Meet alextbh: The Queer Pop Musician From Malaysia

Meet alextbh: The Queer Pop Musician From Malaysia

The 22-year-old, queer musician from Malaysia is breaking barriers with his adventurous pop music.

The 22-year-old, queer musician from Malaysia is breaking barriers with his adventurous pop music.

Text: Harshvardhan Shah

alextbh is a force to be reckoned with. His infectious personality paired with his offering of playful, R&B-infused pop songs about heartbreak and romantic relationships have gained him fans from across the globe and garnered support from fellow musicians such as Sevdaliza, Khalid and Clean Bandit. The young artist has also acquired over 20 million Spotify streams since his 2016 debut release “tbh”, along with his track ‘Stoop So Low’ which has accumulated about 12 million streams alone.

The 22-year-old musician has continued to champion the LGBTQIA+ community in Malaysia throughout his career. The social climate can be dangerous and oppressive towards the queer community due to a colonial era criminal ban on sodomy, yet, it hasn’t stopped him from carrying a pride flag on stage and being unapologetically himself.

Recently, he was denied a tourist visa to visit America as a result of being too young to travel alone. However, he is hopeful that his travel plans will come to fruition over time. Even with these odds stacked against him, Alex stood his ground and continues to fight for what he believes in, while being at the forefront of Queer and Asian representation in the music industry.

V spoke to Alex about his creative process, his relationship with his fans and some of his experiences growing up in Malaysia. 

Congratulations on your new single ‘No Space’.  Your previous singles- ‘Walls’ and ‘Still Mine’ have a cohesive sound as well. How did you go about finding your sound?

It was a combination of finding the right people to write and produce music with, as well as standing my ground and wanting to keep the same direction with my music. I’m glad I persisted in this R&B/pop path. The producers definitely help out a lot and I chose the right producers to work with. Maths Time Joy is so talented and he gets me. I sent him this crappy demo and he sent me back the final version, I’m so gagged by him. 

How did being a musician transition into being a full time job? Did your parents need a lot of convincing?

My career took off a little bit during my final year in university, so my grades took a bit of a flop. I literally put 80-90% of my energy into making music when I’m actually supposed to be studying. I had to be really sneaky about making music when it came to my parents. I had to live a Hannah Montana life. I’d tell them I’m in the city, finding jobs, getting my jush but in reality I was working on my music the entire time. I didn’t tell them unitl a year and a half ago and told them everything and just laid it out  on the table. They had a little idea about my interest in music and a couple gigs here and there or at a bar or something. And then my parents straight up told me- “you could have told us a long time ago”.

What made you hide this information from them for so long?

I don’t know! I just think my mom had really high expectations of me. A lot of parents want their sons to be either doctors, lawyers or engineers and my mom is one of those girlies but she understands! I’m incredibly lucky that my parents are supportive of my music.

Do you feel pressure representing Malaysia as a queer pop star? Does it ever get lonely?

Sometimes it can feel like a lot of pressure because I am representing a community, a culture and everything that has to do with where I came from. That’s very important for me, to showcase where I came from and I want everyone to know what my culture is about. I am surrounded by local artists that strive to give Malaysia a good name so I don’t feel alone in that aspect, but the pressure is there because when you think of Malaysian pop stars or any huge Malaysian celebrity or just anyone that people look up to, there’s not a lot of people that are known internationally. One celebrity we truly stan is Yuna- she went to the US and made it big there. So that can be quite a challenge for those who aspire to be like Yuna, you know?

Do you have a lot of queer fans reach out to you for support?

I often check up on them! There’s this one guy who is going through depression and I’m just like I’m not your therapist, or I’m not trying to absolve any situation but I told him I am there to listen to him. I checked up on him a couple months later and I am happy he is doing fine. To me it doesn’t feel like a lot of effort- I just had to tell him I am there for him I feel at peace knowing that other people are at peace. I’m unaffected by anything negative right now and I’m pretty happy in life so I want my fans to feel the same way. 

What advice do you have for anyone who is struggling with their sexuality and finding a way to express themselves, especially in an oppressive environment?

My number one advice is to never feel pressured to come out because it can be very damaging and dangerous deepening on one’s environment, like you don’t know if the people you come out to can turn against you and it’s going to be worse, and you would have to risk homelessness in the worst case scenario. The best advice I can give is, don’t be pressured to come out and in the meantime find people you really click with. It didn’t take me long before I met amazing people who give me support. There will always be other people that are there for you. My other advice is that you are never alone in your struggle and humans are similar in lots of ways so we have more things in common than we like to think. So it’s not as difficult to go unto someone else or have someone come up to you and form a smaller community of people that will hopefully expand over time. That’s what I have been doing with my friends right now.

How do you feel about being compared to Troye Sivan?

I love Troye Sivan, first of all. I never have beef with him, I am a huge fan of him. I don’t like being pinned to another artist because there’s only so many gay artists that are out there doing this thing, so to pin these very few gay artists together is not going to foster any healthy environment in the queer music scene. I’m not fond of people comparing me to another artists because of that reason. What if there’s another Malaysian artist that tries to branch into another genre but at the end of the day he is gets labelled as the successor of alextbh- that’s not very fair.

Click here to stream alextbh's latest single ‘No Space’. He will also be joining Filipino-Aussie artist Jess Connelly on a co-headline tour in Asia this February, as well as perform at Indonesia’s Lalala Festival. 

Credits: Photography- Daniel Adams  

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