The double life of alum Isabella Tang

May 21, 2015, 8:20 p.m.

A Stanford degree opens doors to a world of opportunities. Our alums reach the heights of research, industry, politics, sports and entertainment, and the potential of current students seems limitless. But even the wealth of opportunity awaiting graduates ends with a choice. Get a steady job, or pursue a start-up? Go to medical school, or become a writer? The choice can be difficult, and while these big decisions often work out there may always be a nagging sense of what if. Isabella Tang, class of 2011, doesn’t want to leave those unexplored paths to her imagination. The economics major and singer-songwriter is doing things a bit differently, working hard to make the absolute most out of her Stanford experience.

Isabella Tang '11 performing at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Isabella Tang)
Isabella Tang ’11 performing at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Isabella Tang)

After graduation, Tang found work in the Los Angeles offices of the highly touted consulting firm McKinsey & Company. While working there part-time, she’s devoted her remaining energy to launching her music career. In the last 18 months, she’s taken songwriting courses, performed live at famous LA venues like the House of Blues, recorded a debut EP and filmed a music video for her lead single, “Passenger.”

Her experience at Stanford was formative, and it’s clear that it has deeply influenced her unorthodox dual career path. As an undergraduate she indulged her interest in finance with the Stanford Marketing Group and developed leadership skills as a sister in Chi Omega and a member of Cap and Gown, an organization for women’s leadership. In line with her musical interests, her favorite classes were creative, including fiction writing, sculpture or painting while studying abroad in Paris.

Perhaps the most pivotal moment in her musical journey came during her freshman year, when she was selected to perform at the freshman talent show — the “Fro Show” for short. Tang reflects, “It was my very first public singing performance, which just so happened to be at Kresge auditorium with some 800 seats. My classmates were so wonderfully supportive… I was hooked after that and started to perform and write more.”

But pursuing a creative path as an alum is much more challenging than as a student. The weight of responsibilities and lack of available artistic communities outside the Stanford bubble are enough to exhaust most musical ambitions. But Tang strives for the best, and which is reflected in her work.

Her first single, “Passenger,” was released in April, accompanied by a whimsical music video brimming with color, adventure and art. Backed by a dynamic band of dancing piano, lively drums and singing trumpets, Tang sings with a slight rasp and warm tone reminiscent of Colbie Caillat.

Discussing the music video, Tang explains, “My goal was to express the idea of a true partnership — being able to journey through life side by side, through both the fantastic and the mundane, and to be able to take turns both driving and being the passenger.” The song is poppy and joyful, and is complemented by scenes of Tang exploring galaxies, meadows and caves, hand-in-hand with her “driver” as they take on the world, herself savoring the adventure from the passenger seat.

With Tang’s debut EP, “If I Could Tell You,” coming out June 2, the future looks bright. If anything, Tang is taking the driver’s seat in life — seizing the initiative to balance her professional and musical careers as they both take off, making the utmost of her Stanford experience.

“If I Could Tell You” will be available June 2 on most major music platforms. Check out Tang’s website,, for more.

You can contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’

Benjamin Sorensen covers jazz for the Arts & Life section of the Stanford Daily. He is a junior from Stanford, California studying political science with interests in Chinese and music. He enjoys playing guitar, talking about music, and wishing he could sing. Contact him at bcsoren ‘at’

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