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On Her New Album szn two, promqueen tells her story

By Jeff McCord

It started with a realization.

“My parents have internalized microaggressions, the way that they were treated. They kept their heads down and kept working. That’s something that I’ve taken on myself, just keep your head down, keep working, just do the things. And I’m just starting to realize that I don’t have to do that.

I’m talking with Austin artist promqueen about her new album, szn two, and after spending a few minutes in energetic conversation, it’s easy to see the source of this bold proclamation of self. 

promqueen was born near Dallas to Vietnamese immigrants, and spent her youth struggling between being “not Asian enough” or “not American enough”. 

“It’s definitely that feeling of not feeling Asian enough around my Vietnamese family,” she explains. “When I see my extended relatives, they’re like, ‘Oh, her Vietnamese is all right’, it’s just not quite fitting what they think I should be. And growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, it was not feeling white enough. My parents wanted to keep me safe. And my friends were [saying], ‘Let’s just go hang out, let’s do whatever.’ And I’m [saying], ‘I can’t do whatever’, you know? So it was not feeling entirely American like my friends. I learned to code switch or try to blend in. Going even deeper, with my family, they raised me from a place of love and care, but I would come home and I messed up on a test or something and my mom would say, ‘Well, why didn’t you get it right?’ It was also feeling like I’m not meeting my parents’ expectations, so there were a lot of multi-layered parts to it.”

promqueen describes the self-discovery she undertook for this album as overcoming a lot of mental and personal battles. 

Promqueen performing at KUTX & Austin PBS Present Indie Orchestra by Unwound Sound on Feb. 1, 2024 directed and curated by Brent Baldwin. Patricia Lim/KUTX

“When I was making this record, it was going through what my parents have gone through. Immigrants from Vietnam, [they] had me here in Texas, of all places; processing their experiences and my experiences are vastly different. I have been working on a memoir about my family for ten years. It’s a lot to unpack writing about yourself and your family, much harder than fiction. I didn’t intentionally plan to do the promqueen project. I wrote this book, and then I wanted to take a break for performance and songwriting. My friend and I, co-producer waverly [a Cambodian-American who doubles as promqueen’s label owner and co-manager] wrote [a] song, and he’s like, why don’t you put some Vietnamese in it? I was like, ‘Really?’ There was a voice in my head -my mom’s- saying, ‘Don’t speak in Vietnamese like you got to speak English’. But I did that, and it felt so freeing. It just came out in the form of this album.”

promqueen’s journey of self-discovery as a queer Asian-American extends even further than szn two and its thematic, multi-lingual pulsing narrative. She’s been firmly on message since her debut. 

“waverly and I go way back, working at the Mother Falcon Music Lab. We’ve always worked in a creative space that was organized. He’s like, ‘Show business. That’s two words.’ We’ve been doing music for a while. You name it, I’ve done it.” “We work together with a lot of trust. I trust his musical intuition. He trusts my musical intuition. He’ll make a beat of some of the songs. He’ll send me a track. Usually I’ll write to it. I might add some keys, have some ideas, but really, I let him drive that bus. That gives me free range to just go and think of the narrative, and go in the sandbox and play with some words. [With] szn two, it was hard to get to the finish line, but we did, and we’re very proud of it.”

The album plays out like a free-flowing mission statement.

“[I wanted] to put out this music and these stories because I want to connect with other Vietnamese Americans. People like me. It’s like a little S.O.S. call. When I drop some Vietnamese words in here, not everyone’s going to get it, but the few that do, they’re on the inside joke with me. I want everybody here. Some people don’t get it. Great. This is for me, for the folks that I’m trying to relate to, and [for] whoever wants to enjoy the ride. Great music’s universal. So I think it’s really that, and wanting to honor my parents’ stories. I’m telling my own story, not speaking for the whole culture, and my queer identity, these are identities that I’m learning about myself and tapping into and not being afraid to do it, you know?

And despite her fish out of water upbringing, the songs of szn two are fearless. “The Mountain” screams out with braggadocio. (“I’m a mountain aye yeah yeah / Don’t crossover me”) I ask promqueen where she gets this. 

“I wrote ‘Mountain’, funnily enough, when I was getting over COVID, I just binged watched ‘The Bear’. I sat in bed and pulled up the beat that Waverly made, and it just it came. Honestly [it comes from] my two year old self. You know, if I could take you back into my living room, it’s just me and the TV. Some Vietnamese karaoke, wearing an Easter sun hat and maybe a diaper. And I’m having the time of my life. My parents would be videotaping me, and I’m like, ‘Don’t watch me’. They like ‘We’re not watching.’ I was living my best life, singing, enjoying myself. So it comes a lot from that little girl. And it comes from my parents’ stories, their strength and resilience, navigating Vietnam during the war, surviving, protecting themselves.”

She pauses.


promqueen in KUTX Studio 1A

Date: 5.1.24

Set List:
Album: szn two(mHart 2024)

Musicians: promqueen – vocals; Menjam Temang, Angelina De Leon – dancers; waverly – producer; Ellena Martinez – set design

Credits: Producer: Deidre Gott; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman, Rene Chavez; Audio Mix: Rene Chavez; Cameras: Renee Dominguez, Deborah Cannon, Isak Koteki, Patricia Lim; Edit Deborah Cannon