Soft power advocate

Danupha “Milli” Kanateerakul

A Rapper
"I don’t think it was that big of an achievement, but it is a successful step. There will be more steps that I have to take. This is not the final destination and not the time to stop,”

Danupha “Milli” Kanateerakul, a Thai rap sensation, is best known for being the first Thai artist to perform at the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the US last year. During her six-minute performance, Danupha wowed the crowd with her fast rapping and smooth dance moves. The young rapper added some new lyrics to her performance, saying she did not ride elephants while also criticising the poor performance of the Thai government. She concluded the show by eating mango sticky rice onstage, adding impact to her performance.

The performance went viral and caused a surge in mango sticky rice sales back in Thailand which made the dessert rare and difficult to find for a while. Due to the phenomenon, Danupha was praised for promoting Thailand's soft power and this makes her one of the 2023 Bangkok Post Women of the Year in the soft power advocate category.

Despite the mango sticky rice craze, the young rapper stated that at that time, she was not consciously thinking about promoting Thai culture through her performance. For her, everything she did onstage was for fun and entertainment.

“I ate mango sticky rice onstage because I meant to tease the audience. My team and I had never thought about the concept of soft power and I just wanted to eat mango sticky rice. Everything happened purely because of my intent to have fun and entertain,” she said.

In addition to being well-known for her electrifying performances, Danupha is widely known for her outspoken criticism of political and social issues. Expressing her opinions and criticism caused Danupha some trouble including being fined 2,000 baht and having to post a public apology on her social media after the hashtag #BanMilli went viral. However, the rapper still continually expresses her opinions on social platforms.

“Actually, I do feel stressed. Some of my goals have not been successful because I called out some issues. I admit that this caused some negative impact. However, some things may be worth losing, if in the long term, we eventually have democracy. I addressed some issues because I still live in this country and have the power of voice. When I call out the issues, it helps people to see the light. I do not call out just for myself, but for my family, friends and everyone,” said Danupha.

Danupha was discovered in 2019 when she participated in the TV competition The Rapper Season 2. Executives from the music label Yupp! Entertainment have a keen eye for talent and recognised the potential of 16-year-old Danupha and signed a contract with her. After launching her hits Pak Kon (Calm Down) and Sud Pang (Super Bang) in 2020, Danupha became the most-wanted rapper to collaborate with renowned artists such as New-Jiew-Waii, Tilly Birds, Youngohm and Twopee.

One of her collaborations which became an international breakthrough was Mirror Mirror which she sang with F.Hero, a renowned Thai rapper, and Changbin, a K-pop rapper of the group Stray Kids. Banchan praised Danupha’s skills and said she was his new favourite female rapper. Also, competitors in the Korean TV dancing competition Street Dance Girls Fighter used Mirror Mirror in their performance.

Last year, Danupha launched her 10-track album Babb Bum Bum (Extravagant) in Thailand. She also collaborated with Jackson Wang, a member of the K-pop sensation Got7, to release the emotional English song Mind Game. Due to her impressive performance at Coachella, Danupha got more opportunities to perform at the international music and art festival Head In The Clouds in LA, Jakarta and Manila.

“Performing at Head In The Clouds was a completely different experience from Coachella. At Coachella, nobody knew me, so I had the mindset that I was going to make them recognise me. However, audiences in Jakarta and Manila already knew who I was. It was overwhelming to know that they had been waiting to see me. Although they could not sing the Thai lyrics, they hummed along to the melody. When I performed in LA, I was onstage by myself, but in Jakarta and Manila I had a band with me. Members of the band were also my friends. We were so happy because we were doing what we loved.”

Although Danupha broke the international music scene, which is the dream of many artists, she does not consider it to be a great success.

"I don’t think it was that big of an achievement, but it is a successful step. There will be more steps that I have to take. This is not the final destination and not the time to stop,” said the rapper.

Danupha’s success is not a fluke. She has never stopped singing and writing lyrics even though she also has to study at the Faculty of Music, Assumption University. The rapper has always listened to criticism and keeps improving herself. She advises other young people to do the same.

“If you want to do something, I would say just do it. Don’t think or keep waiting for the right moment. Don’t think you are not ready. This may sabotage your opportunity. Go ahead and try. Making mistakes is not a big deal. We can learn from them.”