Milck, the 30-year-old Los Angeles-based Atlantic Records signing born Connie Lim, calls the #MeToo movement that’s gone global — and called out many high profile men for their inappropriate and often criminal conduct — “a very carnal way of us manifesting our resistance,” she tells Samaritanmag.
She bravely sang about her own experience of sexual abuse and harassment in the ballad “Quiet,” which fanned the flames of the #METOO Movement when she performed it at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. The video went viral — and there were flashmob performances of the song in Sweden, Australia and Ghana — and led to her record deal.
To further her support of sexual assault victims, Milck also recently launched the #ICan’tKeepQuiet Fund, which supports three organizations: The Joyful Heart Foundation, Step Up and Tuesday Night Project. The title is based on her #ICANTKEEPQUIET movement.
Milck spoke with Samaritanmag about this outspoken movement, the shift in power, the healing, the triggering, the community, the inspiration, and involving men in the conversation and solution.
Nick Krewen: How do you feel about all these people coming forward and speaking out about sexual assault?
Milck: The #METOO movement is a really great sign that culture is shifting. I view it in a very macro way in terms of it being a couple of dichotomies: there’s feminine and masculine energies.
For the past hundreds of years, we’ve been in an imbalance of more of a masculine society energy and now the rise of the feminine is to really help that balance because I think we’ve crossed the line of imbalance. Even as a human with day-to-day living, I always come back to the concept of balance and I think this is the first step towards women speaking out against abusive power.
Sexual harassment is about power and we, as a society, watch all over the world with people abusing power and corruption increasing. This is a very carnal way of us manifesting our resistance. I may be wrong, but how I view it is that this is the first step of us moving towards cleansing abuse of power for sexual harassment, which is a very carnal and very basic human right.
So, as we learn to fight for ourselves in this way, the feminine energy will fight to cleanse abusive power in other levels of society – in government, in policy, in finances and stuff like that. I think this is the beginning of this rebalancing and I also think – the other dichotomy way I look at this - is that people who make decisions based off of fear and people who make decisions based off of abundance and love, I do see that there is this change and shift. I see people making decisions based off of abundance and love and walking away from fear-based decision-making because we’re watching leaders of countries and powerful people use fear tactics to control populations. I think that it’s a natural reaction to refuse and resist that. It’s pretty cool to see.
“Quiet” has taken you on quite a journey. What have been some of your more significant discoveries and surprises as people react to the song?
I have been undergoing this tremendous journey and it feels like a fairytale in many senses, of going from rags to riches in a sense – not literal, because I was born privileged – but to be able to watch my work pay off after such a long time.
It reminds me of the book The Alchemist. This book talks about this man who has this vision and this dream and everyone thinks he’s crazy. He goes through this journey and takes a leap of faith and, in the end, he reaches his vision. I remember reading that book when I was younger and thinking, “That’s a nice story and sentiment. I don’t know if that’s actually going to happen,” but something in me has driven me to stick with this experiment.
I view my life as this experiment and what if I don’t give up? What if I just put everything on the line and see what happens? And the reward has been tremendous and way greater than I could have ever imagined, because what is happening around the song is that communities are building and I think that communities are the antidote to violence. I feel really grateful that I was able to write a song that’s created a platform for people to form choirs around and build friendships and relationships with other people, but also for people to feel safe to share their stories with me and all the other “I Can’t Keep Quiet” communities.
It’s pretty extraordinary and I think that the stories that are being shared are like stuff that I can’t even make up on my own. It’s just endless inspiration and as a musician and a songwriter, I’m always looking for inspiration to create them. This almost feels like that now; we’re creating this really loving ecosystem where there are fans that are sharing the stories and then I can write inspired by their stories and we can just continually heal each other. So, it’s pretty magical, I’d have to say.
This song comes from personal experience. How has it helped heal you?
That’s a great question. Sharing this story can re-trigger my own traumas. I actually didn’t realize it, but the first few months when the song went viral and I was sharing my story and I was feeling peoples’ reaction and I could feel the audience and we were all healing each other, it’s almost like a drug, how good it feels.
Then a few months later, the good work continues, however, I slowly kind of sunk into my own depression and got re-triggered, because I’m talking about it all the time. And then what happened is that my mind starts playing tricks on me and starts saying really negative things like, “Why are you talking about this?” “How dare you!” That whole ugly side - the ugly voices that can arise in the mind - just started getting louder and louder and I had to catch myself.
Fortunately, because of everything that happened, I’ve been able to meet really experienced activists and mentors that are – I met this one woman who is the head of the Joyful Heart Foundation - her name is Maile (Zambuto) – and she actually came up to me after a concert and said, “Look, you have to be aware but what’s going to happen is that you’re going to get re-triggered and you may not even realize it.” When she said that, it was like, “‘Oh, this is what’s happening.” It’s very interesting.
I feel fortified by all the hope and all the people coming forward and I also feel so close to my own journey because everyone else’s stories also re-trigger mine too. So, it’s definitely a very full experience. There’s definitely a lot of vulnerability but there’s also a lot of rewards that come with being so vulnerable.
What are some of those rewards?
I would say the idea that I’m not alone and this huge injection of hope and motivation are very intrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are what I should be motivated by - and the extrinsic reward is signing with a major label, which I really did not expect, because I’ve been a DIY musician for eight years before the song went viral. I was playing hotel lobbies and booking my own singer-songwriter tours around the country – playing to rooms of 20 and on a good night, maybe 130 people, so I was like hustling and just pulling myself up by the bootstraps and not sure if I could pull myself completely up. I was barely hanging on.
And it’s just that this song has allowed people to see what I can offer as a sonic healer, so Atlantic is behind me and they support my vision. I have way more resources to make my visions become reality, and I’m meeting songwriters and artists that are challenging me to be better and that’s all I could really ask for. So, they’re pretty great rewards (laughs).
In most of these cases, women are the victims. How can men help?
The fact that you’re asking the question is the beginning of a lot of healing. There was a prosecutor in Detroit (Kym Worthy) who helped reopen – I think it was like 11,600 rape kits [the actual number was 11,341] that were unopened. She thought this was blasphemy, so she singlehandedly recruited a group of people and they have now tested 10,500 of the rape kits. Through testing, they found 500 serial rapists [more than 800, according to the latest figures from Worthy].
If they followed one rape kit, they could attach it to many, many other rape kits. And so, my point is, obviously not all men are rapists and there are so many men - and a lot of rapists are serial rapists – so I think that’s important to remember. I think the lives of the #METOO movement is that I know there are always going to be people on the periphery who kind of taint a cause, but what my hope is that it’s not about women vs. men, it’s just really like, women have undergone some of these things that we’ve been afraid to talk about and now we’re finally getting that bravery to speak up. I think the best thing for men to do is to ask what you just did: “How can I help?”
I think we need men to be our champions because men do have the power currently and they are sitting in positions of influence. The more men can champion for a safe environment, the more effective this movement can be. And I think it’s really important at this point to involve men in the conversation. I’ve actually started asking my male friends, “How is this #METOO Movement affecting you? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you feel like you can’t express yourself? How is this making you feel?”
I think the dialogue is really important. I had a conversation with someone who was like, “I just feel I like I can’t touch anyone and I need to be super stiff and not express myself that way unless I might be accused.” And I said, “Well, I think the answer is just be more lovingness and respectful.” so I think we’re going to have to find a good balance. Because I know the movement: there is potential for it to go to a point where we’re not allowed to hug. I don’t think that’s the point. I think it’s just about empowering people. Not to trap people - just asking questions and starting conversations day-to-day is the best way.
Have you encountered other situations where men are the ones being discriminated against or in the LGBTQ communities?
I would say that there’s a lot of diversity of what a survivor of abuse or of sexual harassment looks like. Just because, it is about the abuse of power or a power dynamic that’s being misused. So, I get reached out to by many of the LGBTQ community, so a lot of gay men relate to this song as well. I think part of the journey for gay men who feel like they aren’t able to come out to their family, this song has helped them. I’ve gotten messages from teenage boys who say, “This song helped me come out to my family and this song pumped me up when I feel like I can’t say what I’m supposed to say.”
I myself personally have had loved ones who are men who have also been abused. And that’s something that isn’t talked about as much and currently the culture is focusing on the women’s movement, and a lot of it is because the Women’s March happened and then there’s all these women rising. Even with Kevin Spacey stories, there are so many more stories that are of that type.
Unfortunately, one person on my team, he’s gay and he knows that this whole movement is fully going into domino effect to expose what’s happening in the gay men’s community. I think it’s unfortunately everywhere. The good news, though, is that this can be solved through a culture shift. There’s extreme cases with people who have mental disorders who are maybe wired differently and maybe need intensive psychological help. But there’s a cultural shift towards creating safe spaces and living with each other in appropriate ways that I think we can minimize a lot of this shaming and self-blaming that’s happening with a lot of survivors.
At one point, you suffered from anorexia. Was that related to your assault?
There’s a huge correlation and I think it was compounded. I have really just learned about the term “intersectional feminist” about a year ago. Because I’m an intersectional feminist, I represent not just women - but people - of colour, and then also a woman of colour, my experience has some overlapping in intricacies with being a survivor and also growing up in a very traditional culture where some patriarchal values are very, very strong in terms of how women should look and what desirable women should be like.
These are always great intentions, but I was told that women with small mouths and bigger eyes are more attractive because women who can speak less and interrupt less, but observe more, are considered more attractive to become a wife. And I was told that exceeding a certain weight was going to be unattractive and it would be harder for me to become a wife. So, there was a lot of conversation about what I needed to be to become a future wife. And a lot of the focus in my culture made me feel like I needed to be a certain way in order to be accepted and then, at the same time, with American culture at the time when I was growing up, there was really sexualized media. A woman who didn’t look like me – that was considered attractive as well – so I did feel very much like I was in a no-man’s land. I think feeling restricted that way can cause a sense of need for self-agency, because I didn’t truly feel that I had “it.” So, I unknowingly started to try to “control” my life by obsessively trimming calories, minimizing my food intake and working out. I think my desire to try to feel like I had some type of grip over my own destiny - which I think is mostly why I did it - and a lot of discomfort within my own skin. One thing that happens with abuse survivors is that after the abuse happens, they say it feels like their body wasn’t their own and it was just kind of like this receptacle emerged.
So, for me, how I coped with my life experience with sexual assault is that I kind of numbed myself and just assumed that everyone goes through this. No one cares about their bodies. I detached myself and almost felt like my body was something I needed to control and contort and make it into something else, because it didn’t even feel like me. That’s a common thing and it isn’t until I learned to let go of the self-blame for what happened to me, is when I slowly learned to accept my body and even look at it. I couldn’t even really look at my own body. And so, I could finally look at my legs and say, “These are my legs – and they help me get around from point A to point B.” I should love them instead of continuously blaming them, because in a way, my body brought on the sexual assault. That’s the way that some survivors think and so I kind of blamed myself for having the curves I did and having the body I did to bring that on. It’s pretty complex and really interesting how the human mind tries to cope with trauma.
Do you think that people that have suffered assault end up having some physical reaction to it? Is there a correlation?
I think there is definitely a correlation and I would nuance that a little more.
Do you think there’s a denial and that some people need to recognize some of that behaviour as another step towards healing?
It’s almost like something happens, and then the road forks. One road is headed towards the one direction of, “That was wrong and what happened to me should not have happened; it’s not my fault.” And somehow, the road splits off and the other one goes, “It’s my fault; I brought it on.” I don’t have a statistic, but most of the time people veer off towards the second path. So, they miss the entire thought process and they think it’s their fault for, sometimes, years. For me, I’ve talked to a lot of people from the song; it takes some 10 years. For me, it took me 10 years to realize, “Oh, wait, I didn’t do this to myself. This is actually wrong, and I’m not a bad person.
I carried that for such a long time and I didn’t even talk about it until 10 years later. Sometimes people ask, “Why does it take so long for these survivors to come forward?” Well, because they didn’t even see themselves as survivors for the longest time, until something clicks, or someone helps them realize that that was wrong.
You did two videos for “Quiet.” The first is symbolic [Milck is in a box being submerged by water, representing entrapment and repression, and she breaks free]; the second, you consciously included a trans-person’s story in the narrative. The most powerful moment of that video was having the parental acceptance of the trans woman by her father. Any reaction from that particular community?
I have gotten responses. It is yet another part of the storyline to put out there: Stories and visuals are so powerful and have such an impact on society that for us, it was an honour to do it. The director, Elizabeth Orme, and I really wanted to put a story of a trans woman in there to help, but also complicate, the conversation. It is a subtle way of saying that a survivor is not gender focused – it’s for all different types of life experiences. So yeah, we’ve gotten social media love and from some of my own friends. One of my friends, he reached out to me and was grateful. He cross-dresses. So, just including a storyline that is outside of the traditional gender roles is empowering, even if it’s not like the exact same story as his.
What’s the most touching reaction you’ve received from “Quiet?”
What’s really cool right now is I’ve created this I Can’t Keep Quiet Facebook closed group. People can be part of this large group if they answer the questions that pop up when you request it — to try and guarantee a safe sanctuary for people. Survivors are anyone who have something they want to talk about.
I had talked about a closed Facebook group when the song went viral back in January, but I was so inundated with stuff. I was like “I don’t know how I’m going to moderate that and do it well.” Now I have a little bit more brain space. So, in November, I decided I was going to have a conversation with some of the people – maybe five people in the group. But now we welcome all the new members on Monday. We let 27 people into the group and people just naturally tell their stories. We established a sanctuary and everyone who has joined the group has agreed to be loving with their language and not use any words of hate. If you do, we’re monitoring this closely and we will kick you out.
People are sharing extraordinary stories of survival. One of the stories was of a girl who was being abused by her entire family and for the longest time she felt like she didn’t have a home. She didn’t relate to her body and turned to eating disorders. It’s very similar to what I went through. And then she talks about how she held on, and then how she found help and how she’s healing now. The thing that touches me the most is that other people are commenting and they’re starting their own conversations – and that’s what I want – there’s community-building everywhere I go.
I think we’re onto something special just because of the quality of the stories and the honesty and the support that people are just volunteering in this Facebook group. I’m really moved by that because this is bigger than me. So, go to my Facebook page for Milck Music and click on the I Can’t Keep Quiet closed group.
You’re supporting three organizations: The Joyful Heart Foundation, Step Up and Tuesday Night Project, plus you’ve launched the #ICan’tKeepQuiet Fund. Why those organizations?
When the song went viral, a lot of people reached out to me – all these worthy causes, all-important and I got overwhelmed. I thought, “How am I going to have impact? Am I spreading myself too thin in speaking out for every cause? What am I really trying to do during my time on this planet? What is my calling with this social activism?”
So I dug deep and I worked for months to create a thesis – like who am I talking to – who am I trying to benefit? And where I ended up is that the community that’s building around this song – what I’m doing with the I Can’t Keep Quiet movement, who are loving and generally gentle people who have either gone through stuff or know of others who have and want to be a positive hope for change. There is a sense of gentleness. but there are also people who are informed and aware of what’s happening and wanting change. I call them the gentle rebels. And then I started thinking further – what is something that truly inspires me about other organizations. I was really intrigued by the ones that were creating community and actively doing things on the ground within their specific focus. Because “Quiet” - the song - created communities like these flash mobs. People formed choirs and formed relationships through the song. Some of these choirs are still getting together and singing every week, which I think is powerful. The organizations I’ve chosen do the same thing. They create communities and empower people on the ground and create changes in peoples’ lives.
Are there any songs similar to “Quiet” on your new EP, This is Not the End?
“Quiet” for me was a really specific story about my own journey. As I write my songs, I always want to create space for people to be able to tell and heal through their own stories. So, all of them are constructed from the same approach, as I’m not really inspired by any other approach. I had no idea the movement would pick up behind the song “Quiet.” I just knew it was a song that I needed to release. It felt like my perfect response to what’s happening in the world. Who knows what causes or movements will be attracted to which songs?
I definitely don’t rap, but one of the things I love about hip-hop music is the sense that, like, aspiration and a sense of determination, persistence to break out of a certain life and create a new one. I find that to be a very powerful theme that goes through hip-hop music and I joke that I’m a wannabe hip-hop singer/songwriter because most of the songs have that. I’ve been struggling for eight years so most of the songs have been to encourage myself. So, there’s a lot of songs just about continuing to fight the good fight. That’s just my own life. But if it reflects for bigger groups of people and they find that it speaks to them, then that would be awesome. But that’s not up to me. That’s up to the listeners.
A lot of Hollywood moguls – both executives and actors – are being outed as predators. Have you found similar experience related by others in less public workplaces?
We all have our stories that have been similar to what has been amplified in the media and high-powered people. I was talking to my boyfriend about this and he asked me, “Have you experienced stuff like this? And I said, ‘Yeah I have,’” especially when I was in my early 20s and doe-eyed and didn’t have nearly as many tools for self-protection and boundaries. It happened almost all of the time. I wasn’t sure if I was having dinner with an executive because I was talented or because he wanted to date me. I just never knew. And I went into these meetings with this sense of what the night was going to be. Maybe I need to keep an open heart and try to go and find these opportunities. But I look back and I found myself in some pretty dangerous situations. I’m lucky – and I don’t think it’s just this industry – but I can only speak for what I’ve seen.
What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about some of this new material that I’ve written that won’t be on the EP. The EP is stuff that I wrote during 2016 and some of it this year, but we had already chosen the songs. Now I’m continuing to write and I’ve written a couple of songs. One, in particular, is a reaction to the Vegas shooting called “A Little Peace” that just spilled out of me. It’s a song written in a very old-school way, where it has all the considerations of what a modern pop song sounds like. I just wanted to write this song like a hymn. I’m started to get the same feeling I got when I was organizing the a cappella version of “Quiet” I arranged for the Women’s March in Washington; I’m starting to get this feeling around this new song. I’m starting to reach out to artists and collaborators and different people to come up with something and there’s definitely a cause that is naturally being attached to it just because it was inspired by the people who were curing and supporting the survivors of the biggest shooting and the pain I felt as an observer as to what happened there.
I think there’s something peeking out on the horizon and I’m just following it, just like what I did with “Quiet.” Who knows? It could just be a song for the existing fan-base. It could cause a ripple. But whatever it is, I get that same kind of excited feeling that it feels really right. So that’s going to be more of an interactive, choir-focused project. I’ll be doing that while I do the music-industry formatted journey, like the EP release and all that.