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When anders debuted in 2016 with the ominous single “Choosy,” his appearance was a mystery. The track made its way through the digital undercurrents of the Toronto music scene, as the Mississauga-born singer-songwriter was in and out of university while gainfully hustling on the streets. His prominence gained momentum, compelling the Chinese-Vietnamese R&B artist to put aside his enduring distaste for social media and being photographed, eventually allowing listeners to put a face to the rising star.
anders has been on a gradual ascent since his debut EP 669 dropped in 2017, his established spot in Toronto’s competitive music scene carved deeper with each release. His journey into the limelight burgeoned in 2018 as his vocals—mixed and pitched over saccharine production—reverberated across the globe through the 2018 single “Love No More” in collaboration with the electronic duo Loud Luxury. The song’s algorithmic pleasure made it a viral house party anthem, providing anders with a new audience to allure with his boastful flow.
His distinctive style, a tenebrous blend of pop and R&B under trappy production, has been refined on his new EP Honest, out today. With tinges of conceit, the EP indicates maturity—both lyrically and in its production—reflecting on loneliness, relationships, and catharsis in its nine songs.
With more eyes on him than ever, the 25-year-old says the days of “going to clubs five days a week” are behind him, now chiefly devoted to his artistry, legacy, and family. In a candid interview with Complex Canada, anders opened up about his upbringing, fatherhood, and artistic evolution.
When you were growing up, what kind of music were you listening to?
I listened to everything growing up. I have immigrant parents, I grew up with a single mom, so she worked 10 to 12 hours a day and was never home. When she was home, she was never the kind of mom that would play music around the house so I was never exposed to music in that sense. A lot of people hear songs that their parents would listen to when they are growing up, and I didn’t have that because it just wasn’t a thing. So all the music that I was exposed to was through other kids that I would play with on the street. I remember the first time I was ever really exposed to English music, that my memory can remember, I was probably eight years old and some kids on my street had a burned 50 Cent CD, and they’re like, “Yo, listen to this!” That was the first time I remember hearing rap, and I loved 50 Cent because it was just like—what is this!? And I knew I wasn’t allowed to listen to it either.
Why weren’t you allowed to listen to it?
Well my mom is a Vietnamese mom, and you know, you hear the music and the content is what it is. She’s just so old school and wasn’t a fan of me listening to it, but she was never really home to stop me. But yeah, I listened to rap, and then all of my musical exposure was through the people that I knew. Even my older siblings didn’t really put me on to music, it was always friends or older kids that I would hang out with that exposed me. I had a phase where I listened to alternative music, at 12 years old I had every Linkin Park CD. And I listened to fucking rock at some point and pop music. Like literally everything, which is why I think my music is so diverse.
“I didn’t make music with a pro-Asian agenda in mind, I just happened to be Asian and I was making music I liked and it became what it was.”
While you were consuming all of these genres of music and being introduced to these artists, were you aware of the lack of Asians in the music industry, especially back then?
I never really thought of it. It never really became a thought that there was a lack of Asian representation until I started making music. Growing up, I always thought Asian people made this kind of music, white and Black people made this kind of music. It was never like, why aren’t Asians making rap? I always just thought Asians made Asian music, and that’s probably because of the lack of representation. There wasn’t an artist like me during the time when I was young and being exposed to music, other than a rapper like MC Jin. So I wasn’t really aware of the lack of representation until I started making music, and I realized it’s kind of uncharted territory. There wasn’t an example of who to follow, it was kind of just figuring it out. Even still, there are Asians in music now, but I don’t think anybody has really reached the point of fully representing them, if that even makes sense? Like, there are obviously tons of Asian artists and they’re getting bigger, but even then, they kind of get typecast in a certain audience where it’s only Asian people that listen to them or something like that. So I think there’s still a long way to go.
Now you have this global fan base, not just in Toronto but around the world. Kids are definitely looking up to you as you looked up to Drake, but there’s also another layer to this because I’m sure a lot of young Asian kids see themselves in you. Are you aware of this impact that you have, particularly on your Asian supporters?
A lot of the reason why I wanted to even make music in the beginning was to be exactly what you’re saying right now. To be an example for people to say, if he could do it, we could do it kind of thing. I know I’ve inspired a lot of people, even a lot of artists. Some would admit it, some won’t, but I know I inspired a lot of people just through the music that I’m making. But I didn’t make music with a pro-Asian agenda in mind, I just happened to be Asian and I was making music I liked and it became what it was. But I didn’t get into music to be like—this is for the Asians!—you know what I mean? I’m this kind of person, this is the kind of music I want to make, and I happen to be Asian. And then that happened to inspire other people to do it as well. I’m super proud of who I am, it’s just that I’d be lying if I said I came in with this super pro-Asian agenda that was like—all for the Asians!—it wasn’t really like that, it kind of just happened that I was Asian.
“Before I made music I was the kind of guy that would just fly below the radar. I would never let pictures get taken of me or anything like that.”
You mentioned that a lot of artists, whether they admit it or not, are influenced by you. How does it feel to see your own influence in artists on the come up?
I fuck with it! To make an impact, that’s what we’re here for. In my head, that’s the reward of it, other than the fruits of your labor and monetary things. Inspiring people, that lasts forever. I see my influence in a lot of people locally, and yeah it is rewarding whether you get recognition for it or not.
Your music is being listened to by millions every month, especially with “Love No More” becoming a massive hit across Canada and around the world. How are you navigating this escalating success?
Anybody who knows me knows nothing has changed about me, I’m who I am. Fame I don’t care about, I could really give a fuck less about it. Money never changed me, I was making money before I made music. So I’m the same guy. In terms of navigating success, there are little things you got to get used to. Social media is a big part, I’ve never really been a social media guy. So being an artist and having to be on social media, obviously it’s a big part of being an artist and having a platform, so that was one of the major adaptations for me. Before I made music, I didn’t use Instagram, that’s just how I was brought up. Before I made music I was the kind of guy that would just fly below the radar. I would never let pictures get taken of me or anything like that. So that was the major adjustment or change I had to make. In terms of lifestyle though, I’m the same person. I still know the same people from when I did, I don’t really fuck with new people, not in a condescending way, I just got my people and I’m happy with that, you know what I mean? I don’t care to be like, up there at this so-and-so place with other artists and shit. People in the city know me, I just fly low.
When you started putting out music at 21, you concealed your identity. Nobody knew what you looked like. Was there a reason why you avoided revealing your appearance when you debuted?
My thought process at the time was there were artists that were also Asian making music. And I just felt like, for example, me as a 15-year-old kid, or 17, 16, whatever. If I would go on the Internet, go to YouTube, or I don’t know, Worldstar, where the hell you would view content, I always just felt like when you were to click an artist and the thumbnail is an Asian person, you kind of know what you’re gonna get. I already had this expectation of—and I’m gonna sound like a hater, but maybe back then it just wasn’t as good—but I feel like Asians weren’t really making sick music at the time and I wouldn’t even click ‘em just because I knew from experience that I never really liked it. You know what I mean? So I just originally thought there’s a chance that I put this music out and just the fact that I already think this way—and I’m Asian! Like, I love Asian people, and music is music. If I like music, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t. I don’t care what you are. But from when I was younger, it just always felt like, I don’t know, corny.
You wanted to defy this stereotype.
I didn’t want a prejudice from just knowing I was Asian before they listened to the music, is essentially what it was, so I wanted them to just hear the music and not have to link any other factors to it other than does this song sound good or no? And then from there, you know, if they liked the music, and they liked me enough to follow up with me and dig into me and eventually find out I’m Asian and still fuck with me that’s awesome.
Do you think if you did show your face, things could have gone differently?
I mean, it’s really hard to say. No matter what, my music is my music whether I showed my face or not. My little explanation there was just a sliver of why I didn’t show my face. A lot of it had to do with, like I said, I wasn’t a social media guy. I didn’t even have pictures to put up. I was always always always brought up to move in silence and just not be in photos so it wasn’t even me making an effort to hide my identity, I was just like that. Ask anyone who knows me from before! You couldn’t get a picture of me. You couldn’t. If I saw a person take a picture and I was in the back, I’d make them delete it. I just didn’t want to be in pictures. I kind of factored in everything when I decided to put music out in the beginning because people were obviously like, “You don’t want to show your face?” And I was always just like, why? If they like the music, they like the music. If they don’t, they don’t. What’s my face gonna change about it?
Has your relationship with taking photos and being in photos changed, especially now that your face is on album covers and in music videos?
Music definitely took me out of that shell. I’m still super reserved, like my team has to remind me to take some pictures or post something cause my brain is just not wired to go on social media. If some cool shit is happening in front of me, my first reaction isn’t to take a picture of it. It’s not programmed in my brain like that. I’m still kind of struggling with it a little just because I love privacy more than anything on the planet. But it’s a work in progress and to me it’s part of the game. At some point, especially in music, fans need a face champion behind. You can’t always just be a name. It just adds so much more depth to who you are as an artist, they can see you and relate to you from a personal level visually through the things you wear or how you look, or what you like. It’s just about finding that balance for me.
“I’d do a song with an artist, and the comments are like, “Why would you fucking do a song with him, he’s got corona,” or shit like that. I don’t really let social media or online hate get into my head. My skin is really thick, you can muster up the meanest things you could possibly say and I’d probably be unbothered by it.”
You reveal another side of yourself on Honest, reflecting on love, your success, and what you want out of life. What influenced this evolution in your sound on this EP?
With this project, I really wanted to get more intricate with all the details in every way—the writing, and the production. On “Floor 21,” the outro feels like you’re traveling through a spaceship. It’s something we sat there for hours and hours to really hone in on.
The EP’s closing track is the breezy and melancholic, “All I Know,” a song made for a chill summer day. What inspired the lyrics and production for this track?
Yeah, I love that one. When I make music I always try to do something different and outdo myself. Fans will always say, “Make another this and make another this song,” I don’t like that. It’s not fun to me. I always want to do something different. I always want to dive into an extra layer of who I am musically. With “All I Know,” I wanted to make that a funky song, which is why it sounds the way it does.
Music is not the only thing keeping you busy over the last year, you’ve also been raising your son. What’s your favourite thing about being a dad?
Everything man, fuck. Kids are just the best. People will just say that, and I just sound like any other fucking dad, but until it happens, you just get it when it happens. Just knowing that’s your kid and having something to nurture and take care of and raise and be proud of adds a whole other depth to your life.
Has being a dad influenced your songwriting at all?
Yeah, now I think about like, ‘Do I want to say something like that?’ Like before, it was just kind of like, I just had a kind of ‘fuck you’ mentality, like I didn’t really give a fuck. I still don’t give a fuck, but you know, I got to think about being respectful to my child and the mother of my child. So just little things like that.
What point in your life is this EP focused around?
Everything that you’re hearing on Honest, I’m already past that point in life. I’ve already made this project and lived with it for a long time. It’s always like sharing a chapter of my life that has already passed. I have a kid now, and 90 percent of the music on this project is from before I had a kid. When I make a project, it captures that moment in my life, but I might not necessarily put it out in that same moment if that makes sense.
There is a cultural upheaval occurring around the world, as well as the rise in reported racially targeted hate crimes, most recently targeting the Asian community. How have you been processing the surge of attacks that have been going on?
It’s obviously heartbreaking seeing your people living in fear, and the elderly. Like, fuck—who fucks with old people? I can’t even understand that. No matter who you are, or what race, you got to be a certain kind of fucked up to even be able to do that. In all honesty, and it’s probably worse now because of certain things like certain stigmas placed around Asian people because of coronavirus, but this stuff existed before people brought attention to it. I always felt like Asians minded their own business and never wanted to cause trouble and never wanted people to feel bad for ‘em or anything like that. So back then when shit would happen, when something happened where there was some racist thing against Asian people, they would just not go there anymore rather than stand up against it. Do you know what I mean? I just felt like that was what Asian people were used to before. Now we have more comfortability to speak out against it and stand up for it.
My cousin was spat on while walking down the street, I think it was down Spadina. I just thought of how many times I walked down there with my groceries, and being attacked never would have crossed my mind.
I wish someone would try that on me, not because I want them to be racist, but because I’d put them in their place. You almost wish that it happened to me instead because that person would never fuck with another Asian person after.
Do you ever receive racist comments online?
Oh, all the time! All the time! All the time. I’d do a song with an artist, and the comments are like, “Why would you fucking do a song with him, he’s got corona,” or shit like that. I don’t really let social media or online hate get into my head. My skin is really thick, you can muster up the meanest things you could possibly say and I’d probably be unbothered by it.
Sorry you have to go through that, that’s awful.
[Laughs.] It is, but you gotta have thick skin. And you would be at it for the rest of your life if you’re just going to argue with people on the Internet that are being haters. Anybody miserable enough to be on a phone or a laptop just trying to hate on people—their life is already bad enough, I don’t need to try to put them in their place. They are already miserable, that’s why they do that. I don’t know one single happy person in a good place that goes out of their way to make sure somebody else isn’t. I don’t need to fight back, there is no point to it. You’d be trying to do something to somebody that’s already done to them.