Milli: Thailand’s dissident rapper serves a bittersweet message for government
Thai teen rapper Danupha “Milli” Khanatheerakul, who made global headlines by eating mango sticky rice on a US stage recently, is pursuing not just a music career but also ambitions to make Thailand a better place.
And this young woman will not stop fighting for her beliefs, even after being slapped with a defamation complaint by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last year.
“No, I don’t hate my homeland,” the 19-year-old once said. “I speak up because I love it. I don’t want to see others looking down on my country.”
Targeting Thai corruption
On April 17, Milli became the first solo artist from Thailand to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This international indie music and arts extravaganza has been held in California every year since 1999, except for a two-year break during the COVID-19 crisis.
On stage, the young Thai artist wowed a huge international audience with her rapping skills before ending her rendition of “Mango Sticky Rice” by tucking into a bowl of the dessert as she walked off stage.
Having launched the traditional Thai sweet into the global spotlight and made Thais proud, even her staunchest critic, Prayut, decided to embrace her.
The PM’s aides say Prayut appreciated her contribution to his soft-power policy and conceded he may have misjudged her in the past. Inspired by her performance, the PM said the Culture Ministry was considering whether to send a proposal to UNESCO that mango sticky rice be listed as world heritage.
Last July, he was not so full of praise. Prayut’s complaint resulted in Milli being fined 2,000 baht after she joined many critics in questioning the government’s efficiency and transparency at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Following the legal action, the hashtag #SaveMilli immediately began trending on social media, proving she had strong support for her cause.
Milli admitted that some of her comments may have been rude but insisted that she was exercising her right to free expression under the Constitution.
At Coachella, Milli began her set with “I Am Thai, I Am Thai”, targeting corruption by peppering the song with sarcastic lines like “Kinnaree poles cost 100,000 baht apiece, Thai trains have been used since King Rama V’s reign – 120 years already”.
She wrapped up her opening number with: “Country is good. People is good. All food is good. But that Uncle is bood [rotten].”
“Uncle Too” is a popular nickname for Prayut.
Unlike many of her peers, Milli did not develop a love of rap when she was young. In fact, she has gone on record as saying she thought hip-hop lyrics were far too harsh. However, her attitude changed when she watched Thai artist KQ perform in the first season of the TV show “The Rapper”.
“I thought he was so creative,” Milli said. “So I started rapping too.”
At the age of 16, she joined the second season of “The Rapper” and proved to be a big hit with audience and judges alike. She used her real nickname, Minnie, in the competition.
As for her stage name Milli, she said it was inspired by her father’s advice that she should be fluid like water. She began hunting for a word that could link “Minnie” to water, and came up with “millilitres”. Hence Milli.
After signing a contract with record label YUPP, Milli released her first single “Pug gon” in February 2020, followed by “Sudpang” later in the year.
“Pug gon”, a sarcastic hip-hop piece that addresses teenage pregnancies, propelled her to stardom with over 90 million views on YouTube.
Her second single “Sudpang” is all about beauty, confidence in different styles of women which is communicated through dialects and various singing techniques. Currently, it has more than 43 million views on YouTube.
Both singles were composed by the teenager herself.
The talented artist already has several awards under her belt, including being named a rising star at the 2020 KAZZ Awards. At the 2020 Rap Is Now Awards, she won “Hip-Hop Song of the Year” and “New Face of the Year”. She was also named “Best New Asian Artist” at the Mnet Asian Music Awards 2020.
This year she claimed “Best Entertainment Performance on Social Media” at the Thailand Zocial Awards and was named Outstanding Solo Female Artist at the Kom Chad Luek Awards.
Milli has also been pulled in for several collaborations under US music label 88Rising, which also added her to the Coachella line-up. Her collaborations include “Mirror Mirror” featuring South Korea’s Stray Kids’ Changbin and Thailand’s F Hero, and “The Weekend” (Remix) featuring South Korean musician Bibi.
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Born in Bangkok on November 13, 2002, Milli’s mother tongue is Thai but she’s also fluent in English.
In her years at Satrinonthaburi School, she was reportedly popular with both teachers and students, especially while she was student president.
Although she spent most of her young life studying at an all-girls school, Milli doesn’t believe she meets traditional expectations.
“The school taught us to be self-reliant so we were able to take care of ourselves,” she said.
Milli, who is working towards an undergraduate degree in music at Assumption University in Bangkok, says she lives her life the way she wants.
“Don’t try and be someone you’re not. Follow your passion and do your best,” is the advice she has for her peers.
“Speak up for your beliefs, but don’t forget to listen to others too.”
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk