It was 2019 when we first met YAØ. The young singer-songwriter and producer had just won the first-ever Singapore Youth Music Awards' New Kid on the Block category. And along with fellow award-winner Shye, he was the cover star of our March 2019 issue.
Seeing the bespectacled multi-hyphenate make waves in the music scene is a sight to behold. Since making his debut in 2018 with the self-produced, retro-inflected Scenery, YAØ’s genre-blending discography, which includes bangers like No Stress and RHCF, has had a heavy rotation on the radio and streaming platforms – ours included. With a meteoric rise, it’s only a matter of time until he catches the attention of the big guns in music.
Sure enough, YAØ became Universal Music Singapore’s newest signee this year, debuting his euphonious single I Can’t Sleep under the record label. The song sees the artist using pop music to shed light on the ugly truth of everyday anxiety. “I feel like there are so many of us youths in Singapore that go through this day to day, and I really wanted to shed some light on it,” he tells us.
Just like proud parents, we’re ecstatic to see him take on the airwaves at the forefront of the next wave of local pop with the new track. To find out how he feels about this new chapter in his music journey, we catch up with YAØ on his new single, album, self-care tips, and what he gets up to when he can’t sleep.
Hi YAØ! You were our cover star in March 2019. Tell us, what are some of the major changes since we last met?
One major change I would say would be the overall conviction I have as an artist. Although two years may seem like a short period of time for some, to me, it felt like a journey. It definitely taught me a lot about the music industry and has helped me gain confidence in myself. Other than that, I would also say another big change would be me signing to a major label.
And that major label happens to be Universal Music Singapore – congrats! What’s it like to be the face of Singapore’s next wave of pop since bursting into the local music scene in 2018 with No Stress?
It honestly feels kind of stressful knowing that people see me as the face of Singapore’s next wave of pop but I am very grateful still. When I first released No Stress, I knew that I was doing something right as people were singing along to it, and now being signed to Universal Music Singapore, it feels like I am no longer just making music for myself anymore. It feels more like I am working towards a bigger picture.
How would you personally describe your brand of pop?
Personally, I would describe [it as something] that has a sense of restlessness to it, with melodies and sounds that are innately drawing and familiar to me.
Personally, I would describe my brand of pop [as something] that has a sense of restlessness to it, with melodies and sounds that are innately drawing and familiar to me.
You’re not shy from blending the slick R&B and hip-hop sounds of now with the funk-infused Japanese pop of the 1980s. But are there other genres you’d like to explore in the future?
I would definitely be open to that. In fact, I am currently experimenting with different sounds every time I get inspired. I’ve been getting a lot into lof-fi, and even into classical music lately, so who knows, maybe I’ll come up with something new soon!
Any local artists you look up to and/or would like to collaborate with?
There are so many local artists here that I look up to, and I don’t think I could name them all. But just to name a few, I would say artists like Kitty Purrnaz, Aesop Cash, Shye and Chriskris are some of the few artists that I hope to collaborate with in the future.
You also just released I Can’t Sleep. What’s the story behind the single?
The main inspiration came from my own personal experiences with not being able to sleep. I feel like there are so many of us youths in Singapore that go through this day to day, and I really wanted to shed some light on it. The concept that I was trying to go for was to introduce the ugly truth and reality that most of us go through but in a “pop” manner so that people would actually want to listen to what I have to say.
For the production, I felt that writing the lyrics this time was much harder than making the beat. I think it's because I’m generally not the type to open up about my own feelings, and hence, it was tougher for me. I’m really proud of how the song turned out, and I hope that the song would be of help to someone who is going through the same thing as me.
I feel like there are so many of us youths in Singapore that go through this (everyday anxiety) day to day, and I really wanted to shed some light on it.
What’s the story you aim to tell with the dizzying, diary-like music video, in which you collaborated with Jasper Tan of Vadbibes?
It’s about how chasing validation and worldly things can actually cause someone to lose sleep, and that in life, we tend to forget about the simple but beautiful things that we already have.
The single also doubles as a teaser for your upcoming album Broke Pop Kids. Could you tell us more about the album?
I’m super excited for this album as it holds a very special meaning to me. I decided to name the album Broke Pop Kids because I feel like this term really describes me well at this stage of my life. Being a huge anime fan, I’ve always been inspired by the worlds they create visually, and for this album, there will definitely be elements of that.
You can definitely expect to hear songs that you wouldn’t expect to hear from me. I don’t have a specific release date yet but the album is set to release later this year. I’m hoping that this album will immerse listeners into the world of Broke Pop Kids.
Being a huge anime fan, I’ve always been inspired by the worlds they create visually, and for this album (Broke Pop Kids), there will definitely be elements of that.
It’s said that you see writing I Can’t Sleep as a form of necessary self-care. How do you check in with your mental health, especially during these strange times?
I think everyone has their own ways of checking in with their own mental health. For me, I guess what I like to do these days is to make sure I take time to read up or watch things that I don't necessarily understand due to, maybe, some negative preconceived notion of them. By doing that, I feel like I've really learned how important it is to put yourself in other people's shoes.
Also, I've learned how important knowledge really is and how it can really help one find a better foothold, before spiralling into misunderstanding and doubt which I feel does cause a lot of mental hurt.
What are some of the things you do when you find yourself unable to sleep?
Although most of the things that I try don’t work, these days I would still always try to remind myself of the little things that I'm blessed with and remember that there is someone providing me with this life.
Lastly, if you’re not making music, what are some of your favourite things to do in Singapore?
One of my most favourite things to do while I’m not making music is to go window shopping at Kinokuniya. I really just love the whole ambience of the place and I honestly can stay there for hours just browsing through the books!
I Can't Sleep is available on all streaming platforms.