MILCK has used her voice for more than just music for years. The singer, whose real name is Connie Lim, is known for her protest music, which has touched on a wide range of issues from her own experiences with abuse to the Black Lives Matter movement and the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She isn’t afraid to push back against injustices facing different communities today, despite the challenges inherent to such work.
Her first brush with viral fame came in 2017 when her song “Quiet” became a sort of unofficial anthem for the inaugural Women’s March following the election of former president Donald Trump. Last year, she used her art as an act of rebellion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade with “We Won’t Go Back,” a song that starts with a chant of the title and builds into a statement of resistance. Just this month, she released a stirring ballad titled “Metamorphosis,” about “[undergoing] a really intense journey with my family that has refused to accept the person I fell in love with, my partner.”
As she prepared for her TIME 100 Summit performance, MILCK talked to TIME about her music, activism, and career.
TIME: When did you decide to incorporate activism into your music?
That decision was an organic process. It was just me being a human paying attention to what was happening. I was relatively new, but activists have been doing their thing for decades and centuries now. When Trump got elected, it was an activation for many other people and me, and I thought, “Oh, I have this tool called music, and I know music turns heads if it’s done right.” I also knew that harmony is a powerful tool that makes me feel better and holds people’s attention. So I thought this could be my way of contributing to this general, huge cause.
I wasn’t fully aware of how deeply I went into activism because people would start identifying me as an activist who also makes music when I had just been a musician. I sometimes wonder how the word can make people feel like they’re not an activist because it’s such an official title, but it’s just about paying attention.
Are there any people who served as an inspiration for this decision to marry music and activism?
The great Marvin Gaye—how he used music to bring people into different realms of humanity. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, then learning about Nina Simone—she’s done so much for so many different people in so many different ways; she inspires me alongside so many other people, just being super devoted to one’s craft and super authentic. I think this world has so many requests of each of us that seeing someone like that who continuously shows up just being exactly who she is makes me really happy.
Tell me about your most recent song, “Metamorphosis,” and the inspiration behind that.
I’ve undergone an intense journey with my family that has refused to accept the person I fell in love with, my partner. I love my family, so it’s felt like a death to me because I’ve had to figure out how to navigate loving my family while also loving myself and my partner. It’s been the most difficult journey I’ve been on. It got to the point where I had acid reflux, I was getting vertigo, and I was just in a really dark place. The journey of overcoming how heartbreaking that was has made me stronger, and I feel like I’ve been reborn in a sense.
Many pop stars make one-off songs about a cause and then seem to just forget about it altogether. What is it like for you to continuously make music centered around activism and constantly speak up when other artists aren’t?
That’s an interesting point. I am hyper-focused on this vision I have. One of them is a bird with two wings. One wing is the masculine wing, and the other wing is the feminine wing. With what we have paid attention to, the masculine has become very strong, and the feminine wing has become small, so the birds fly in circles. I thought, ‘OK, if we can balance those two wings and still give so much love to both sides of all our masculinity or femininity within, we can go places versus flying in circles.’
The other vision I have is a world with enough space for everybody to at least have moments of rest throughout the day—I call it the ‘restvolution.’ I think the more we can rest, the more we can dream. And the more we can create beautiful things from all different types of humans.
What are some of the causes that are close to your heart right now?
Domestic violence is something that affected my own life, and I see it everywhere. I know that domestic violence is almost like a temperature gauge of how well our society is doing and how frustrated people are because that’s where we take out our frustrations, unfortunately, on the people we love most. Providing resources for people to heal from that is something I’m passionate about.
The other thing that’s really on top of my mind right now is the opportunity we have in the music industry to bring more women to the frontlines of creating music both onstage and offstage. I’m a board member for this organization that started with the Grammy winner Emily Lazar, and it’s called We Are Moving The Needle. I think there’s this perception that we’re bringing many women into the industry, but the numbers do not reflect what we think or are doing.
What do you hope for when you look forward at your career?
I crave to be whole. I want to be a whole human, and I want to write songs. I used to be young and say, ‘I don’t have time to write love songs,’ but now I feel like I want to write love songs. I want to write all songs because I just want to be free. I’m going to challenge myself. For me, releasing a love song is a challenge because it’s me putting my stuff forward versus thinking about these causes, which feels easier for me to do. I want to do it all.