SINGAPORE — Singer-songwriter Willie Tay used to have more than 300,000 followers on his Instagram account. But when he told his Asian record label that he is gay, they told him that they could not work with a gay artist, dropped him from the label, and deleted his social media, which they managed.
The 30-year-old Singaporean, who went by the stage name Wiltay previously but now goes by Wils (it sounds friendly, he says), told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that he could not name the label due to the terms of his contract (it’s not a Singaporean label).
Undaunted and determined to stake out an identity as an out and proud pop artist, Wils went on to release a music video on 22 April for his latest single, Open Up Babe, in which he comes out publicly as a gay man.
The former Catholic High School boy was a rising star before he decided that he couldn’t hide the fact that he is gay any more. He was discovered in Madrid by chance when he went there for a holiday in 2012 and signed on with Warner Music Singapore for 3 years. He won Best Pop Album at the Hollywood F.A.M.E. Awards in 2014 for his debut album, WTF. Other stars that were discovered at the F.A.M.E. awards include will.i.am and Gwen Stefani. Wils has since released a string of singles, including HOLA, Less Is More and Fly High.
The singer was first based in Spain for a few years before he moved to Los Angeles in the US, where he met former American Idol judge Randy Jackson. Randy liked Wils so much that he took him under his wing as his manager. Wils is now an independent artist, but he is still friends with Randy.
Wils had a chat with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore over the phone from Los Angeles about his journey of finding and staying true to himself.
Why did you decide to come out as an artist?
I’ve known I’m gay since I was nine years old. I lived so many years of my life in the closet and I was always hiding from the people I love because I was worried about them figuring it out. I just didn't like that life. I didn't want to be living a lie and not being truthful. I just want to be able to sing, and write music and create with my heart.
So about two years ago, I took a break to discover who I am. I wanted to know what I love in my life and what is important for me.
I came out to my straight friends and I was really surprised that all of them were like, Oh my god, no matter who you are, we love you for who you are. It's not about your sexuality at all.
And that helped me to realise that, oh, it's actually okay. It's not a big issue at all.
What do you have to say to gay youth, whether in Asia or the West?
Be brave and live truthfully. I promise you that life is so much more beautiful and fun when you choose to be the true you. If you guys ever feel down, come talk to me and chat with me because I can a hundred per cent relate to it. Know that you’re loved, and that you have a community that loves you. Oh shit, I’m gonna cry, this sucks!
How did your label react when you came out?
They said I shouldn't do it (come out) because I’m going to ruin my career, that I'm not going to have a career in Asia if I came out; there are no gay artists that can make a career out of singing and I'm going to lose fans, I’m going to lose supporters because of that.
And they said if I do that, they wouldn’t be behind me, they wouldn’t support that and it's killing my career. That's what they said.
And do you agree with that?
I don't. I’ve lived overseas. I’ve lived in Spain for a bit, I’ve lived in the US for a bit. (LGBT) people are accepted and make careers out of it, and I think the most important thing is being truthful to myself as an artist. So I don't believe in what (the label) says.
I didn’t want to stop making music, so I went independent right after I got dropped. I was making an album then, and I decided I wanted to write this album as myself and I didn’t want to give that up.
What has the public reaction been like to your coming out?
Honestly, I'm really very, very touched by all the support. I thought people would be negative. But so far it has been a hundred percent positive, every message that I received from people – mostly Asians, actually. A lot of Asians have been very supportive. People still really care and that makes a lot of difference and it means a lot to me.
How did your family react to you coming out?
I have two elder sisters who have known I’m gay for a long time. I told my parents in January this year. Dad was like, “Hey, I just want you to be happy.” My mom was like, are you sure you want to tell everyone about this? And I told her, “Mama, you've always taught me how to love. You’ve loved me so much since I was a kid. I just want the world to be filled with more love, and share that through my music with the world. And I think this is the right thing to do.” So they were very supportive.
Who’s the other guy in your music video for Open Up Babe? Is he your boyfriend?
No, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s a good friend. He’s never acted before. There’s this light in his eyes when he smiles. So when the music video director was like, hey, do you have any friends? I was like, oh my god, yeah, I actually have a friend that I think might work.
Are you attached at the moment?
Nope. Honestly, I wish I had a boyfriend, but at this time in my life, I think I don’t have the capability to find a date. I think nobody wants to date me. Wait till you come to L.A., everyone talks about how hard it is to date here! Everyone’s always moving on to the next best thing. I’ve been single since forever.
What do you think about the 377A law in Singapore?
It’s so funny, as I'm speaking to you, I’m reading this South China Morning Post article that says “In Singapore, gay community still faces uphill struggle 10 years after Christian power grab at women's group AWARE”. I'm gonna send you that. (I tell him that I’ve already read the article.)
But I think things are changing, I think the younger generation are more open to things like that. It's just a matter of time. And we just got to keep on driving.
Would you return to Singapore to pursue your career?
Singapore will always be my home. There are so many things so good about our country. I still have a lot of friends in Singapore.
I’m open to moving my career to Singapore. If I have a chance to sign with a Singaporean or Asian label, I would if our goals are aligned.