Celebrity sightings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are unlike those that attract a frenzy of paparazzi on the streets of Hollywood. Here, there are almost no paparazzis at all. At most, fans would sneakily snap photos of their favourite stars when spotted in public and post it on social media while the more audacious ones would come forward to ask for a selfie.
Arriving at the photoshoot studio of this interview with a friend, a passerby called out our Face of Salam this week just before she entered the building.
“Hey, Nabila Razali!” said the stranger, to which she turned around and politely acknowledged the person.
“You must get that a lot, people acknowledging you on the street like that,” we say to her as we too arrived at the same time.
She flashed us a sheepish smile and a small chuckle.
Young, beautiful with a bubbly personality, the 26-year-old has harnessed quite the star power over the past few years of paving her way in the entertainment industry as a singer.
Her presence on social media speaks for itself. While her Instagram account is worthy of 1.6 million followers, her music videos have raked in millions of views on YouTube as well thanks to her pop songs written with catchy hooks that had the people of Malaysia sing along to.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Beneath her popstar veneer, Nabila is just like your friendly girl-next-door working hard achieve her dreams.
It all began in 2013 when she took her first step towards fame and success after entering a reality talent competition called Akademi Fantasia (Season 10).
She was only 20 back then. Like any other contestants on a reality show, she was faced with many challenges and it was then that she had her first bitter taste of reality of what the industry is all about. If there’s three things she learned, it’s that expectations are high, you can’t please everyone and people will always doubt your talent.
Hurtful comments were thrown at the young star with messages that suggested she should stop singing and some even sent her death threats.
“There was one comment I received from one of the judges – he questioned why I was still in the competition. He said that my performance did not improve every week,” she said.
It was a lot to digest, but she took it with a pinch of salt. There were moments she wanted to give up, but she persevered.
To this day, Nabila reads every single direct message and comment on Instagram.
But she has somewhat developed a heart made of steel because any negative comments that come her way would easily be brushed off.
“Of course it takes a day or two for me to fully move on from whatever negativity that’s thrown at me. I allow myself to feel sad but after a few sessions at the batting cage to relieve some stress, I pick myself up again and keep my chin up.
“I decided to change my perspective whenever someone criticizes me, I tell myself that they do that because they care, even if they do it in such manner that’s not very pleasant,” she said.
She didn’t walk away winnng the Akademi Fantasia competition but eventually she worked her way up and like all success stories we hear, she got her breakthrough moment.
That breakthrough moment came after she released a song called ‘Pematah Hati’ (Heartbreaker), which she sang about a lover trying to patch things up with his girlfriend after he was caught red handed being unfaithful.
The song particularly went viral thanks to its catchy lyrics which somewhat turned into a pop culture reference among the young Malay crowd.
Part of the song carried lyrics like the words ‘cumi cumi’ (pronounced as choo-mee choo-mee) translates to a combination of a Malay and English word : cuba miscall (attempts to miscall someone).
The catchy phrase instantly became viral among the millennials and eventually she was labeled as the ‘cumi cumi’ girl. To this day the video has raked in more than 25 million views, not a bad number for the young star.
After the success of ‘Pematah Hati’ in 2018, she followed up with another song called ‘Vroom Vroom’ early this year, signaling yet another catchy tune with its title. This time, the song is about motivating someone to move on from a heartbreak. Though it didn’t garner as much success as the ‘Pematah Hati’, the video still drew more than 8 million views.
Being a celebrity whose career blossomed at a time when social media took off, she made sure to leverage well on the online platform.
“I am lucky to be growing in this industry in this social media era. It really does play an integral role as it helps me to establish a stronger presence,” she said.
Thanks to the approach she took in promoting her music videos, Nabila was labeled the ‘gimmick queen’.
For Pematah Hati, she staged a fake relationship with a fellow actor and made their ‘breakup’ public on social media, prior to the release of the music video.
And just before ‘Vroom Vroom’ was debuted, Nabila deleted her Instagram photos, disabled comments and uploaded a single photo of her and another fellow actor who later played a role in the music video, leaving many to guess it was yet another gimmick to promote new music. However, Nabila insisted it was no gimmick, but simply just a teaser.
With two hit songs in the market, Nabila admits the pressure is on to release another song.
“It could make you or break you. You never know if people are going to like the song or hate it,” said Nabila who admires singers like Ariana Grande.
While ‘Pematah Hati’ and ‘Vroom Vroom’ falls in the pop genre and caters to the much younger crowd who enjoys her catchy tunes, Nabila said she has plans to shift gears and experiment with something along the lines of ballads.
“My two songs may have won the younger audience, but I would like to connect with the older fans as well. It’s a scary thought when I think about doing something out of my comfort zone, but you can’t stay the same forever so it’s a risk I’m willing to take,” she said.
CHANNELING HER INNER THESPIAN
Speaking of doing something out of her comfort zone, Nabila has tried her hand at acting previously and at the time of our interview, she was about to wrap up filming a TV drama series.
Given the chance to star alongside one of Malaysia’s popular actor named Shukri Yahya, Nabila said she feels incredibly blessed.
“But I do feel like I’m not qualified for this role. Going from a singer to an actress, I am not backed by professional training in acting, so it’s a lot to digest. I do feel the challenge in terms of bringing this character to life.
“Despite all that, I am thankful for the opportunity and it’s such a blessing to know that there are people in the industry who believe in me and believe in my talent,” she said.
SAME, BUT BETTER
Over time, her experience in the industry has shaped Nabila into a confident young woman who knows what she wants and how she wants things done.
She says she has a long way to go and a lot more things to accomplish but we think she’s definitely on the right track to achieve more success.
Navigating her way in the industry is no easy feat, but she looks up to celebrities like Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, one of Malaysia’s most prominent celebrities who very well knows a thing or two about dealing with the ups and downs of the entertainment industry.
“I love the way she carries herself. She is not quick to flinch when thrown with brickbats. And when she does something wrong, she quickly apologises,” she said.
As for Nabila, she assures she’s still the same ol’ girl she was before fame came knocking at her door, only that she’s evolving to become a better version of herself everyday.
Every woman who dons the hijab has a story on how and when she came to wear the headscarf.
As for Nabila, it started out as an experimental thing during Maal Hijrah, about 7 years ago.
“I just wanted to try and see how I would feel with wearing the hijab full time. At first, it was the compliments that kept me steadfast.
“I kept it on because people often complimented how good I looked with the headscarf on. But as time passed, I fell in love with it and eventually it became a part of my identity.
“I don’t see it as an additional accessory, like wearing a necklace for example,” she said.
“But looking at my fashion sense back then, I think you would cry if you saw my photos! Red pants with studs paired with floral headscarves, oh boy, those were some serious fashion don’ts moments!” she said with a laugh.
Nabila is quite the adrenaline junkie, admitting she loves doing extreme sports like bungee jumping. She has her goals set for skydiving one day.
But most recently she took part in a street racing series called Toyota Vios Challenge, an event part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival held in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.
The race also featured a group of other Malaysian celebrities but Nabila proved herself on the circuit and bagged second place.
“Racing brings out a whole different kind of adrenaline rush. No one is beside you assisting you on the track, you’re all by yourself,” she said.
Just like her winning mentality on the racing track, Nabila is equally driven to win at life. And as she reaches for the stars, she’s got her fans, friends and family rooting for her.
Behind the Face of Salam
- Face of Salam : Nabila Razali
- Project Manager & Co-ordinator : Shah Shamshiri
- Text: Syahirah Mokhtazar
- Editor : Ili Farhana
Photographer: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
- Graphic Designer: Asyraf Tamam
Stylist & Art Director : Helmi Anuar
- Hijab Stylist: Fyrose Zainuddin
Make-up Artiste : Bobo Cinta using Shu Uemura & Nars
- Wardrobe: Stylist’s Own
- Hijab: Stylist’s Own