What causes a video to go viral is unknown and is the goal of every corporation and advertising agency in the country. The best viral videos are usually grass roots, not corporate, and in the case of the latest — unplanned. But just as millions of women turned out in cities all over the world Sunday for the Women’s Marches that exceeded the expectations of the organizers and most participants, an unplanned video of a singer leading other women in song has turned into an anthem for what many hope will be the start of a movement for equal rights for all.
The song, “Quiet,” was written by Connie Lim, a first-generation Chinese American singer songwriter from the South Bay area of Los Angeles who performs under the name MILCK. She initially wrote the song in response to her own history of physical and sexual abuse, alongside pressures to fulfill society’s standards of beauty but released it against the advice of her management (who wanted her to wait to be signed to a label) in November after the election of Donald Trump. Although it has specific meaning to her, it’s an anthem against oppression in any form that is easily relatable.
MILCK planned to attend the D.C. march after learning about it in November, but came up with the idea to recruit a few others to perform it a cappella a few times in what she calls “guerrilla flash mob” style after brainstorming with her friend Krista Suh, co-creator of the Pussyhat Project.
The group, 25 in all, performed it seven times at the Women’s March on Washington D.C., breaking out in song in the middle of a crowd of 500,000 when they felt the urge. One of their performances was captured on the phone camera of filmmaker Alma Har’el, who just happened to be there and caught it despite dealing with a bad battery. It was Har’el’s video that went viral Sunday and has turned the song into an anthem for women around the world.
The middle child of a OBGYN father and Realtor mother, 30-year-old MILCK is the only creative professional in her family. Her sister, the oldest, is a surgeon and her brother works in finance. After attending the University of California at Berkeley, she moved back to Los Angeles where she has been working as musician for seven years. The Chicago Ambassador’s Bob Chiarito spoke to MILCK by phone Sunday, a day after the Women’s March and on the day when the performance of her leading a flash mob singing her song “Quiet” began to go viral on the Internet. (To see the video, click on the link below).
CA) The performance of you and the 26 other women at the Los Angeles Women’s March yesterday has gone viral. What’s today been like for you?
MILCK) (Laughs). It’s been a lot of screen time, responding to a lot of Tweets and Facebook messages and interviews. I didn’t expect it to go this way, I just wanted to do something hopeful and giving and give something to the march.
CA) Are you back home in Los Angeles yet or still in D.C.?
MILCK) I’m still in D.C. I’ll be here until Monday.
CA) First off, how and why did you come up with the stage name MILCK? It includes last name spelled backward and your first and middle initials?
MILCK) I wanted to literally and figuratively turn myself inside out because I felt like I was still operating, musically speaking, from a place where I was concerned with what others thought good music is or what type of music others thought I should be doing and I got to a point where I was feeling tired of it. I also wanted to use my name. My father’s an immigrant, he’s the classic American dream. He built his home from nothing so I wanted to take what he gave me and make it my own as he did with his parents. It kind of freed myself from some expectations.
CA) You recorded the song in November after the election in response to it. [It was released January 18 in preparation for the march on Washington]. Can you talk about how that came about — and how fast you were able to write and record it?
MILCK) I had written the song earlier because I needed to process my own experience from my teenage years and come to terms with some of the pain I had. It wasn’t until the election that I felt like I had to release the song. Everything kind of got triggered from that day. I was talking with my management and they wanted me to wait to get a label to release the song to get more people to hear it. However, at the time Trump got elected — I don’t think it was so much a political thing although I do think everything a minority woman does is political in terms of art. I felt like I didn’t have time to play the game, waiting for corporations to figure out if I was worthy of getting signed. Trump seemed like the face of corporations and it felt like ‘I need to not play this game.’
CA) Within a month you and director Sammi Cohen made a powerful video for the song. It features you in a glass box that is slowly filling up with water, until you are completely submerged. You escape by using your voice to break the glass. Was that your concept?
MILCK) It was both of ours. I had an initial idea and she completed the idea. I didn’t have the element of the water or a straight jacket. I had asked a couple directors before if we could do it with the glass and they said it wasn’t possible with the budget we had. Then I talked to Sammi and she pitched me three ideas and it was the third one that we went with. The first two were more dance ideas and I really didn’t want to do a dance video for this song because it was raw. When she told me the third idea, it was almost like she expected me not to like it. It kind of came from her childhood pain and when she told me about it, her voice started cracking. After she told me I knew it was what we needed to do. It’s not a complicated storyline.
CA) Did you know her before then?
MILCK) No, I met her on a private Facebook group called Inspired Women of Los Angeles. I had met her through different posts and thought of her when I was looking to make the video and contacted her on a whim.
CA) I read that you and her really sought to have the crew who made the video composed of as many women as possible, especially those from the LGBTQ community.
MILCK) Yes. I was talking to makeup artist who said that it was really refreshing because so much of what she does are project where there are two females — a lead actress and a makeup artist and everyone else is male so she thought it was really nice to have an almost all female crew. The men who worked on it were awesome and supportive and really got it.
CA) Next, you reached out to your friend Krista Suh, who is the co-creator of the Pussyhat Project, to come up with the flash mob idea, right?
MILCK) Yeah, we were brainstorming in November We were going to the march and asked each other, what do you want to do, how do you want to give back to the march? I wanted to spread my song and do the a cappella performances. Krista’s great because she challenges me to think bigger. She was like, ‘Why don’t you get a choir?’ I responded by saying ‘We’ll see,’ but then did reach out to a bunch of women. I was going to be with ten but by the first week in January we had 25 committed.
CA) I read that 14 were from George Washington University.
MILCK) Yes. Some were from George Washington University and some were women that had a cappella careers sometime in their life. The two groups that really contributed were Capital Blend, which is a professional a cappella group in D.C. with an age range from about 30 to mid 40s, and the George Washington University GW Sirens who are aged 19 to about 23. It was really cool to have the different ages.
CA) And you all practiced together on Skpe and most didn’t meet until the day before the march, some the day of?
MILCK) Yeah. We had a rehearsal on Thursday but a lot of us couldn’t make it. The complete crew met on Saturday morning.
CA) Despite this, you didn’t have a plan to film it? The story is that filmmaker Alma Har’el just happened to be there and filmed it on her phone.
MILCK) It was kind of crazy. I didn’t know Alma before this but I learned today that her phone had died and she lost her friends in the crowd and when we started singing her phone started working. It was crazy because we were lost as well, trying to find the Pussycat Project and sing for them, but we were blockaded at Independence and 4th Streets and decided to just sing where we were. And that’s how we intersected with Alma.
CA) One of the lyrics of the song, you call yourself a “one woman riot.” Has this experience made you and others feel like you aren’t alone?
MILCK) Yeah, totally, in a very immense way. I was just talking to some of the marchers who were all feeling so emotional and so at peace. I think some people had anger and some people had fear and I think doing something like this, even if there is a lot of work to be done, we know that we’re not alone.
CA) Were you surprised by the turnout at the March, both in D.C. and in cities around the world?
MILCK) Yeah. I thought there would be 200,000 to 500,000 total throughout the major cities. I wasn’t thinking 750,000 in Los Angeles alone, which made me very proud.
CA) To go back to the video of the performance, If Alma wasn’t there yesterday — do you think it was an oversight by not filming or not planning to film the performance?
MILCK) I had posted some footage of one of the other performances. I was just a little daunted because I made the decision not to play the label game. I wanted to get the song to people and knew we could reach about 40 people per performance. I don’t know what it is, I’ve never felt this sure about anything. I’m like the mother and this song is my child and I have to fulfill its dream. I remember after the march I was wondering if we should have kept singing for hours and hours. Maybe we could have reached more people.
CA) How many times did you ladies perform it yesterday?
MILCK) We performed it 7 times and I think we got footage of all of them.
CA) So it wasn’t that there wasn’t a plan to film it, albeit maybe not a formal plan, but Alma’s footage is the one that has gone viral.
MILCK) Yeah, yeah. I think she has a cool following. I think after she posted it Emma Watson shared it and then Amy Poehler. Whatever circle she’s connected with was receptive to it. She was at the right place at the right time. It was creepy actually. [Laughter]. I’ve read about these types of stories and it’s really amazing.
CA) You’ve stated that your goal is to create a million “one woman riots” – How does it feel to know you may have accomplished that. Alma’s YouTube video has more than 4.2 million views as of right now.
MILCK) Oh wow, she just posted it today. Oh my gosh. It’s beyond me, I didn’t do that. It’s just what’s happening. It feels bigger than me.
CA) You’ve called “Quiet” your thesis and said the “guerrilla style” performance at the march is the first project of I Can’t Keep Quiet project. Can you talk about the project.
MILCK) My gut is that it’s going to be a long term thing that I’m always working on and always investing some energy into. What I was thinking was that I’d start one in D.C. and Los Angeles and maybe some people would be inspired and start one in Texas or in some red states. I wasn’t thinking all over the world when I started this but I’ve gotten at least 20 requests from Australia, Belgium, and all over for the learning kit of how to sing the song. Today I actually made it public today. People can download the sheet music and start their own choirs. The other side of it is that I want people to share their stories. I’m going to collect stories of people who survived their abuse. I’m going to make a collage of it but I’m not sure yet how I’m going to do it, what form it will take place.
CA) Yes, I was going to ask you about that. You plan to collect the stories of everyday people who have braved “extraordinary distances to speak up and speak out” and post them on the site. That’s what you’re referring to, correct?
MILCK) Yes. I was thinking I could take stories about people surviving adversity and create art out of the pain. I think down the road it can be different workshops or things like that. I really like interacting with others because it helps me too. We have some merchandise and the proceeds will go to the Los Angeles chapter of Step Up. [An organization that provides after-school programs and mentorships for at-risk girls] I experienced domestic violence when I was 14 and I feel that’s a very vulnerable age and this group has programs for girls from 13 to 18. I want to support what they are doing because I think it’s very important.
CA) At this point, do you consider yourself more of an activist or an artist?
MILCK) Oh, that’s interesting. I feel like being an artist in this era right now is being an activist. I feel like they are synonymous right now. Maybe it’s because I’m an activist and don’t know it yet. [Laughter]. I was feeling it yesterday, especially when people were saying that the march is just the beginning —that’s been in my head. It’s such a good question. I really felt inspired by seeing all these different women at the march.
CA) How long have you been singing? Your debut single “Devil Devil” was released just last year and had a lot of success, being used in several television shows and getting over 1 million YouTube views.
MILCK) I’ve been studying the industry for seven years and learning how to write music. I also was trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I wasn’t going to be a doctor. [Laughs]
CA) I take it that your parents are very traditional. Were they pushing you to go to med school?
MILCK) Yeah, I think my dad and mom, they came here with almost nothing and they built this world and they offered a guarantee of education and science and medicine and they wanted to know that I was going to survive. From their point of view that was the best profession and every other profession was too risky and maybe not as prestigious.
CA) I read that you’re hoping to release a few more singles this year, each promoting something empowering. For Quiet, you tapped into your own history of physical and sexual abuse, depression and anorexia. Do you think you can address other issues that perhaps you don’t have first-hand experience with?
MILCK) That’s a good question. I do feel that I have to come from a very personal space. For example, with Quiet, my gay friends really liked it and connected to it. I didn’t write it from that perspective but the truth of it was the same for all of us. I think if I can get to the core of the emotion, it can relate to different issues. I think sometimes the songs need to be born and that I’m just a messenger. I may relate to it but I may have experienced something to make me write that song but other people filter it in a different way. I guess the roundabout answer is that I have to write for my personal space but I think the more honest I am, the more universal it can be.