This time last year, Wils Tay was a rising pop star in Singapore, a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Under his stage name, Wiltay, he performed for crowds of 40,000 and the music industry saw him as a hot prospect.
But when he came out as gay, his record label dropped him.
Within an hour of Wils telling his manager about his sexuality, he’d lost his job and access to his 400,000 social media followers.
But Wils is bouncing back. He’s been lifted by love and support from friends and fans. Now he’s now living in Los Angeles, enjoying gay life. And he’s got a new single out.
Coming out as a celebrity in Singapore
Last time we spoke to you, you had just come out as gay and your record label had dropped you. What happened?
I rang up my manager and told him ‘Hey, I just want you to know that I’m gay and I think it’s time that I let everyone know.’
He paused for 10 seconds. It was the longest 10 seconds of my life.
‘Don’t let anyone know about it, no one will listen to a gay singer in Asia,’ he said.
He hung up right after.
After an hour, I decided to go on my social media to be honest about it. I couldn’t log into my accounts. It turned out that the label removed all my social media before I could be honest about my sexuality.
I received a text after from my manager and he said I’m no longer with the label because of differences in ideology.
He also advised me ‘not to let anyone know about your sexuality if you still want a place in the music business. Good luck.’
In Singapore, the law still criminalises gay sex. Were you worried about coming out?
The law criminalizes gay sex. But it hasn’t been used.
Unfortunately, just having the law makes people think that homosexuality is an offence. People have been bullied, raped and even abused sexually. And they are not able to report that to the police because of the law.
I was worried about coming out because I was worried about losing my career as an artist.
‘I no longer need to hide’
People wrote to you afterwards sharing their stories. What did they say and how did it make you feel?
Many people wrote to me and said they’re really happy to feel represented. I’m really grateful that my fans would spend the time to encourage me.
A man from Singapore who works in education wrote to me and said he’s really appreciative to read about my story of coming out. He asked to have his identity kept confidential so he does not lose his job.
He was a grown adult man who couldn’t share his sexuality with his workplace, family and even friends because of society’s judgment. And he felt really lonely and could only talk to me about it?
There are so many others who go through the same. When I was in the closet, I felt so lonely and I would never want anyone to go through that on their own.
It made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who went through that. And that made me feel really encouraged to come forward with my sexuality because I know it can make a difference for others.
How has your life changed since it all happened?
I feel so much more grounded after I came out. Because I no longer need to hide who I am. And I think that’s very important in life. We should be proud of who we are.
It’s very empowering to be able to accept yourself for who you are. And I have a deeper connection with my parents now. I also feel that my music is so much more freeing.
A new life in LA
You are living in LA now. Why did you decide to make the change?
LA gave me the love I needed when I needed to know more about LGBT life. This was my home when I felt neglected and alone in the closet. This was the city that gave me all the education I needed to be safe mentally and physically as an LGBT person.
My friends gave me the advice and love that I needed to find the courage to come out.
I love it here. I can go to a bar and have a drink or two without being recognized. And even when I do, people are really cool about it and don’t make a big fuss. Which I find really personable about the city.
What inspired your new song Empty?
Empty is about feeling loneliness and the hookup culture.
I think many of us yearn to have a meaningful deep connection beyond a hookup, but it seems like that’s hard to come by these days.
Hookups are fun and sexy. But Empty talks about the emptiness of trying to find love in the hookup culture. And it’s about going into this vicious circle of looking for love in the loneliest places.
‘Life is more fun when you’re being you’
Has this experience taught you anything that can help other LGBT+ people?
This whole experience taught me the importance of being authentic to others and accepting who I am.
I’ve learnt that it’s important to accept yourself and not let society or others determine whether they accept you.
That way you’ll find the peace and joy within. Because you’re not putting your happiness in other people’s hands.
You deserve to live a life that’s authentic to your heart. You have to be honest with yourself. Life is so much more fun when you’re being you.
What do you hope 2020 will bring?
I have an album coming up in mid February that I’m super-duper excited about.
And I hope I’ll get to do some fun collaborations this year. I want to tour with an interesting artist here in the states and find a kickass label that believes in my vision.
You can follow ThisIsWils on Instagram here.