One Christmastime just after the start of the new millennium, a young Nadia Khristean was sitting on the kitchen counter of her South Jordan home having her father try to explain the war in Iraq to her.
It proved a formative moment.
“I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘Man, what if there’s another girl out there my age and her dad wasn’t going to come home for Christmas?’ ” the now-22-year-old Khristean said. “And from there, it just inspired me to write a song. Ever since I was 6, I wanted to be a singer! So I decided to write a song on it.”
Making socially themed music is something that stuck with Khristean.
She’s now studying commercial music at Brigham Young University, with a minor in business administration. She’s also making cause-oriented music videos on YouTube, featuring original songs and covers of well-known artists.
In recent months, she’s released videos advocating for such issues as refugee awareness, suicide prevention, homelessness and veterans affairs. Many have been done in conjunction with official campaigns by local and national organizations and charities.
A recent project, for example, had her teaming up with Utah Foster Care, whose website notes, “In Utah, more than 2,700 children are in foster care at any given time because their own families are in crisis,” and whose goal is to recruit, train and support around 500 new foster families in Utah each year.
“One big challenge in finding foster parents is dispelling the myths the general public has about the children and teenagers who are in foster care through no fault of their own. The truth is that most kids end up in foster care because of abuse and neglect in their own biological homes. They have been traumatized and they need a safe place in which to heal from that trauma,” Deborah Lindner, the communications director for Utah Foster Care, wrote in an email. “Nadia’s song and video call attention to the fact that these are REAL children who often need a chance to succeed in a nurturing family environment. Too many people think they are ‘damaged’ kids who have no future. We have seen, time and time again, that foster parents can help transform the future for these children if they are willing to share their hearts, their homes and themselves.”
Khristean also worked with Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting child sex trafficking.
“Nadia reached out to us with this great idea to feature O.U.R. in a music video, and we were instantly captivated by how she uses her music to make covers for causes. One of the best parts about working for this organization is when people approach us with so much passion to use their resources and talents as a voice to spread awareness. We always say that we cannot win this fight alone; we need more people like Nadia who jump at opportunities to make a difference in their community so we can give more children freedom,” wrote O.U.R.’s Hillary Miller Newton. “It isn’t easy to speak to younger audiences about sex trafficking, and having a beautiful music video along with YouTube artists sharing their thoughts on the cause in a promotional video really helped us reach that demographic.”
This is something she has been doing — on one scale or another — for years.
At the age of 15, Khristean recorded a CD, sold it door to door and donated the profits to an organization that supports fallen soldiers.
“Little by little, just with me discovering what my path would be inside a singing career, where I would want to go, I realized that I wanted to do music for causes. And that’s part of the reason why we decided to produce the CD,” she said. “And from there, it was just one thing after another. At my high school, my teacher was really supportive about making it a class project to go out, and we literally went door to door as a class selling these CDs and raising money. And we created an assembly at my high school to honor some fallen soldiers. It was just one thing after another that fell into the right place. I don’t know — I just feel like it was a lot of miracles, a lot less me and a lot of effort that so many people put in together to create these incredible moments and ceremonies to honor these families.”
This past spring, she enlisted the help of the BYU Women’s Chorus in support of the Refugee Action Network. What started as a song and a music video soon became the group’s semester service project and resulted in thousands of items being donated to in-need families.
Khristean hopes to turn her cause-oriented videos into a career, saying she’d like to emulate the path of popular YouTube figure Peter Hollens, who eschewed signing with a record label in favor of using the crowd-funding website Patreon.
“I see it going to a point where it will allow me to become a stay-at-home mom but, at the same time, be able to utilize what I love doing for good, and to be able to do it from my garage or something,” she said. “That’s why I chose the YouTuber, social-media-influencer route, rather than running out to L.A. and trying to get signed by a label. … It’s exciting, it’s really exciting. I just feel like it’s such a different twist in the music industry, and we live in such a digital and social-media-marketing world. If you really have the desire and the passion, and you put in the hard work, you can build a presence without having to get millions of dollars behind you from companies.”
In the meantime, she hopes she’s helped make a difference.
“I’m so passionate about this! I honestly feel like I’m just a little fish learning how to swim; I’m just learning how to do all this. And if there has been any huge engagement on these videos, it hasn’t necessarily been because of me, but because of the messages that are being portrayed in these videos,” Khristean said. “I’m just so, so grateful — there have been so many incredible people helping me along the way that just offer their time, their talent, their advice. I just feel so grateful. Not to sound too religious, but I feel like a tool in somebody else’s hands — I don’t feel like I’m the one doing everything. I’m just so grateful for everything that’s happening.”