President Obama Meets 'Vietnam's Lady Gaga,' Activist Mai Khoi

Mai Khoi, a singer and advocate for free expression, met the president Tuesday.

ByABC News
May 24, 2016, 10:57 AM

— -- She is known as “Vietnam’s Lady Gaga.”

Singer Mai Khoi has developed a reputation not only for her unique performances, but also -- and perhaps more so -- for her political activism.

“I use my music to influence people, to raise awareness about democracy and human rights,” Khoi told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.

The 32-year-old singer's message was amplified today by one of the most powerful voices in the world: President Obama's. Khoi sat next to him during a meeting of Vietnamese activists in Hanoi, as he pressed the government to improve it record on human rights.

“Obama cares about democracy and human rights,” Khoi said prior to the meeting.

The singer had taken to social media weeks before the president's visit to petition for a meeting. She saw that goal realized, although Obama noted that other activists were blocked from the meeting.

“It’s hard to say” how the Vietnamese government would react to their meeting, Khoi said.

Khoi insists she is “telling the government to change,” rather than criticizing it. But she cited what she believes were several instances of repression of her music and, thus, her message.

“Freedom is a very sensitive word here,” Khoi told Woodruff.

Artists have to ask permission before singing or performing in Vietnam, Khoi says, and many of her shows have been shut down by the police.

But that hasn’t stopped her.

Khoi has taken her concerts to secret venues and broadcast them out to the world on Facebook. When she was barred from the ballot after running in the country’s parliamentary elections, Khoi said, she remained undeterred.

“I have to do what I think is true,” she said.