Leanne & Naara On Their First Filipino Track, 'UNAN'
We got cozy with the soulful pop duo as they talk about their new song and their close relationship with the people whom they consider as their ‘comfy and relaxing pillows’ for when times get tough
It hasn’t been long since Leanne Mamonong, followed by Naara Acueza, had sat on my makeup chair, ready to be dolled up for a 12-hour shoot. It was for the official music video of their first Filipino song, “UNAN,” under Warner Music Philippines.
I’ve heard of them and their music last year. Their first full album, “Daybreak,” released in 2020 became one of my go-to albums for when my emotions needed a little reshuffling. Their songs “Choose You” and “Who’s Gonna Love You” have instantly made it to my work playlist that I’d almost always put on loop.
Sure, I might have started a bit late on the Leanne & Naara mania but the two, who took up Performing Arts in Assumption College San Lorenzo, are no strangers in the local music scene as they’ve been around since 2012. 2016 was a particularly remarkable year for the duo, as their debut single “Again” topped Spotify Viral Charts: #1 in the Philippines, #2 in Singapore and Indonesia, #3 in Malaysia, and #12 in Global Viral Charts.
Working with Leanne & Nara
The “UNAN” music video shoot would be the first time I’d ever work with the same Leanne & Naara I’d just casually be listening to on Apple music.
We started the day, at around 9 am, as merely colleagues and ended it hours after as friends. It felt as if we’ve known each other for years. That was how warm and friendly the girls were and still are. In fact, it was just a matter of minutes before Naara had started to crack jokes and eventually shared her immense love for Blackpink. And shortly after, when it was her turn on my chair, Leanne would casually ask me about tips and techniques on how to recreate the fresh-grunge makeup look I was doing on them for “UNAN” music video.
Leanne, 27, and Naara, 26, were easily lovable and would welcome you into their world like a beloved old friend. These award-winning artists are humble and approachable even with accolades like the 31st Awit Awards Best Pop Recording and 34th Awit Awards Album of the Year (for “Daybreak”) under their belt.
Weeks following the MV shoot, I got the privilege of working with them again as their makeup artist for their “UNAN” single launch at a café in Manila. While prepping for the event, I asked them about their series of Instagram stories that have piqued my interest.
Welcome to the Leanne & Naara barkada
On October 20, 2022, a day before the launch, Leanne & Naara posted and reposted a couple of Instagram stories of them hanging out in a KTV room and belting out tunes with a group who they appeared to be close to. I’d find out later that the same people, with whom they shared loud laughter and seemingly endless frolicking with that night, were in fact their fans (or friends and family, as Naara would like to put it); they are known as the “LN Buddies.”
“’Pag magkakasama kami ng LN Buddies core group, we don’t treat them as fans but parang barkada. If [given the chance], we make time for each other,” Leanne shared. Naara added, “[Meeting with the LN Buddies] is a yearly thing, nag-stop lang during the pandemic pero nagkakaroon talaga kami ng Christmas party, with games and all.”
It’s pretty interesting to note that what grows within manifests on the outside for Leanne & Naara. Their years-long of friendship, rooted in mutual love and respect, have transcended the confines of their own little musical world. It has translated into the way they genuinely treat the people who help make the two of them the successful artists that they are right now.
I chatted with them as we were preparing for the launch and asked them more about their lives as an indie pop duo, what keeps them grounded, what makes them happy, and how they came up with their catchy city pop, Filipino song “UNAN.”
Read more below:
You guys have created impressive songs. Can you walk us through your process from start to finish?
Leanne: “Usually it starts with a concept, a line that’s like the thesis of the song and then we work from there. A lot of the time the words and music come out together, and that was how some of our old stuff was created, songs like 'New York and Back' and 'Overboard.' Right now we’re trying this thing where we think of a topic and we write separately. That’s how 'UNAN' was created! Naara won that one.”
How did you come up with “UNAN,” your first Filipino song. Who thought of the melody? Who wrote the lyrics?
Leanne: “'UNAN' was a result of a songwriting session back in May. We were thinking of a random thing to write about and the word 'unan' came out. We went to separate rooms to start writing for about an hour. We listened to Naara’s version first and I thought it was so good we didn’t have to listen to mine anymore. It sounded so refreshing, so new and original. Then we tried to finish the song. It was in the studio, though, where we came up with the post chorus.”
What inspired you to finally come up with this Filipino song?
Naara: “We’ve been practicing writing in Tagalog for some time now, but to be honest a lot of them just didn’t feel like us. We thought this was the perfect first Filipino song because the melodies and the way that it’s written and produced is a lot like us—fun and vibrant!”
What is the story/message behind “UNAN?” What do you aim to make your fans and listeners feel after listening to this song?
Naara: “'UNAN' is about the desire to be beside the one you love. It’s about asking them for a little more time together and hoping that it’s not too much to ask. We want our fans to feel light and happy and in a dancing mood when they hear this song. If it reminds them of someone it’d be cute, too, if they sent the song to them.”
How did your personalities and individual voices shine through in this new song?
Leanne: “I’d like to think that this is a Naara song because it’s also very personal to her! The exciting thing is you’ll hear more of her in this track. You’ve been friends for so long.”
How’s it like working and forming something magical with a friend?
Leanne: “It’s always a good feeling when we come up with something that we both like. I think our connection is very palpable and it’s crazy how there’ve been a number of instances on stage where we would totally be in sync. The thing with working with your best friend though is sometimes it’s hard to define the line between work and play, and we have to constantly check ourselves.”
For those who haven’t heard of you or any of your songs yet, what song do you think would entice them to give your music a listen?
Naara: “Hopefully through 'Unan,' we’ll be able to welcome new listeners. The song is really for everyone, and we hope that our first Filipino single widens our reach!”
6 years into your debut and you’re making waves worldwide. Did you guys expect this much love and popularity from the day you started? Was this a part of your plan or were you just like “yeah let’s do what we love doing the most and pray that we make it big someday?”
Leanne: “We had no idea what we were doing at the start if we’re gonna be honest. We were kids! And we were just going through the flow enjoying every single experience we didn’t even realize how much we’ve grown. We’re very grateful that everything’s going fantastic and it continues to fuel us up to be better.”
Speaking of popularity, it’s so easy to get swayed by fame, fortune, and worldly things. How do you keep yourselves grounded?
Naara: “We let the inner child play. We also recognize that all of this wouldn’t be possible without God’s grace and without the help of so many people around us. We always go back to what our parents taught us growing up, how life may not be easy but if you work hard and fair you’ll be just fine.”
How significant are your fans, aka the LN Buddies, and your other supporters in your musical journey?
Leanne: “They are important kasi if wala sila doon we won’t exist. If your goal is just to make music for yourself, that’s fine. If you want to build that whole community and if your goal is to share your music with the world, I think it’s important to have a support system. To really engage with them and really try to build a strong community. Because in the end, sila rin ’yung mag-aangat sa’yo without you having to ask for it. If you show them that you are appreciative of what they do and you value them, they will give that love back.”
Naara: “[’Yung listeners and supporters] para silang malambot na unan. ’Pag I feel down during bad day and every time aakyat [ako] ng stage and I don’t feel good, pero may makita lang ako na fan na nagja-jive sa song [namin] iba na ’yung energy na nabibigay nila [sa amin]. Give and take. You feed off each other’s energy.”
What is your message to your fans and listeners? If they were right in front of you now, what would you want to tell them?
Leanne & Naara: “We just want to say how blessed we are for having you guys. You are the kindest, most generous, funniest, most understanding fans and we’re grateful for each and every one of you. We only hope to make you happier with what we put out in the coming years and we hope that you’ll choose to stay with us on this journey because it’s so much more fun with you guys here.”
Photos courtesy of Warner Music Philippines