"She's been called the Lady Gaga of Vietnam, but Mai Khoi arguably has less in common with Gaga than the Russian activist group, Pussy Riot."
Mai Khoi is a Vietnamese pop star, singer and musician. She has been playing music since she was 12 when she was the pianist in a wedding band with her father, a music teacher, in the coastal city of Nha Trang. Drawing on a wide variety of influences, from traditional Vietnamese folk to blues, soul and rock, Mai Khoi seamlessly blends disparate styles and rhythms. Her music is also distinct in terms of its emotional range, her wide vocal register as well as the distinct tonal qualities of her voice.
In 2010, Mai Khoi won Vietnam Television Song and Album of the Year Award, the highest award for song writing in the country. After winning the award, she shaved half of her hair off and inscribed the letters 'VN' for 'Vietnam', the name of the song that won the competition, on one side of her head.
For this she was harshly criticised by the country's conservative media establishment. No stranger to controversy, Mai Khoi is somewhat of an anomaly for a celebrity in a Communist country like Vietnam for having spoken out about sexuality, LGBT rights and violence against women.
Mai Khoi broke international headlines in 2016 after she became the first Vietnamese celebrity in history to nominate herself for the National Assembly (equivalent to congress) on a pro-democracy platform.
This campaign sparked a nationwide debate about political participation and ultimately led to a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Since running for parliament she has been harassed by the police (with one of her concerts raided) and is effectively banned from singing in Vietnam.
Mai Khoi has toured the USA, Europe and Australia. Despite being from a country that has made virtually no musical inroads internationally outside of its own culture Mai Khoi is charting a highly independent path. To date she has released seven albums.