TELISU’s music is that FYE. She’s fabulous and stylish with seemingly no bad angles, which doesn’t always translate into good music. But, oh contraire! If you’re sleeping on her, don’t.
I asked the burning question first. Why K-Pop (Korean Pop) and how? Here you are a Black woman from Memphis – the land of soul, blues and rock and roll – yet you fall into K-Pop of all things!
First of all, let’s establish that she is one of those multi-hyphenate, how-does-she-do-it-all type of folks. In addition to music, she does all manner of design – web, set, interior. She even styled and propped her own shoot for this story.
Gallery: Photos by Demarcus Bowser
The genesis of TELISU’s K-Pop sound took root while she was living in L.A., working as a dancer. Driving home and LA traffic being what it is, she got redirected and stuck in gridlock. As the hunger kicked in, she caught the aroma of BBQ. Cause Memphis! She followed her nose and pulled over at a mom and pop spot in Koreatown.
Shortly thereafter, the fates intervened once more and she wound up moving to that very neighborhood, where she would become a regular at the restaurant. Between the BBQ and R&B in heavy rotation, it felt like home. But everyone and everything else was Korean. Naturally, she became known as the Black girl who worked in entertainment.
From there, the labels came calling, making her the first Black dancer in K-Pop videos, which is part of the way in which she is intentionally inserting Black women into different conversations.
“I’m all about elevating Black women and girls,” she said. “I want us to know we’re good everywhere. This world would not rotate if we weren’t poppin.”
TELISU wound up spending a great deal of time in Seoul, South Korea and came very close to living there. A random offer from a friend to visit led to some unexpected opportunities. Seoul innately has both style and music. And they were receptive to her.
“I would walk into a meeting (in L.A.) and these white men would tell me to my face that I was too dark to do pop. When I went to Seoul, it was the only time I got a fair listen. So as an homage, I always include something Korean either visually or sonically in my music.”
The first visit turned into multiple extended visits over a five-year period.
“I was excited to go over there and explore. It was amazing. It gave me the opportunity to create my own lane and start a completely different career.”
She had actually been booked on a Korean TV style show, which was set to be produced by Top Model executives, which was unheard of for a Black woman in Korea. An issue with her visa left her redirected once more. Thinking that she would be moving to Seoul, TELISU had already packed up her life in LA. She returned to Memphis for what she thought would be a respite.
Three years later, she’s still here.
“I’m on the longest layover ever,” she laughs.
“At first I thought it was a detour. Being here I’ve met so many amazing and talented people, which reassured me that this is where I am supposed to be. I needed that because for a time I felt like I did something completely wrong. But being here has propelled me.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve been blessed with here. We are a tight knit group of doers who want to move Memphis forward in a creative way but also remain authentic to who we are. I’m really excited about what we’re creating.”
TELISU would like to see Memphis as a larger part of the global music conversation, recognized for its wide-reaching influence.
“I feel like God has me here to help in the rebranding surrounding this City. People think of “The First 48” before they think about the fact that we are the first and only representation of hip hop at the Oscars. You can’t turn on the radio and not hear us. Not taking away anything from anyone, but without Memphis there would be no Atlanta.”
As a contributor to the reshaping of the Memphis Music Commission, she is working to help make Memphis an independent city for artists, restructure ownership and advocate for a bonus tax for artists and labels to record here. She is a believer in artist ownership – designating an artists’ row, providing housing assistance, helping artists secure buildings.
“Talent is our number one revenue,” she said.
TELISU currently has two singles in circulation. Both were written with Anderson Paak when they were neighbors in Koreatown. Her EP will be released later this year featuring collaborative work with Memphians Freesol, Yunomike, Jran, SteakSawse and imakemadbeats.
Meanwhile, you can catch her style show, JADORE 대코, on YouTube. Then have a listen to the music here: https://spoti.fi/2Z5bg2z.
(Follow @telisu on IG for updates!
AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC APPRECIATION MONTH
In observance of African American Music Appreciation Month, The New Tri-State Defender is highlighting select Memphis-area artists throughout June. At month’s end, The TSD will present an edited video featuring one song from each featured artist. The finished product will be a hybrid mini-concert and extended multi-artist video. Stay tuned for the digital invite.