Written by Stephanie Wang
Connie K. Lim, known professionally as MILCK, is an American singer-songwriter that is based in Los Angeles. She quickly gained worldwide attention when her song ‘Quiet,’ written about domestic violence, became an anthem at the 2017 Women’s March. Since then, it has been sung at women’s marches and protests all over the world. She now has a documentary short film coming out titled I Can’t Keep Quiet, alluding to lyrics of her song that put her on the map. The documentary covers MILCK’s process of writing and performing the song, as well as her activism in both women’s rights and racial justice for AAPIs during the pandemic. Find out firsthand from MILCK about her songwriting process and new documentary.
Stephanie: You became a powerful voice in the human rights movement when your song Quiet became an anthem at a women’s march in 2017. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing Quiet, what inspired it, and what you thought when the song rapidly became viral?
MILCK: Writing “Quiet” was both a very quick and long process. It was a long process because I had been trying for years to write a song that expressed the feeling I was finally able to express in “Quiet.” It was quick because the day the song emerged, I wrote it in three and half hours at Adrianne Gonzalez’s (AG) studio. The song came from a dream - I had dreamt the night before our session that I was getting hit by my abuser and there was someone watching who wasn’t helping. I looked at them and said, “I need help, this isn’t right,” which are two things I had never said out loud before about the domestically violent relationship I was in at age 14. The person responded back and told me that if I said anything, the abuse would get worse so it was best to just keep quiet. I then looked up and said, “I can’t keep quiet.” I told AG about that dream and that’s where the song was born.
The subconscious does such amazing work and mine was doing proactive healing, urging me to speak out for myself and say the things I was harboring inside. When you’re caught in a domestically violent relationship, ‘this isn’t right’ and ‘I need help’ are two very difficult things to say because you’re in a situation where you’re confused and ashamed.
When the song went viral, I saw it as both a message and a gift from the universe. As a survivor of domestic violence, I had lost trust in myself and felt so alone. When the song went viral, I finally had the realization that my story and perspective was powerful, not just for me, but for others. It was also such a gift to learn that I’m not alone. People started reaching out and telling me their stories. I felt so alone for so long, and it showed me that there are many people experiencing this and we are not alone.
Stephanie: Do you feel like you have a certain responsibility to use your music to continue standing up for what you believe in? How are you continuing to spread your message through your craft?
MILCK: Both yes and no. I do feel a sense of responsibility because I know women are not allowed to sing in public in some countries, whereas I live in a country that allows me to say what I want when I want (not without repercussions - they are just a bit more hidden and subtle). At the same time, I don’t view it as a responsibility. I view it as an option, an opportunity, a privilege.
It is such a gift to be able to spend my days thinking about how the world can be better. I’m in the business of supporting myself through my ideas and that is a revolutionary concept because I am the daughter of hardworking immigrants who didn’t have that luxury. I also want to recognize that it’s an option, it’s not something I have to do. I’m in the business of becoming the most full and whole version of myself. If I want to write a song about Roe v. Wade, I’m going to do that. If I want to write a song about falling in love, I’m going to do that.
Stephanie: You have an upcoming documentary, I Can’t Keep Quiet, that made its world premiere last month at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film festival. The short film highlights your journey from writing a women’s rights anthem to now being a voice for racial injustice everywhere. Can you tell us what message you wanted to send with this film and why it’s important to you?
MILCK: There are a few things I hope people take away from the film. I hope that displaying my flaws and blindspots can help normalize the understanding that we all have blindspots. Not so we can be complacent and just accept that, but so we can get to a place of comfortability with acknowledging and addressing them. I think our nation and culture is very uncomfortable with our flaws and shadows and we are constantly trying to portray an image of having it all together. It’s an extremely unrealistic environment for learning and growth.
I hope that when people watch me grow and admit my mistakes, they realize there’s room for everyone to do that. I don’t think it’s possible for us to accept and unify with people who think differently from us if we can’t accept and unify with the sides of ourselves that we’re ashamed of or that we wish were different.
Stephanie: Why do you personally think music and other art forms can be so powerful when it comes to conveying what one believes in?
MILCK: Music, art, and storytelling are really powerful outlets for human beings. I view a song as an elixir of emotions. When you turn on a song, immediately there is a vibe and feeling and there’s an invitation for the listener to feel that specific feeling. In the container of a song, someone can unleash their own emotions. When we unleash and release things, we become more grounded and clear-headed, and we do less harm to others. Hurt people hurt people - when I’m hurt, I process that feeling through my songs and it gives me more clarity about how to move forward.
For example, with rage, I have songs like “Devil, Devil,” “I Don’t Belong to You,” and “Quiet,” which is a more subtle form of rage. I don’t need to spill that emotion onto other people in an unprocessed way. I can process those feelings and acknowledge what I’m working through. It allows me to come from a place of constructiveness as opposed to destructiveness.
There is always an opportunity for us to destroy versus create. Art always allows us to create and I think there’s something really symbolic about creating. Creating gives us agency and agency gives us power. In art, we have agency to make choices, to choose a certain melody and paint a certain color.
Stephanie: Your documentary was a huge accomplishment! Do you have any other projects, both music and non-music, in the works right now or plans for the future?
MILCK: I’m always seeking out more sophistication in my process of recording. I love songwriting so I’m also working on a collection of songs. I sometimes struggle with whether my next project will be a song, album, or an EP because I’m constantly writing new material and getting caught in the classic trap of not releasing anything because I’m continuing to create. I’m working on overcoming that problem of my own.
I’m also working on a musical. I’m working with an all-female team, AG, writer Sam Chance, and director Jess McLeod. Sam and Jess are both Asian women, so we’re all women of color. We’re exploring themes like reclamation of voice, authentic relationships, courage within the family dynamic, etc. It’s really challenging, but I’ve really enjoyed the journey of long form storytelling.
Personally, I’m working on my own physical health and playfulness - learning to be a balanced human being and enjoy life and the outdoors. I’m also working on separating myself from the success-driven culture and forming deep and devoted friendships. Our culture sees romantic relationships as integral, but I think meaningful friendships are just as important.
Watch MILCK’s new documentary ‘I Can’t Keep Quiet’ out now, also featuring her new single ‘Closer.’