
The Early Years
As a youngster, Yohani was a standout in her church choir, but didn’t start taking proper singing lessons until the age of 14. In college, she won a singing competition and then began work with Soft Lipa (蛋堡), a well-known rapper.
“It was a great experience because I got to learn how the recording studio worked,” Yohani said. “I started writing my own lyrics once he told me the topic of the songs.”
It was during this time that Yohani realized that she wanted to sing more than just backup vocals. She then met her future husband, Alex Trup, who encouraged her to write her own songs. “It was always in my plans to build a studio and record an album. I just didn’t think it would be this soon and the singer would be my wife,” Trup said.
It took three years, NT$2 million dollars worth of investment in equipment for a studio and a lot of ups and downs, but now Yohani is finally releasing her first album, Bipolar. In the songs, Yohani discusses the struggles she had while doctors gave her six different medications to treat her bipolar disorder. “When I’m in manic mode, I feel like I’m king of the world, and I don’t need to sleep because I feel so good,” she said. “When I’m depressed, I’m more sensitive. Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t get better because I want those strong feelings.”
Trup encouraged her to keep writing lyrics whether she felt happy or sad. After a year of disappointing treatments, Yohani’s doctors prescribed Prozac, which leveled her out. “I started feeling better and all the words I wrote that I loved were about being bipolar,” she said.
Yohani said her favorite track on the 10-song album is Waiting, which she likes because it shows off her voice and makes references to her faith. “I think my life is perfect, and I don’t feel empty inside,” Yohani said. “It’s about the times I was praying to God and I was awaiting his response. Then I realized that he was already responding but my ears hadn’t heard it yet.”
Trup, who is the executive producer on Bipolar, as well as Yohani’s manager, thinks the track, Cry, has the biggest breakout potential because it’s very catchy. “It’s contradictory because it has sad lyrics but it’s very upbeat,” Trup said. “People tell her not to cry, but that doesn’t work.”
Yohani interjected, “People see me and I would seem so normal, but I have a dark side. I feel better when I cry, but everyone tells me that crying doesn’t help.”
A Sense of Purpose
Yohani’s parents didn’t take the depression seriously until she stopped eating and drinking for days. “They would tell me not to think too much and that would make me crazy. Then, I started to scratch myself and hurt myself, just to feel something,” Yohani said.
Today, Yohani’s parents understand the disorder much more and have been there for her even though she still struggles on a daily basis. Yohani believes that her troubles are going to help those young people who are trying to find their way in life.
“I always believe people have a purpose,” she said. “My faith got stronger while I was suffering. I believe that my purpose is to struggle to all the time. I now have the faith to cope with that.”
Yohani continues to take medication and doesn’t think she will ever be cured of her bipolar disorder.
“I think I can help people better if I’m on the ship with them,” she said.
Yohani’s first full-length album in Mandarin Chinese, Bipolar, is available now at naomiyohani.com for digital download. Bipolar will be in stores in August.