Music has played a big part in Hsu’s life, although she wasn’t always outgoing about it. She remembers singing and making up melodies on her piano as a child, but only when she was alone: ”As soon as my mother came home, I ran to my room and hid.” In grade school, she was part of a girl band called the Blossoms, who would perform their choreographed dance moves during intermission. Moments later, she became obsessed with words and lyrics, and she laughs as she thinks back to the time she flopped into a Barnes & Noble and delved into a compilation of Tupac Shakur’s poetry. “It was the dumbest place to read a Tupac book, but that was my childhood.”
Around 2010, while studying experimental theater at New York University, she began playing with jazz musicians and improvisational vocalists in midtown Manhattan. She cites the 2010 joint EP by Björk and Dirty Projectors Mount Wittenberg Orca as one of her all-time favorite records. “I was obsessed with hockey,” she says, referring to the medieval singing technique sometimes used by Dirty Projectors. “That was my bread and butter – making crazy noises and percussion with the human body.” Her graduation thesis was a case study on the concept of love with five mermaids singing a cappella soundscapes. “I went to a weird school,” she says, before describing the mermaid she played as “sad girl, big-hearted and gentle.”
After college, she worked at Brand New Noise, a small Brooklyn company that built DIY wooden recording devices that could manipulate the speed of the human voice; these sound machines were such a hit in musician circles that Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips had one made in the shape of a frog. Around that time, Hsu began scoring roles in theater productions, including the SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical†
Since then she has been featured in TV shows such as The wonderful Mrs. Maisel and Nora from Queens, along with the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings† Right now she is more in demand than ever. “The roller coaster is real,” she says. Speaking of which, the 31-year-old finds herself in a hotel room in upstate New York, filming a last-minute project she’s not allowed to give details about, and it’s just been announced that she’ll be starring alongside Natasha Lyonne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an upcoming mystery drama series from Blades off writer-director Rian Johnson.
As she navigates the ups and downs of her burgeoning stardom, here are some of the songs she’s been putting on to soften the ride.